Leadership development has often leaned on individual or group projects to foster and assess the acquisition of vital skills. Programs such as the Global Citizen Year have utilized this approach to promote active learning and community engagement. However, certain drawbacks such as short-term impact and the potential reinforcement of power imbalances have been highlighted.

Reflecting on Project Efficiency and Development

A case in point is the experience of an 18-year-old participant, Dora, who undertook a project in Senegal. Despite the completion of her initiative, the sustainability and long-term utility of her project remained questionable. These concerns underline the inherent limitations of a project-based approach, especially when the success metrics are heavily tied to the immediate outcomes of individual projects.

Shifting Focus: From Projects to Relationships

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Global Citizen Year took steps to re-evaluate its program structure. The shift in focus leaned towards a more relationship-centered approach rather than project completion. This transition was aimed at fostering a deeper understanding and interaction with local communities, moving away from merely solving a problem to learning and growing with the community.

Asset Mapping and Experiential Learning

The redesigned program includes initiatives like community-based asset mapping to encourage participants to understand and appreciate existing community resources. The curriculum now emphasizes self-discovery, collaborative and experiential learning, which is seen as a vital step towards cultivating well-rounded, empathetic leaders who are deeply connected with the communities they engage with.

Complementing Existing Work

On a similar note, the Health Policy Research Scholars program aids scholars in navigating the project-centric academic environment while enhancing their leadership identities. This approach acknowledges the existing commitments of participants and supplements their projects with training and mentorship focused on fostering collective social change.

Recommendations for Leadership Programs

The observations and shifts in program design serve as a call to other leadership development initiatives to re-evaluate their approaches. The emphasis is on designing experiences that are rooted in the real needs and strengths of both the participants and the communities. The goal is to foster long-term relationships, acknowledge existing community leadership, and build on the ongoing efforts of participants.

Possible Wider Implications

The article further urges educational institutions and social sector organizations to consider these insights in their program designs. The potential to create more equitable and impactful leadership development experiences is seen as a step towards fostering a more inclusive and effective social change ecosystem.