In 2013, Women’s World Banking’s Center for Microfinance Leadership (CML) was given the incredible opportunity to create a new Senior Leadership Exchange to grow its own product offering while supporting the development of women leaders in microfinance. The exchange granted by Citi Foundation, one of the sponsors of the 2012 Foromic, became part of the Inter-American Award for Microenterprise Development special awards that provided each of the winning institution with certificates for specialized leadership trainings.
“We feel excited with the development of this program, which will help us strengthen the ties of our inter-institutional relationships as well as our leadership skills, both at a personal and institutional level”.
-Mercedes Canalda de Beras Goico, Executive President, Banco ADOPEM
The two winning institutions, Banco ADOPEM (Dominican Republic) and Banca Comunitaria Banesco (Venezuela), met in the Dominican Republic to participate in a highly customized Senior Leadership Exchange. The three day retreat convened three leaders from each winning organization to discuss leadership topics that focused on personal value systems, self-reflection, leadership styles and future institutional objectives using a methodology based on Dialogue Education™. The program, funded by the Citi Foundation, demonstrates a shared commitment to building principled leadership in the microfinance sector.
Unlike more traditional leadership development approaches, many of which have been employed by CML, dialogue-based learning gives the leaders themselves the opportunity to co-create the agenda to meet their institutional and personal development needs. Every detail of the agenda was customized by and for the participants including “hot topics” identified by the two institutions. The level of customization ranged from more general preferences such as the structure and content of the program down to details like the participants’ preferred physical setting. This deeply collaborative process takes full advantage of the skills, expertise, and leadership styles that different stakeholders bring to each project.
Co-creating the Senior Leadership Exchange agenda
Discovery. The first step in our collaboration began with one-on-one conversations with members of the participating teams to explore new ideas, challenges and opportunities that are important to each organization or individual. Through this exercise, we discovered that measuring social impact, financial education, and institutional mission drift were concerns shared by the leaders. We compiled these emerging themes and continued the discovery process with a facilitated group discussion. This discussion was critical because it began the important process of building a learning community between the participants, reinforced their sense of ownership as co-creators and further established a framework for the three-day agenda.
Development. While traditional agendas tend to set both the timing and the content of a learning program, our agenda was intentionally designed to be flexible so we could capitalize on the rich peer-learning that naturally arises when leaders come together, i.e. a two hour brainstorming session on micro-franchise or sharing tips on building delegation skills That is why it was also so important for us to create the right environment for the program. During the discovery phase, the leaders in the exchange asked for a venue with outdoor spaces for reflection and enough time for one-on-one discussions with each other, a retreat-like feel conducive to intimate and informal conversation. Our cohort also asked for time in the agenda for sharing the learning with their team members beyond the group of six participants. Mercedes Canalda de Beras Goico of Banco ADOPEM commented that the award was given to Banco ADOPEM and that therefore, “this learning experience must be shared with my team to create greater impact in the organization.” Keeping this in mind, the program agenda included a dialogue with high-potential women leaders at Banco ADOPEM and a meeting with the team at Banesco in Santo Domingo.
Implementation. Ultimately, the participants took ownership of the agenda. The framework for the program was built for adaptiveness and flexibility to incorporate themes that might emerge during the conversations and exercises. Reflection time each day allowed participants to take note of lessons learned, impactful discoveries, and to revisit the agenda to make sure that the objectives of the program were being met.
Importance of the “co” in co-creation
The process of co-creating an agenda allows leaders to practice their influencing, delegation, listening, and convening skills. Our exchange participants shared their leadership challenges with each other and discussed how those obstacles were overcome. The group talked about the hot topics that they were presently dealing with, and created a vision for their organizations for the future. They identified leadership skills required to succeed in business and in life while reflecting on the personal values cemented during their early childhood years. The exchange was so impactful that participants are working towards re-creating some of the modules internally with members of their organizations. Barbary Zoghbi, Regional Manager, Banca Comunitaria Banesco, indicated that she is planning to recreate one of the exercises in oder to “learn more about my team’s personal and career objectives. Though it may sometimes take leaders out of their comfort zone, dialogue-based learning “puts the leaders squarely in the seat she occupies in her organization, not as a consumer of an experience but a shaper of that experience,” according to leadership development expert Nick Petrie.
The Center for Microfinance Leadership, with its continued dedication to engaging visionary leaders in the microfinance sector, values the opportunity to work with women who lead exemplary organizations. It is a privilege to add Banca Comunitaria Banesco to our list of alumni and to continue to support Banco ADOPEM’s leadership development goals, thanks to the Citi Foundation’s commitment to develop strong leaders in microfinance devoted to serve low-income women. As a co-facilitator for this exchange, it was gratifying to see six incredible women work together and demonstrate their commitment to their institutional and personal missions. They are a solid reflection of their values and their life long goal to serve their communities with humility and responsibility.