Meet Adirupa Sengupta, Group CEO, Common Purpose Charitable Trust, and Dara Connolly, CEO, Common Purpose Ireland. Common Purpose is a global social enterprise that develops, upskills and connects people from a range of backgrounds to help them become more effective leaders in society.
Covid19 has affected our business in a big way. Our business is built on a unique peer-to-peer experiential learning model. Using the ‘city as the classroom’, we bring leaders out of their typical day-to-day environments, and immerse them in different leadership environments so that they can learn about leadership up close at first-hand. Venues would include a prison, city port, national theatre, sports arena, tech multinational, etc. At the start of the crisis, it felt like Covid19 had attacked the very heart of our delivery model; it felt negative, detrimental even but quickly we saw the opportunity.
The importance of purpose
Once we realised the extent of the challenge to our business model, we were determined to find ways to overcome it and not let it affect our survival. We are an organisation with an incredibly strong sense of purpose – to develop leaders who can cross boundaries so they can tackle the complex problems in the world. I think when you have a strong purpose, like we do, then that’s what motivates you – that’s what matters – not necessarily the delivery model. It’s certainly helped us get into the mind set to survive, adapt and thrive. As we’ve pivoted, we’ve found new and exciting ways to deliver on our purpose.
How we pivoted
We have adapted our business model in two ways. Critically we shifted all of our face-to-face and in-person delivery to a blended, multi-dimensional model. As we are a global organisation running programmes across the world; it was imperative that we develop an impactful offering that could be delivered entirely virtually, but also easily adapted to a blended or face-to-face model based on the prevailing public health advice.
We also met the challenge of aligning our resource model to the needs of this reframed delivery model. In many ways we were lucky, because we have been delivering experiential leadership development online since 2014. It’s a space we understand well and in which we have a strong track record of meaningful impact. However, until this year, it only represented a small proportion of our activity, globally. So we’ve had to upskill parts of our business very quickly to turn online learning into our primary delivery model (at least for the time being).
How we innovated
By using a large amount of creativity and inventiveness in our curation and programme design, we have designed a virtual offering that retains – even surpasses – the impact of our traditional face-to-face programmes. Key has been maintaining participant interactivity – taking people out of their day-to-day roles and challenges, whilst ensuring opportunities for personal reflection to ensure the learning is embedded. For example we have used drones, behind-the-scenes videos, live in-house interviews, break out rooms via Zoom, Teams and Web X to replicate the Common Purpose live experience.
Furthermore, with physical barriers dismantled; our programmes have gone fully global. The world is now a lot smaller and the commonality of challenges across borders and sectors is bringing us all onto the same playing field. Whereas previously programmes were solely city-based – e.g. Dublin, London, Hong Kong, Bangalore; our programme participants can now explore leadership across a range of locations via virtual ‘immersions’. Our global reach ensures that our programme participant groups are larger and more diverse than ever before, fostering rich leadership learnings. In Common Purpose we always say ‘the learning is in the room’. By learning within a group of diverse leaders across the world, participants’ perspectives are widened, horizons broadened and they become more agile and effective leaders.
Crisis drives culture change
To be honest, some of the changes we brought about as a result of Covid19 are things we were pushing to do for a while, but it was hard to drive all at once. Funny how a crisis can help propel culture change in an organisation! Covid19 helped us embrace digital at a speed and in a way that would have been hard to drive had it been in ‘normal’ circumstances.
Elements like the programmes now being international, incorporating coaching, the use of the Life Long Learning App (like a ‘Fitbit for the brain’), Translate sessions to embed the learning and our unique online portal to keep our leaders continually talking and sharing experiences will all be maintained after social distancing is over.
The future for both our business and society is hard to predict. The only certainty is uncertainty. Equally though, this crisis has given people an opportunity to think about how we can improve on how things used to be pre-Covid19. Preparing for this fluid future will require leaders to be resilient, agile and compassionate. While the market has been challenging during this period, we are confident that organisations that recognise the need for these strengths in their leaders will continue to recognise the value that Common Purpose provides. While the mood music in the economy at present can be disheartening, the key lesson we learned during the financial crisis of the last decade is that investment in a leadership culture that can adapt and innovate, pays an even greater dividend during challenging times.
Adirupa Sengupta & Dara Connolly
Group CEO & CEO Ireland
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