New Leadership Lab for Sustainability Professionals

New Leadership Lab for Sustainability Professionals

The Academy for Systems Change has partnered with the Sustainable Food Lab to deliver a two-year leadership program in response to requests from food and beverage company professionals:

“When we’re at professional meetings we’re all peacocks. We need a safe space to support one another.”

“My company touches much of US agriculture and I want to learn how to stretch our corporate responsibility and our positive impacts.”

“I’m trying to convince my senior leadership of the ‘business case’ for supporting the small farmers in our African supply chains, and this peer group will be extremely important.”

“We need to create partnerships with one another so we can test how to scale impacts on farmer livelihood, water and climate.”

Listening and responding to these requests, the leadership program will include three workshops, two multi-day learning journeys, monthly peer group calls, and one-on-one mentoring. Core faculty from the Food Lab and the Academy have designed the program in a way that enables each fellow to articulate his or her specific goals, and receive support tailored to their needs.

The program was launched with a workshop hosted by the White Oak Foundation at their large reserve for endangered species in Northeast Florida. Kicking off with a “fun facts bingo game”, prepared by LeAnne Grillo, participants got to know each other beyond their professional roles. The workshop then used a combination of awareness-based systems change tools and methods, including:

  • A video on personal mastery, with a young Peter Senge introducing the purpose embodied in a Stradivarius violin.
  • An inspiring story from Academy President, Darcy Winslow, who used her own experience at Nike to walk through the many leadership competencies needed to influence different types of players in a system.
  • An exercise on sustainable sourcing of agricultural products, using the US Corn Belt and Mexican barley as case examples. The exercise started with identifying the key issues and the drivers of those issues, as well as what the elements of a healthier system looked like. Participants worked to articulate the mental models of key stakeholders in the system and to summarize current initiatives to address the issues. The group then discussed the gap between what is going on now and what would need to happen to achieve real system health.
  • Open space sessions for participants to support one another with all sorts of challenges and ideas.
  • Peer coaching groups during which fellows practiced the case clinic method.

At the end of the workshop, participants each planned for what they want to create, whom they need to engage, what capacities they need, and next steps.

Following the workshop, Hal Hamilton, Food Lab Co-Director and Academy Co-Founder, said, “the fellows were brimming over with learning, reflection, community, and gratitude. Even before the first workshop, we had a lot of conversations about the personal, organizational and system dimensions of change leadership. Since these people have similar jobs in the same domain, they have a lot of experience from which to ask good questions to help one another get through stuck moments. The conversations at the workshop were sometimes strategic, sometimes tactical, and sometimes very personal.

Participation is still open, but the initial group is from the following companies: PepsiCo, Unilever, Kellogg, Starbucks, Target, McDonalds, AB InBev, Heineken, Dannon, Stonyfield, Danone, Organic Valley, Annie’s/General Mills, Mars Petcare, Mars Wrigley, Land O’Lakes, Frontier Coop, Farmer’s Fridge.

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