Aideen Gilmore, Head of Training, Technical Assistance & Networking
In two decades of work, we’ve seen the profound impact civil society has had in making government budget decisions more open and accountable. We also know the blood, sweat, and tears these organizations put into their work and how difficult it can be to operate, especially as civic space closes and polarization grows. Many factors – from budget cuts to organizational change – can make it hard for civil society leaders to adapt to change and sustain impact. Even the strongest organization can be at risk during leadership transitions or departures. That is why we established the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI). We wanted to invest in a cadre of leaders across the budget field that could continue to sustain and nurture homegrown movements for accountability. In partnership with the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona State University, we brought together up-and-coming leaders – nominated by their executive directors – from the world’s leading budget organizations to participate in the two-year program as fellows.
This was new territory for us, but we knew it was an important gap to fill. Succession planning is key to building sustainable movements. We sought to strengthen the skills of potential leaders to grow the bench of individuals who are ready to step into leadership roles. Our fellows dove into topics such as what it means to be a leader in the public financial management field, how to lead in times of crisis, and understanding their personal leadership style.
We’re proud of what the fellows achieved. Even with restrictions in place due to the pandemic, our fellows learned and networked virtually as they moved through the program. In fact, the fellows’ connections were deepened by the shared challenges of navigating their work through the pandemic. Together they built a true fellowship that has gone beyond the two years of the program, and we know the fellows will continue to learn, share and grow together.
But it wasn’t only the fellows who benefitted from this shared learning journey. Fellows were paired with a mentor who was an established leader in the budget field or related areas. We saw that the mentors learned just as much as their mentees. Everyone was experiencing a challenging time and we realized that the crux of leadership is the ability to connect. The empathy and support that comes from listening to and sharing with others – especially during a crisis – is what helps people become resilient leaders who can adapt and support and inspire others.
Not only did we see how much the fellows grew and developed, but we also know their executive directors saw real change and took great pride in the fellows. We now know for certain that a sustained focus on leadership development in the field of budget work is critical to build sustainability and resilience necessary to move our accountability agenda forward long-term. This is just the beginning, and we are excited to explore the evolution of leadership development in our work.