It was a great honor for Ikon magazine to attend the prestigious launch of the ILT (Inspiring Leadership Trust).
With a mission very close to my heart of inspiring and empowering vulnerable women and their families all around the world they started with an explosion as their launch was an enormous success.
The event was glamorous, sophisticated and star-studded and Incredibly raised around £22,000 for the charity.
Leigh Bowman- Perks founded the charity, Inspiring Leadership Trust (ILT), and as part of her research, travelled around the world including one of Europe’s largest refuges to help empower and develop the most vulnerable women and children in the UK and around the world. As a call to action, she continues to mobilise and develop inspiring leaders to support the charity’s ambitions for international growth and drive real, positive and sustainable change.
Profits from her book “Inspiring Women Leaders” are all donated to the Inspiring Leaders Trust and we found this so generous that IKON magazine interviewed Leigh to find out her motivation and delve more into the charity.
We asked Leigh: What are your drivers?
There are 3 key drivers for me:
I see the challenges relating to the empowerment of women as one of the biggest issues for the 21st century. I’m not talking about progress to boards here (whilst of course that is important), I’m talking about the most vulnerable groups in the poorest communities around the world, where they are deprived of the most basic of human rights due to poverty, oppression, violence, hostile cultural practices and abuse. But these issues do not just exist in remote countries; they exist here in the UK, on our doorsteps. There is research that shows a direct correlation between attitudes towards equality and human rights and the level of conflict that exists, so this is not just an individual or community issue, this is a fundamental issue that disrupts the very fabric of our society. One of the most effective ways to tackle this is to get to the core of communities and instill acceptable levels of healthcare, education and skills that help to empower women and their families.
When I did the research for my book ‘Inspiring Women Leaders’, I was both humbled and inspired by the many ordinary women and men around the world that are doing extra-ordinary things for the community. Some of them even do this to the extent where they put their lives on the line and have faced the most horrific situations. They have found a purpose in life that goes far beyond personal gain and a belief that it is their moral obligation to make a real difference. At the same time, in our executive development practice, we were consistently hearing leaders saying how they are “chasing the money, the fancy cars, bigger houses” but had reached a point where they were questioning their purpose and more importantly, the legacy they were leaving. They knew they wanted to contribute back but weren’t quite sure how. Also, the research Jonathan Bowman-Perks MBE and Dr Reuven Bar-On and I did on the 8 components of Inspiring Leadership highlighted a significant gap between a desire to contribute to society and the reality of what were actually contributing. Interestingly, on the back-drop of the recent socio-economic breakdown, it’s clear that in the world of capitalism, people desire a return to a basic set of inspiring core values. These are ones that engender greater trust and foster a sense of community.
When I launched my book, one of my colleagues said to me “Leigh, I get that you’re passionate about issues such as poverty and abuse, but when you are a privileged white girl then how do you expect to get taken seriously on the subject.” The statement hit me quite hard. This is the ‘subject’ of my past but this highlighted to me the assumptions that we all make about the lives of others we don’t really know. Whilst the experiences of abuse and poverty were part of my past, they certainly did not become my part of my destiny and define who I am today. The privilege I have had through all of my experiences is an amazing support network filled with love and encouragement. So far, I have visited refuges here in the UK, the slums of Nairobi and worked with the Ministry of Health in Botswana and there is nothing more moving than looking into a woman’s or child’s eyes and seeing deprivation. However, I also saw hope, strength and ambition and so providing the right support networks and opportunities, we can help change their destinies too. If we work together on this agenda, we can be the catalysts to empowering these women and advancing their communities. And these will become the trailblazers to inspire others so they follow.
We asked Leigh what the overarching aims of the charity are:
We aim to change the lives of some of the most vulnerable women and children in the UK and Abroad. Whilst we have an international footprint, we only operate at a deep local level for sustainable impact. This means we stick with specific people and projects, seeing things through to the point where an individual and their community benefit from a positive and lasting change.
We want to mobilise talented leaders from a variety of businesses who have the capacity and desire to contribute in a way that is profound. We will help to facilitate their involvement so they receive skills development, access networks and make a contribution that helps them to live a life of greater significance. We will leverage their skills and resources to advance the charity and also those vulnerable groups that we are supporting by providing business skills, vocational qualifications etc. Our ultimate aim is from 2016 to build an Inspiring Leadership Academy. This will be a partnership with business education institutions, coaches and mentors to help leaders get the maximum value from learning, networks and engagement. They will be part of a movement that goes beyond just delivering for their own businesses, to one that also has a deep impact on the lives of others in the poorest communities around the world.
We will continue to target specific community projects that help to provide education, healthcare and business opportunities for vulnerable women and their families. Currently, we collaborate with a number of charitable partners and experts to help integrate our work effectively and tackle the real issues that are blocking progress:
1)KidsOut in the UK to support women and their children in secure refuges. We are focusing specifically on teenage children affected by domestic violence, poverty and displacement. We are aiming to provide a long-term programme that gives them skills, mentoring, work experiences and support to give greater access to opportunities and growth that help to advance their futures. For example we have already taken our first group of teenagers on a radio experience day, where they learned team-working skills, about journalism and how to run a live radio station. Hearing young people’s fears, ambitions and hopes helped us to understand the clear action needed to address social mobility. By engaging with youth directly we are able toenhance their lives. We will create an integrated programme of support that helps young teenagers on their journey from education to work.
2) Hope for Teenage Mothers, Kenya: As part of our empowerment to education programme we are investing in vocational qualifications, healthcare provision and new start-up businesses. Many of these young girls also have infants and so we invest in the nursery care provision so they can attend their education and work without concerns. Over 90% of these girlsare affected by female genital mutilation, beading, early marriages, abuse, poverty, poor access to healthcare and often become street-girls to survive. These are culturally sensitive issues and we aim to work with local charitable organisations, authorities and leaders to help facilitate and support.
In Nairobi we have already piloted vocational training and established start-up seamstress businesses for graduates. We are being donated a plot of land by World Servant, where we aim to build a boarding school and rehabilitation centre. We will initially care for100 girls from the Nairobi slums and Masaai community. Our eventual aim is to run a boarding school with healthcare and nursery provisions for up to 800 girls, test the model and replicate. As they graduate from the school we will help to establish them in business. We are currently raising funds to build the school (£104k is required)
3)In collaboration with Cambridge University Hospital’s Addenbrookes Abroad, we are supporting with the executive education of the Ministry of Health and local resources. We are supporting their drive to create an effective strategy and culture that addresses issues affecting healthcare performance in some of the most challenged countries/regions including Botswana, El Salvador and Burma. We are specifically helping to raise awareness and funds (£33k) to address issues such as preventable neonatal morbidity through the education and support of healthcare professionals. The Inspiring Leadership executive education programme is led by professional coaches and leaders volunteering their time.
Finally, IKON asked where the charity sees itself in 5 years time…
•Our focus is long-term sustainability and therefore our methods and solutions are more considered. As we take on an individual, a project, a location, we evaluate it to understand whether we can make sustainable change and help to empower women. This is not a quick fix, we will work with them over a period of time in their lives, helping them to become role models to others and affect real change.
•I see an end to issues such as FGM etc globally but this takes time. There are no quick fixes here. We need concentrated effort, a deep understanding of and working with local sensitivities and the creation of role models and success stories that inspire others to follow. As Sir Richard Stagg (former British High Commissioner to India), our Patron highlighted, if we make it about numbers and box-ticking, then it’s all about us. If we make it about well-considered, responsible approaches to creating positive and sustainable action, it’s all about the people and their communities. We have to be realistic, as many of these issues can take years, even generations, to resolve.
•I see the transition from self-segregated women’s networks to more inclusive and diverse networks, where leaders collaborate to affect change. This is not just about women helping women, it’s a collective movement of inspiring male and female leaders addressing a 21st-century issue. I aspire for this to be a reciprocal process whereby leaders make a commitment to help others and are in turn developed themselves. The Inspiring Leadership Trust’s agenda is built around a core set of values that returns to the essence of ‘community spirit’.
•We will build upon the huge success of our inaugural gala event in London, with further events in Dubai, and the USA and hold a repeat annual event in September 2016 in London. We will be inviting leaders to participate in affecting change. Our existing community projects currently are Kenya, Botswana and UK. Let’s see how this evolves…