Listen to the seventh TGLF Dialogue on learning, leadership, and impact

Reda Sadki Leadership, Writing

Every episode is different, drawing on the life experiences of Key Contributors and of listeners who become contributors by sharing their own learning and leadership challenges – and what they are doing about them.

For this Seventh Dialogue for Learning & Leadership, recorded on 26 September 2021, we have around our table for the first time three new Key Contributors.

  • Victoria J. Marsick, PhD, is a professor of Adult and Organizational Learning in the Department of Organization & Leadership, Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining Teachers College, she was a training director at the United Nations Children’s Fund.
  • Dorothy Marcic went, she says, “from Footnotes to Footlights”. She quit academia and a regular paycheck to become a full-time playwright. She wrote two hit musicals, RESPECT, which has played 2800 performances in 72 cities and SISTAS, currently playing Off-Broadway in New York City for over six years.
  • Nabanita De‘s full-time occupation is as a cloud security engineer. She is also the founder of Returnships, a non-profit initiative, aimed to help women to get back to work after a long haul in career.

We welcome back Bill Gardner and Nancy Dixon, who listen and share their insights from the Dialogue, and thank Tari LawsonJoyce Muriithi, and Aanu Rotimi for their insightful contributions.

Listen to the sixth TGLF Dialogue on learning, leadership, and impact

Reda Sadki Leadership, Writing

In this sixth Dialogue for learning, leadership, and impact on 29 August 2021, Reda Sadki and Karen E. Watkins explore:

  • Is there a meaningful difference between change and transformation? Key Contributor Aliki Nicolaides believes that there is. She has just completed editing the new Palgrave Handbook of Learning for Transformation, a collection of more than 1,100 pages of research, thinking, and practice, exploring a more complex and deeper inquiry into the “Why of transformation.”
  • We talk to Australian communications guru Mike Hanley about how he learned to survive, adapt, and lead an organization’s communications in a world where, he says, “everything changes, in real time, as the digital media environment shifts with technology, trends and events.”
  • Tari Dawson is a doctor and teacher of medicine in Nigeria. She shares her leadership journey, revisiting a time during the HIV pandemic when she had to make difficult decisions to reshape an organization – and discovered that change is “a process, not a procedure.”
  • New digital platforms are transforming the relationships between creators and their patrons. We discuss Patreon CEO Jack Conte‘s perspective about the transformation of patronage in the Digital Age – and explore what this might mean for learning leaders. 

Listen to the fifth TGLF Dialogue on learning, leadership, and impact

Reda Sadki Leadership, Writing

Welcome to this fifth episode of the Geneva Learning Foundation’s Dialogue for Learning, Leadership, and Impact, recorded on 25 July 2021. First of all, with my Co-Convenor Karen E. Watkins, I want to thank the Contributors who have brought this Dialogue to life. There are many venues where leadership and learning are discussed. I do not know of another one quite like this one, focused on practitioners from everywhere working on everything, fusing theory and research with practice, and dedicated to exploration with no rigid institutional or disciplinary boundaries.

Bill Wiggenhorn, the legendary founder of Motorola University, is with us tonight for the first time. The other Key Contributors for this episode are: Katiuscia Fara, Bill Gardner, and Esther Wojcicki. Charlotte Mbuh, Emmanuel Musa, and Min Zha shared their leadership journeys. Other Contributors included: Esther Dheve Djissa, Joseph Ngugi, Joyce Muriithi, Morufu Olalekan Raimi, Muhammad Umar Sadkwa, and Ritha Willilo.

Together, we explored the following issues through the twin lenses of learning and leadership:

  1. Climate change specialist Katiuscia Fara contributed the following question for discussion: How to ensure equity when looking at digital trainings given that not everyone, and especially those most vulnerable, might have access to it. What are some of the solutions that we can look at in delivering at the last mile?
  2. For the first time, we called on Contributors to fill the “Empty Chair”. This was suggested by Nancy Dixon: choose a person in the room and ask them about their insights on leadership – and share their learning journey. Charlotte MbuhMin Zha, and Emmanuel Musa are the first to fill the chair.
  3. Return to shared physical space? With two corporate learning heavyweights in the room, we discussed what Chief Learning Officers (CLOs) should be advising Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to navigate the seismic shifts in the world of work wrought by the digital transformation and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Renaissance for global health


Reda Sadki Education business models, Global health

For decades, learning in global health has depended on a conventional model premised on the scarcity of available knowledge and an emphasis on establishing mechanisms to transmit that knowledge from the center (capital city, headquarters) to the periphery (field, village, training room).

With the Internet, scarcity disappeared. But the economy of high-cost, low-volume training has persisted, with little or no accountability. Worse, transmissive training – replicating the least-effective practices from physical spaces – began to proliferate online in video-based training and webinars.

That economy need to be rebuilt in a digital-first age. It requires a new, long-term infrastructure.

The platforms that could do this are the ones that deeply care about the people they reach, with teams who understand that trust in boundless digital spaces must be earned. It has to come from the heart.

The quality of content also matters, but it is not sufficient.

The quality of conversation in the network – as well as the quality of the ‘pipes’ that connect those in it – matter more.

So does the quality of the relationships, both between the team and its members, but – perhaps even more so – between its members. 

There are a number of digital platforms that are trying to connect health workers. In aggregate, it is going to work. 

The fledgling efforts have been about how to reach people. The next phase is going to be about rebuilding the knowledge and learning engine that can drive not just performance and results, but also renew meaning and purpose.

This rebuilding will be based on trust. And on transferring ownership from those who initiated these platforms to those who need them.

Trust does not happen because a platform is easy to use. It does not happen because great content is being offered. It is not about getting the “user” to click the “register here” or “join now” calls to action. 

We have seen what happens when social media customers are advertisers rather than content creators. 

What is the business model for digital health education?

Competition in digital health education can foster a Renaissance for global public health.

We need platforms to succeed if we do not want to remain in the Dark Ages.

Listen to the fourth TGLF Dialogue on learning, leadership, and impact

Reda Sadki Leadership, Writing

On 27 June 2021, Convenors of the Geneva Learning Foundation’s Dialogue for learning, leadership and impact, Karen Watkins and Reda Sadki, were joined by four Key Contributors: Laura Bierema, Bill Gardner, Bryan Hopkins, and Aliki Nicolaides. Contributors include: Aleida Auld, Charlotte Mbuh, Cleopas Chiyangwa, Emmanuel Musa, Frema Osei-Tutu, Iliyasu Adamu, Joseph Ngugi, Kuldeep Baishya, Lara Idris, Nadene Canning, Ndaeyo Iwot, Rhoda Samson, Sachithra Dilani, Samuel Sha’aibu, Sfundo Gratitude Sithole, Simon Adjei, Sohini Sanyal, Sonia, Stephen Downes, and Tari Lawson. Here are seven of the themes that we explored together.

  1. Leadership for digital learning: can we make online breakout groups similar to in-person small groups – or is that the wrong question?
  2. How do we learn within ambiguity and uncertainty – and why is this so important now and particularly in a humanitarian context?
  3. How important is it that your own personal values are aligned with those of your organization?
  4. Is there any evidence for theories of leadership?
  5. Why is authority so often conflated with leadership?
  6. Can those who lack authority lead change?
  7. What impact will artificial intelligence have on learning and leadership?

Our purpose is not only to know what Contributors think about a topic, challenge, or issue. We also want to understand how they came to know. And what coming to know – the question of epistemology – has to do with leadership.

Leaders among us

Listening for leadership

Reda Sadki Leadership

On 30 May 2021, Convenors Karen Watkins and Reda Sadki were joined by eight Key Contributors: Nancy Dixon, Bryan Hopkins, Barbara Moser-Mercer, Renee Rogers, Catherine Russ, Esther Wojcicki, Laura Bierema, and Emanuele Capobianco.

This was the third Dialogue convened by The Geneva Learning Foundation for learning, leadership, and impact.

Each Key Contributor has a fascinating, singular leadership journey. This trajectory may have a collective dimension, of movements, of belonging, or of affiliation that have and continue to shape it. Even when this is so, it is also profoundly personal and individual. It is also a process of accretion – although we tend to recall quantum leaps in significant learning. For some, there may be discomfort with calling oneself a ‘leader’, given the conflation between leadership and authority, leadership and management, leadership and perceived value in society.

Then, there is the moment of coming to consciousness, about the significance of leadership.

So we started there, by asking:

  • How do you define the notion of leadership in this Digital Age? How is it different from notions of leadership in the past?
  • When and how did you realize the significance of the leadership question in your work and life? Who or what helped you come to consciousness?
  • What difference did it make to have this new consciousness about the importance of leadership?
    What is your own leadership practice now?
  • How do you define your leadership in relationship to learning? Are you a ‘learning leader’ and, if so, what does that mean?

We are privileged to have a number of Key Contributors who have dedicated their life’s work to the study of leadership and learning. We are interested in their leadership journeys, of course, but we will also turn to them to ask:

  • What do you hear, as you listen to these stories?
  • What can you share from your work on leadership to better understand the journeys being shared?

And, really, we want to know: How do you listen to people sharing their experience of leadership? What should we be listening for in order to unravel what goes into – and can come out of – leadership?

You can listen to the Dialogue here.

blue skies and rainbow

A round table for Immunization Agenda 2030: The leap from “bottom-up” consultation to multidimensional dialogue

Reda Sadki Global health

They connected from health facilities, districts, and national teams all over the world. 4,769 immunization professionals from the largest network of immunization managers in the world joined this week’s Special Event for Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030), the new strategy for immunization, with 59 global and regional partners who accepted the invitation to listen, learn, and share their feedback. (The Special Event is now being re-run every four hours, and you can join the next session here.)

“My ‘Eureka moment’ was when the presenter emphasized that many outbreaks are happening throughout the globe and it is the people in the room who can steer things in a better direction”, shared a participant. “This gave me motivation and confidence that by unifying on a platform and by discussing the challenges, we can reach a solution.”

Two of the top global people accountable for executing this new strategy, WHO’s Ann Lindstrand and UNICEF’s Robin Nandy, were in attendance. “With such commitment”, said Robin Nandy, “I am confident that we can achieve the goals of IA2030. Let us be mindful of the importance of convenient and high quality services delivered by a well informed workforce, which you all embody.”

Hearing “invaluable insights”, Ann Lindstrand recalled that “IA2030 was developed with thousands of immunization stakeholders like you. It reflects exactly what you are telling today. I am encouraged to hear your analyses and ideas to face our common challenges.”

Indeed, in developing Immunization Agenda 2030 intended to be “adaptive and flexible”, global partners employed a “bottom-up co-creation process”, described as “close engagement of countries to ensure that the vision, strategic priorities and goals are aligned with country needs.”

There is, however, a risk of confirmation bias. Staff from countries do their best to carry out what they have been asked to do. In the conventional top-down hierarchical system, global recommendations are adopted by ministries of health that then command staff to execute them. If the system remains overly rigid, staff who want to keep their jobs are likely to confirm and comfort the assumptions of the higher-ups whose vision they have been tasked to implement, no matter the depth of the chasm between these assumptions and reality.

During the Teach to Reach Accelerator conference in January 2021, Kate O’Brien, the director of WHO’s Immunization Department, pointed out that the term “bottom-up initiative” does not call into question existing hierarchies: “I don’t like the sort of hierarchy, about this is the bottom and this is the top, it has a certain sort of power element to me. […] I think leadership is about sitting around a table with a group of people, and drawing the best ideas from everybody who’s sitting around that table, wherever they come from.”

Of course, immunization programmes have a strong technical dimension that require standardization. There are critical elements required for safe and effective vaccination. For example, WHO now organizes weekly didactic Q&A webinars (with Project ECHO, a fascinating organization of doctors exploring new ways to learn, and TechNet-21, a pioneering digital platform for immunization) that do the job of transmitting information to people involved in COVID-19 vaccine introduction. However, we know that information is necessary but insufficient to lead to the effective localization and application of standards. 

As Kate O’Brien explained, “we need people to feel like they have the authority and are empowered to lead change in their community, in their programme, at the most local level, understanding what the goal is and what the targets are, taking those critical things that really cannot be compromised and adapting all around that.”

The IA2030 framework is, according to its global custodians, “designed to be tailored by countries to their local context, and to be revised throughout the decade as new needs and challenges emerge.” In line with this vision, global partners are hoping to foster a “groundswell of support” or even a “social movement”, to ensure that immunization remains high on global and regional health agendas in support of countries.

Alicia Juarrero, whose research focuses upon complex systems’ models of neural processes involved in proto-moral, moral and ethical cognition, emotions and behaviors, has made the compelling point that requires us to restructure what she calls the “space of possibility”. Continuous dialogue enabled by digital technologies can cut across hierarchies and borders to help create such a space. This represents a logical and constructive shift from “bottom-up” toward what Ian Steed has called multidimensional dialogue.

Such a dialogue is likely to be different from what global partner staff are used to. It may be interesting, yet feel somehow illegitimate, if only because challenging the status quo may not be in their job description. Some may question its relevance. “This is just not how we do things in immunization,” is how one partner rebuked us in private. Others may even feel threatened, choosing to ignore or dismiss it, even if their organization’s mission is to support countries and people who deliver vaccines. Certainly, what is emergent is far from perfect and requires continued improvement to be truly inclusive of all voices and stakeholders needed to achieve the immunization goals. Nevertheless, participants in this week’s global round table collectively expressed the feeling of empowerment that stems from being connected in a global community for action. Combined with active presence and strong support of organizational leaders, it is moments like these that can spark new consciousness and could foster the birth of a movement.

Image: Rainbow above the clouds. Personal collection.

Arve Henriksen – Groundswell

What is the value of strategy in the middle of a global crisis?

Reda Sadki Global public health, Learning strategy

A new global vision and strategy titled ‘Immunization Agenda 2030: A Global Strategy to Leave No One Behind (IA2030)’ was endorsed by the World Health Assembly less than a year before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Today, the cumulative tension of both urgent and longstanding challenges is stretching people who deliver vaccines. Challenges include immunization service recovery, COVID-19 vaccine introduction, and the persistence of epidemic outbreaks of diseases that can already be prevented by vaccines.

Is this the right time to launch a global strategy – especially one developed before the pandemic – to achieve the immunization goals?

Yes, immunization staff the world over – and the societies we live in – are still reeling from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, in times of crisis, thinking and acting strategically can help each of us stay focused on the global immunization goals, keeping us on the path to equitable immunization coverage for everyone. In fact, my conviction is that it is this focus that could make the difference between short-term Pyrrhic recovery and building back better.

Immunization was already recognized as a success story, saving millions of lives every year. The incredibly rapid development of vaccines to protect from the coronavirus has brought the significance of immunization to the entire world’s attention. Is it exaggerated to claim that vaccines – and the people who deliver them – are now saving the world?

Global partners accountable for Immunization Agenda 2030 are hoping to generate a “groundswell of support” or even a “social movement” to ensure that immunization remains high on global and regional health agendas in support of countries.

One good starting point is for global partners to take time to listen to the people who carry out the daily work of vaccination – and for immunization staff from countries to be empowered to share their challenges, lessons learned, and successes with each other. For such listening to be more than a quaint or condescending exercise requires a strategic focus and commitment to respond to these challenges. That, again, is how Immunization Agenda 2030 may be read and applied – if it is interpreted not as a prescriptive guideline-from-above but as a call and openness to new and flexible forms of action.

Image: Towards Language, by Arve Henriksen – Groundswell.

Defoe in the Pillory

Accountability in learning

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

What if you were the key internal resource person with learning expertise?

What if you advocated, recommended, and prescribed low-volume, high-cost face-to-face training?

What if your advocacy was so successful that global partners invested hundreds of millions of dollars in what you prescribed – even in the absence of any standard to determine the return on that investment?

What if your recommended approach resulted in zero measurable impact?

What if partners nevertheless kept spending on training, entrenching perverse incentives like per diem to substitute for motivation, evidence, and results?

What if you ignored and then dismissed, for as long as you possibly could, the relevance and potential of digital networks to support learning?

What if you then managed to replicate the worst, least effective kinds of training through sterile digital formats of slides with voiceovers and a quiz at the end?

What if you kept badgering managers to get their people to stop work in order to learn?

What if you responded to the disconnect between learning and work with convoluted competency frameworks and elaborate performance management “solutions” that changed nothing?

What if you used your internal position as gatekeeper to stifle innovation, to ridicule and undermine those advocating new approaches?

What if you then felt threatened when these new approaches began to show results that you have never been able to achieve?

What if you were held accountable for any or all of the above?

Image: Defoe in the Pillory (Wikipedia Commons).

Dialogue for learning, leadership, and impact

Now is not everything

Reda Sadki Leadership, Writing

“Everything is now. Knowledge flows in real time. Global conversations are no longer restricted by physical space. The world has become immediate.” – George Siemens in Knowing Knowledge (2006)

Twenty Key Contributors have now joined the Geneva Learning Foundation’s monthly Dialogue on learning, leadership, and impact. They include: Laura Bierema, Emanuele Copabianco, Nancy Dixon, Katiuscia Fara, Bill Gardner, Keith Hampson, Bryan Hopkins, Iris Isip-Tan, Barbara Moser-Mercer, Aliki Nicolaides, Renee Rogers, Alan Todd, Bill Wiggenhorn, Esther Wojcicki, and Chizoba Wonodi. If you are curious, a few quick Google searches should make obvious two points: First, each one is a singular thinker and leader. Second, with a few exceptions, they might otherwise never meet.

Why do we need such a dialogue? Who is it for? And what do we aim to accomplish?

By learning, we mean the process by which humans come to know, organized into the discipline of education. The science of education, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis have asserted, “develops knowledge about the processes of coming to know”, making education “privileged to be the science of sciences.”

Our mission at the Foundation is to discover new ways to tackle the threats to our societies. Our conviction is that education as a philosophy for change provides uniquely fertile ground in the Digital Age for exploration, once disciplinary guardrails and institutional blinders are removed.

“What if”, ponders Aliki Nicolaides, whose work explores learning-within-ambiguity, “learning was the way of an ethical life where the interdependence between individual and societal evolution was embraced and structures reflected an ethic of mutual care, human, non-human, and nature?”

It is easy to get lost in our complex world. The immediacy of the world only heightens the need for reflective practice.

For Renee Rogers, whose coaching practice seeks to “create positive change around challenging issues”, we need a dialogue on “healing collective trauma” to “foster human evolution”.

This dialogue does not have to be abstract, convoluted, or complicated. As Esther Wojcicki, a remarkable Silicon Valley high school teacher, journalist, and author of both Moonshots in Education and How to Raise Successful People, says “simple lessons” can lead to “radical results.”

Why does the Foundation consider leadership to be central in relation to learning?

Leadership is about sense-making to navigate both the known and the unknown. “Leadership is as much of an art”, argued Robert G. Lord and Jessica E. Dinh in 2014, “as it is a role that has significant impact on individuals, groups, organizations, and societies.”

I realized the significance of leadership through engagement with the profound research and writing of Catherine Russ on humanitarian leadership and the professionalization of humanitarian work. This coming to consciousness about the significance of leadership is, in my view, indispensable to transforming theories of change into effective practice.

Can we answer the question of “how to lead” – the prevailing obsession of thousands of business books – before we comprehend how we know what we know about leadership? (Of course, if we do not yet recognize the significance of leadership or reduce it to a “soft skill”, we do not even realize how much both of these questions matter.)

In our inaugural Dialogue on 28 March 2021, my co-founder Karen E. Watkins explained her “belief that, if you create a certain openness in an organizational culture, people are much more likely to see themselves as leaders”. That belief is grounded in a lifetime of visionary dedication to the study of learning culture, leadership, and change.

Alan Todd is a pioneer of digital learning for multinational corporations. There, “change” means, at the very least, a restructuring every seven months. Eight years ago, he wrote that “as leadership talent – and talent in general – become the predominant asset of business, value shifts to the firm’s know-how.”

By impact, we are primarily interested in the creation of value in global development, health, and humanitarian response. It could be said to be shorthand for radical results. (Value and results may mean different things in profit-driven industries – but they all depend on the peculiar industry dedicated to ensuring that there remains a world where we can buy and sell things.)

Against the present and future threats that loom over our societies, we start with those of concern to the Dialogue’s known circle conveners and contributors. Then – and this is where we positively deviate from the norm of expert panels – we intersect these concerns with the challenges, insights, and successes shared by participants who may, initially, be complete strangers to us and to each other.

Our focus on impact saves the Dialogue from descending into the rabbit hole of purely abstract discussion. 

For example, education as social structure has proven incredibly resistant to change. This is a significant threat, as the gap grows between the needs of our societies and what schools and universities are able to provide. Our exploration will certainly be both broad and deep here, spanning from new economic models for education to new ways of thinking and doing for learning practitioners. 

Higher education analyst Keith Hampson has submitted this question for the Dialogue: “To what extent will alternative education providers (i.e. not colleges and universities) establish legitimacy? Will the soft monopoly held by colleges and universities inhibit the development of new forms of digital education and new digital education providers?”

Bill Gardner, a seasoned executive leadership coach, wonders: “How do we as learning facilitators speed up time-to-capability without sacrificing quality and effectiveness?”

What if you do not fit into any of the historical categories of teacher, professor, coach, trainer, or instructional designer? Key to the Dialogue is the recognition that the lens of education needs to expand to include other professions that increasingly recognize the centrality of how we come to know.

Image: Detail of a sculpture found in the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyère, Switzerland. Personal collection.