Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

Rethink Leadership

Improving training attendance and other lessons we have learned implementing our leadership programmes

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Youth leadership pathways | 14 December, 2012 - 11:32


Our organisation seeks to challenge current thinking around youth leadership. The very definition of ‘leadership’ is an issue of contention. We believe that instead of shying away from leadership as a concept because of its over-usage and potential vagueness, we should rather consider it more deeply. Without question, there is a need for leadership but it is not just management, nor is it unethical leadership or conventional leadership that we require. We need – and have the resources at our disposal to produce – highly capable young leaders who are able to communicate effectively, innovate, and be intentional about how they lead.

Specifically, Re.think Leadership has identified opportunities for meaningful dialogue and exploring what it means to be a young leader through discussion and practice. We are interested in creating an environment where high school youth can address very difficult social issues that are of real importance to them, and providing them with the necessary skills and tools to be able to do this constructively.  Engagement of this nature will allow us to ask the question: “So, what do we do about all this?” This is where it is possible to explore what it means to be a young leader. We want young people to not only talk about leadership but to try it out for themselves.

Our strategy involves two main projects. The first, Urban Transformers, is the core programme upon which Re.think Leadership was founded. It is a 6-month leadership programme. The second project is a one-day event called un[convention]al: A Playful Look at Social Innovation.

The Urban Transformers Programme

This programme begins with a five-day camp where facilitators lead a series of dynamic workshops and activities that create opportunities for dialogue around issues such as race, class, gender and inequality. The energy that is generated from that component of the programme is channelled into personal projects. After the camp, there are six months of fortnightly workshops that we call the follow-up. The first few workshops are dedicated to a community assessment that involves taking photos with disposable cameras, interviewing some community members and mapping important resources. Thereafter, we spend time helping the participants define a change that they would like to see and then brainstorming creative ways of effecting that change. Finally, the participants create a personal project plan by considering all of the logistical details and the resources that they will need. They are encouraged to partner with existing organisations where appropriate. 

We have had a total of 89 participants attend the programme. During the current cycle, 39 participants began the programme and the rate of attendance of the fortnightly meetings has been approximately 60 %.


un[convention]al is an opportunity to promote alternative strategies for effecting social change. We have framed it as a playful look at social innovation, defining social innovation as ideas, initiatives and interventions that challenge the norms around effecting social change.

This project arose out of Urban Transformers. We realised that the participants struggled to develop creative solutions for the changes they were trying to create. Moreover, they were reluctant to offer radical crazy suggestions during the brainstorming stage. This was frustrating for facilitators who were aware that creativity is blossoming within social purpose organisations all around the world and that there are many local examples of social innovation.

The main purpose of un[convention]al is to expose high school youth to alternative ways of effecting social change to shift their thinking. The first un[convention]al event took place Saturday 14 July 2012. The presenters were from a variety of innovative organisations including the Bicycling Empowerment Network, the Big Issue and the No Kak Eco Design Initiative. It was attended by approximately 180 people including staff and presenters.

What We Have Learned

We have learned many lessons while growing our organisation and team, but the following in terms of training attendance and transferral of values might be useful to other organisations:


There are a number of ways to mitigate the impact of external factors on attendance rates. Some of the following have proven useful to us:

  • Focus – participants need to understand exactly why they are participating.
  • Meeting regularly – if the workshops are regular, it provides a sense of security and participants are less likely to stay away because they don’t know if the workshop is happening or not, or are afraid their friends will not be there.
  • Communicating consistently – we have found that it is less important to communicate often than to communicate consistently. In other words, the participants should know when to expect that you’ll contact them and it is then your job to make sure that you meet that expectation.
  • Opportunities for dialogue – dialogue connects people and the chance to revisit these connections keeps them coming back.
  • Making the workshops fun – we always play games and try to make the workshops fun and interactive as far as possible. Here, it has been particularly important to prepare well by planning the games and modifying the workshops in a fun way that still makes sense.


Modelling the values of the programme/organisation is crucial. For example, at Re.think Leadership it is very important that the facilitators model a value of dialogue, respectful communication, humility and innovative, ethical leadership. This is possibly even more important than any of the programme content because of the potentially profound impact it may have on the development of the participants who observe this behaviour.

Rethink Leadership

30 Main AvenueGleemoorAthlone

In Short

In this learning brief Re.think Leadership briefly describes their strategy, Urban Transformers and un[convention]al programmes and provide some useful advice to other organisations on improving training/meeting attendance and transferring values to training participants. 

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