“The most important part of leadership development is identifying the potential leaders. We need to open our eyes to see who are the young people that are emerging and then we can invest in them, take time to train them.”
These were the words of former General Secretary Daniel Bourdanné when, in 2007, he implored the global fellowship to invest in leadership development. Since then, IFES has taken intentional steps both to develop staff who will lead our ministry into the future and to equip students who will become effective leaders in their national movements, churches, and societies.
One program, launched eight years ago, is the Global Leadership Initiative (GLI). This 18-month-long learning journey brings together emerging leaders from national movements across all 11 IFES regions and prepares them for roles at the regional or international level.
Leading through the fog
The second cohort, which concluded in 2021, proved to be more valuable than ever. The participants learned to lead amidst the uncertainty of the global pandemic, as well as political instability in such countries as Ukraine and Myanmar.
“We processed and learned together what leadership looks like in a time of uncertainty and discussed what it means to lead when it feels like you are in the midst of fog,” explains Igors Rautmanis, Director of the GLI. “There’s no blueprint for that. But I would say that being in this community helped the leaders find effective ways to deal with the consequences of COVID-19. They supported each other and I think we had an even richer time because we were learning together in crisis.”
The next cohort will launch in August when 21 leaders from 20 countries meet together for two days following IFES World Assembly and kick-start their learning journey.
Leading from who God made you to be
The GLI usually includes three in-person meetings as well as monthly mentoring. The first meeting provides an opportunity for participants to reflect on their personal journey – their calling, identity, and experience as leaders.
“The GLI is based on the conviction that ministry flows out of your being and who you are,” shares Igors. “We want to ensure that participants grow in self-awareness of who God made them to be, accepting their strengths and weaknesses, and working alongside others who have different strengths and gifts.”
The second meeting focuses on working effectively in cross-cultural teams. Many of us know that working in a diverse organization like IFES and its affiliated movements, with staff from more than 160 nations, brings both challenges and opportunities. Igors says that the beauty of our diversity is its ability to provide leaders with new insights so they aren’t stuck with tunnel vision about the way things should be done.
“One of my mentors once told me that what makes the difference between a leader and good leader is perspective,” he says. “One of the unique benefits of the GLI is that it is a cross-cultural learning opportunity. We create a safe learning community where people can be vulnerable and learn that there are benefits from having different perspectives.”
The final meeting encourages participants to examine what it means to lead in their cultural context – and in our changing world. In addition to self-reflection and learning from one another, participants also benefit from biblical expositions – looking at different leaders’ life journeys of transformation – and engage with practical tools such as The Culture Map and Gallup StrengthsFinder.
Growing in service
GLI participants are nominated by their Regional Secretary and chosen for their potential to move into new leadership positions. The program doesn’t guarantee that participants will acquire new roles, but many have moved into new positions regionally or globally within IFES.
As part of the most recent cohort and former General Secretary of the Chilean national movement, Gustavo Sobarzo has now moved to a new role with IFES’ Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). Milhan Santoso, a Regional Director with Perkantas, the national movement in Indonesia, has assumed an additional role as Chairman of the Local Host Committee for World Assembly. After participating in the first cohort, Lawrence Gomez from The Gambia, also featured in this 2018 Conexión article, decided to leave his banking sector career for the role of General Secretary in his national movement. Soon afterwards, he was appointed Associate Regional Secretary for IFES English- and Portuguese-Speaking Africa (EPSA) region.
Participants are not the only ones to benefit from the program. During or after the second cohort, four out of eight facilitators took on new global roles in IFES.
As Igors explains, this was no accident: “This is proof that we were successful with yet another goal of the GLI: providing an environment for reflection, growth, and mutual learning within an intergenerational group.”
In addition to directing the GLI, Igors was appointed Secretary of Staff and Team Development in 2022. This new global role was created in response to a staff survey that revealed a desire for IFES to be more intentional in developing its staff for the future. Igors is currently consulting staff about what training would be helpful to them so that new global initiatives may be developed. Meanwhile, leadership development efforts continue to evolve and meet changing requirements at the regional and national level.
A new academy planned for the Caribbean
In IFES’ Caribbean region (CARIFES), plans are underway to launch a new training program for students and staff called CARIFES Academy, due to begin in 2024.
The region wants to collaborate with strategic partners – including IFES alumni and supporters – to revamp its existing training programs and make them more extensive. Featuring both online and in-person learning, the goal is to equip staff and Christian students to be godly transformative agents of change in their respective spheres of influence.
The Academy will respond to the needs identified by students and staff in consultations, which took place in the last few months. Mental health and the rise of secularism were among the top themes that students said they would like to receive training on/about. These echo some of the top issues that staff and students across the world raised in IFES Global Trends Report.
“Mental health was consistently ranked either number one or two as an issue that students identified,” says Kerwin Stuart, Associate Regional Secretary for CARIFES. “We will definitely zoom in on that.”
Other topics that students requested help with include: new technologies and social media, culture, tradition and colonization, the Bible and its context, science, and faith, and being a Christian in the workplace.
“We plan to look at these areas through the lens of Scripture so that students can learn to engage with Scripture and adopt this practice as a discipline,” explains Kerwin.
For staff, one of their biggest development needs is networking and connection. In the Caribbean, getting from one island to another requires expensive air travel, and many national movements in the region have only one staff member.
“You can imagine the isolation,” says Kerwin. “With the Academy, we will need to be very practical in creating a space where staff can rub shoulders and share resources in addition to receiving teaching.”
Please pray for the CARIFES planning team as they meet in Trinidad from June 9-14. Look out for further details on the Academy, coming soon, on the CARIFES website.
Elsewhere across IFES, other regions have created their own staff development programs adapted to the challenges and opportunities of their context. Europe, for example, has initiated the Formacion student leaders’ program, the Young Staff Network and learning clusters which pair less experienced General Secretaries with those who are more experienced. In Francophone Africa, GBUAF has established the African Center for Contemporary Christianity (CACC).
Supporting staff through scholarships
Another well-established global program is the IFES scholarship program. Established in the 1980s, this program provides staff with partial funding for courses ranging from bachelor’s degrees and PhDs, to training in theology, evangelism, counselling, leadership, or even language learning. Applicants are recommended by their regional secretaries and must show that their course will help them in future ministry.
During the current Northern Hemisphere academic year (September – July), IFES is supporting 18 scholarship recipients from nine different regions.
One of them is Anya, a staff worker with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Canada. This month, she is starting her second counselling course with The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF).
Originally from a sensitive country in Eurasia, Anya is spending some time in Canada due to the political situation back home. However, she hopes to return one day to minister to students in her home nation.
“Christian counselling is a very rare thing in my home country,” Anya explains. “I had been seeing my friends struggling with mental health symptoms and felt like I wanted some Christian perspective on it. I went through depression myself, so this topic is close to me as well. In addition, working with students means I always listen to their difficult stories. And recent events in my country have traumatized even more people.”
Anya hopes that learning more about counselling will help her strengthen her student ministry.
“I see that these courses might help me learn more about how God is working in the midst of pain and how he can use me in sharing the hope that we have.”
Learn more about IFES leadership development programs at https://ifesworld.org/en/leadership/