Nurturing Europe’s next generation of business leaders

Last year, when Oru Ogbo was asked by his employer if he would like to join a new program to train and support young leaders in Europe, he did not hesitate. As a Nigerian who came to the UK ten years ago to work at PwC, he is keen to share his experiences and hear different perspectives.

“I want to hear what other people think about big topics: climate change, geopolitics, misinformation,” he said. “And be a part of shaping the next generation of leadership. I’ve found some completely different perspectives on leadership, diversity and how immigrants should fit in.”

He joins a group of volunteers in their 20s, from many countries and professional backgrounds, who have helped develop Europe101, a free online seminar and lecture series supported by an online platform. So far, the fourth cohort has just started, and it has recruited more than 1,000 participants. They discuss their perspectives and challenges; debate leadership concepts related to purpose, inclusion, and trust; and commit to each other, thinking about how they will change and act in the future.

“We are using leadership programmes to bind a generation and allow these young people to become leaders,” said Julia Middleton, who developed the project, which is overseen by her charity Common Purpose. “Their perception is that leadership is static and institutionalized to maintain the status quo. We are challenging that to make their minds more fluid. They realize that the role of a leader is more than just support [the employees] But to get the job done. “

Europe101 reflects a wider need by individuals and employers for flexible new approaches to training and networking across borders – at a time when all aspects of UK government policy are moving in the opposite direction, from Brexit to cuts to international exchanges and volunteering project.

One example is the UK’s decision in 2020 to withdraw from Erasmus, the EU-backed system focused on supporting students to spend a year at universities in different countries, often. It was replaced by the more modest Turing scheme, which offered short-term internships to Britons, without reciprocal arrangements for nationals of other countries to come to the UK.

“The best thing the UK can do is to rejoin,” said Juan Rayón González, president of the Erasmus Student Network. He cited benefits such as better communication, team building, cross-cultural understanding and civic engagement. “Erasmus alumni vote more in European elections. This makes them more active citizens.”

Other UK-backed projects have also been squeezed. For example, the International Citizenship Services programme, which was run by Voluntary Service Overseas and offered a 12-week internship, was cancelled in 2020. “It fosters active citizenship, builds your confidence, gives you better employment opportunities and improves your well-being,” said chief executive Philip Goodwin. “We talk about opportunities globally in the UK and around the world, but there’s no money behind them. It’s a huge waste.”

Projects like this may have the greatest benefits, but require expensive time abroad. This limits the diversity of people who can participate, while also raising environmental concerns about the carbon footprint of the travels involved. The coronavirus pandemic has spawned an alternative online approach: It’s forced business schools and other institutions to adjust.

The growth of projects such as Europe101 shows that this approach will develop. For employers like Scottish Football Association manager Danny Bisland, who have nominated some participants, the benefits are clear.

“We’ve seen a huge shift from teams to large community-led organizations,” he said. “Clubs in Scotland have moved from football to supporting food banks, seniors and community care at an alarming rate during Covid. That will only continue. The role of young people is very important: they can talk to their peers. Very interested in being involved in decision making.”

Nicolas Kloos, a German mechanic who attends Europe101’s weekly seminars, says the lessons have helped him better understand the importance of considering the opinions of others. He believes that the network in particular can provide the greatest long-term benefits. “It’s not what you know that matters, it’s the people you know and the connections you make,” he said.

Marshall Marcus, secretary general of the European Youth Orchestra, who also sent participants, said: “There are all kinds of reasons to hone leadership and young people feel that our generation has screwed things up. They Want to be part of the decision.”

He believes that with so many pressing issues now, such as the climate crisis, the plan underscores the complexity of the leadership role. The more culturally diverse the participants, the more valuable the learning experience, he said.

Marcus also adds that the flexible “liquid leadership” philosophy behind these projects is essential across Europe – and crucial in his own music profession.

“We need to move away from the old style of hierarchical leadership. When musicians play together, it’s incredible that they are able to take the lead at the right moment, hold it and pass it on.”

The next test for Europe101 and other such “light touch” online programs will be the long-term impact, including whether participants retain and nurture the connections they make.

Arguably, it’s easier to form relationships and share experiences over a longer period of time when people are face-to-face – for example, Erasmus participants often live and work together.

But since getting involved last year, Ogbo said he has kept in touch with many of the people he met. He left PwC to start his own education startup and became an “ambassador” recruiting other young people to Europe 101. He saw an urgent need for his generation to get involved in solving society’s biggest problems.

“We generally think that leadership should be flatter, that hierarchical structures are a thing of the past,” he said.

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