Taking the lead

Julia Marton-Lefevre describes creating a network of future leaders in sustainable development, and keeping them in touch with each other

The world is not adequately prepared for the great challenge of this new century – finding economically and environmentally sound paths to development. If we are to live within our economic and ecological means, there will have to be far reaching policy, institutional and technological reforms, complemented by shifts in individual values and behaviour.

Bringing about this kind of change will require a different kind of leadership. The next generation of leaders will have to create and implement policies that reflect the links between economic prosperity, a healthy environment and social equity. They will need to recognize the global nature of environmental problems, empower people to take part in the decisions that affect their lives and consider the interests of future generations.

For the last ten years, Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) has been identifying and training a global network of future decision makers with these values and skills – and helping them to keep in touch with each other. It encourages them to become agents of change – both individually and as a group – in their workplaces, communities, countries and beyond.

LEAD – an independent, non-governmental and non-profit organization – selects promising young professionals, aged between 28 and 40, who are already emerging as potential leaders in government, business, academia, the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) through its 13 member programmes active in more than 60 countries, both developed and developing, on five continents. These associates take part in a rigorous two-year training programme with three equally important thrusts:

  • Providing knowledge about the complex issues of environment and development.

  • Reinforcing existing leadership skills through training in problem solving, negotiations, conflict resolutions and systems thinking; team building; and cross- cultural, networking and communications skills.

  • Acquiring a set of shared ethical values and attitudes towards our planet and all life on it.

They work and study together for some 80 days over the two years, while still continuing in their jobs, both in their home countries and regions and in special international sessions. They embark on site visits, participate in discussions, explore case studies, learn through games, scenarios and role playing; and are taught how to develop presentations.

This opens them to communicating with professionals from fields, and countries, different from their own, and greatly enhances their potential to expand their knowledge, view questions from a variety of perspectives and exchange information in a very personal way.

Cooperative work
So far 1,100 potential leaders from over 40 countries have graduated from the programmes. Once they graduate, they become LEAD Fellows for life. LEAD works to sustain this network of graduates, to ensure that they remain true to the LEAD vision and to keep them in touch with each other. Fortunately, in a world made smaller through advanced telecommunications, the ability of individuals, groups and nations to communicate more effectively and build greater systems for cooperative work has expanded exponentially.

LEAD publishes newsletters, disseminated throughout member programmes, providing updates on activities, events, accomplishments, opportunities and progress within the environment/development movement. The Fellows are similarly kept informed of peer accomplishments, employment and programme opportunities via a monthly, electronic newsletter. Brochures, comprehensive training publications, audio and video tapes of training sessions are also made available both on-line and in hard copy.

But LEAD also goes far beyond traditional communications methodologies through the process by which participants glean information on environmental issues, projects and philosophies during site visits to (often) remote areas outside their typical experience. A journalist from New Delhi attending a training session might find herself working in a team with a Pakistani law professor, a Brazilian environmental NGO activist, a Japanese corporate leader, and government officials from South Africa and Russia – visiting a town in Indonesia to discuss water rights with local government officials, native craftspeople and a multinational shipping company. Their training and preparation prior to the session (through written materials and e-mail communications) makes them part of an organic process of communications, learning from one another as well as from host project leaders and stakeholders.

Constant contact
When they are recruited, associates are equipped with a computer, given a CD-ROM and connected to the Internet linking them to the LEAD family. Members of LEAD and international experts on environment and development issues maintain constant contact through LEADnet, a website and database, using e-mail, on-line conferences, distance-learning training modules and written materials. The Fellows are also kept in touch with each other through this network, as well as through opportunities to meet and work together in person.
The vast wealth of shared information presents enormous potential for environmental progress
Using telecommunications as a tool to empower environmental stewards to work in a cooperative and mutually beneficial manner brings all sectors together by organizing worldwide information and knowledge in an intelligent, easily accessible and efficient way. The vast wealth of shared information presents enormous potential for environmental progress.

Thus, as the world shrinks, individual consciousness is given the opportunity to expand. LEADnet is a viable and organic meeting place, where environmentally concerned groups and people are brought into close intellectual partnership so that their ideas can come into contact with one another to grow and flourish.

The LEAD-China programme’s website, EnvironInfo, has become one of the world’s leading sources for information on China and the environment. More than 47 per cent of those accessing the site are from outside China – with many from the United States’ Silicon Valley, and it links many multinational corporations to environmentally concerned individuals, NGOs, government regulators, academicians and media representatives.

The power of LEAD stems from the belief that people can make a difference. By identifying talented individuals, enhancing their capacities for global citizenship, and giving them contacts to other, like-minded people, their collective voices can be heard

Julia Marton-Lefèvre is Executive Director, LEAD International.

PHOTOGRAPH: Lim Eng Geen/UNEP/Still Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Driving change | Clearing the bottlenecks | Commuting sustainably (Singapore) | Transported to the future (Curitiba, Brazil) | Bucking the trend (Freiburg, Germany) | Message from the UN Secretary-General | Message from Cuba | Message from Turin | Competition | Breaking free | Calling for change | Reaching the unreached | Greening the screen | Taking the lead | Wanted: more good reporters | On the dot | The city century

Complementary articles in other issues:
Anita Roddick: Multi-local business (Beyond 2000) 2000
Margaret G. Kerr: Profits with honour (The Way Ahead) 1997
Michael Ben-Eli: Towards a new system (The Way Ahead) 1997