How the African Food Fellowship Thinks About Leadership

The African Food Fellowship’s flagship offering, the Food Systems Leadership Programme (FSLP), is a 10-month virtual course that takes Fellows on a deep dive of leadership building and practicing. Offered by faculty from the Wageningen University & Research and Wasafiri Consulting, the FSLP combines academic theory with real-world problem solving, technical mentorship, and leadership coaching. It equips Fellows with the skills and confidence to be highly sought after change-leaders in their spheres. Fellows have found success in applying the lessons from the FSLP, both in their careers and in exciting new systems initiatives they have undertaken while on their leadership journey.

In the below interview excerpt, FSLP curriculum lead Riti Herman Mostert engages fellow faculty member Kate Simpson on the principles of leadership that the FSLP embraces, to bring us a comprehensive breakdown of what transformative leadership really means.

1. Leadership invites different views.

It’s crucial to listen to different views and different voices. You don’t need to be super-human to be a leader. The African Food Fellowship is about revealing your leadership and having a language for your leadership. We are respectful of our Fellows as existing leaders, not as people that need to become leaders.

Rwanda Cohort 1 fellows engage during the graduation ceremony in Kigali, Rwanda.

2. Leadership reflects.

Leadership needs to be practical and inclusive. It is a daily interaction, and it is in the way you choose to show up with people. It is not about sitting around and having a big vision. It is active and interactive. In our Food Systems Leadership Programme, the Fellows and faculty function as a mirror that reflects a Fellow’s authority and competence.

We ask Fellows to talk to someone in their world and do a 360 degrees assessment. Then they are asked to find stories of other Fellows doing leadership work. We have found that there aren’t just a set number of characteristics of leadership. For us, critical practice is important; we practice reflecting on your leadership and others.

3. Leadership is relational.

Leadership happens between people. It is not done by one person to another. People have agency to decide whether they will be led by you. Leadership is an action, a practice. It is not about who you are, it is what you do, and you don’t do it all the time. Sometimes you do well, sometimes you don’t. You are not a leader; you are someone who does leadership. It means that I can’t do great leadership if you are not influenced by me, and me by you.

4. Leadership is contextual.

There are things that give your leadership legitimacy: the position you hold in an organisation, your gender, your race. Some of these things you earn, others are an unearned privilege. An important question to ask is, where does your power come from?

We ask both Fellows and faculty about where they draw their power from, and how they use it. Leaders have an obligation to elevate others and draw them in. A practical way to do this is by inviting others to speak if you were given the opportunity first. Leadership needs power and Fellows shouldn’t hide it away.

5. Leadership is doing … and letting others do.

Our Fellows are doing their bit every day. The Food Systems Leadership Programme gives them an opportunity to not only study the food system, but to work in it. They are tuning the world and the systems they are operating in. And Fellows are persons that work and live in various domains, leading in some areas and being a purposeful follower in others. It takes courage and skills to observe when it is time to follow others. Indeed, followership is an integral part of being a leader. Leadership isn’t always a visible and staged performance. It is these different roles that fellows have as professionals but also as private persons that enables them to create change in systems.

Read our latest newsletter for some fabulous stories about how our Fellows and faculty are applying their thought leadership.

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