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Public Leadership Challenge: finding new solutions to complex issues

Monday afternoon 11 January saw the first Public Leadership Challenge: a gathering of professionals, academics and students. The theme was a hotly debated topic: the refugee crisis. Among the participants looking for solutions to this complex issue were four students from the (International) Leiden Leadership Programme.

Leadership in isolation is nothing

‘It only matters in context.’This is how Nikol Hopman of the Leiden Leadership Centre in The Hague opened the afternoon’s proceedings. And the context in question, which the diverse group of participants spent the afternoon debating, is the refugee crisis. 

Over the course of the afternoon the group considered challenges that the relevant stakeholders, such as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Red Cross, the COA (which deals with the reception of asylum seekers) and the mayors of Dutch councils, are facing in this crisis. After the warm welcome from Ms Hopman, Professor Sandra Groeneveld and the other organisers, the stakeholders introduced themselves and explained the challenges they are dealing with.

How do you involve refugees, without giving up your neutral position?

This is the question Reinout van Santen of the Dutch Red Cross is struggling with. Despite the brain drain phenomenon, where people with a higher education are the first to emigrate to wealthier countries, aid organisations are having little success in involving these bright refugees in the solution. It turns out to be difficult to find the right refugees and they sometimes have strong opinions about conflicts, which is difficult to square with the impartial nature of the Red Cross.

Dynamic set-up

To find an answer to the challenges set out by the Red Cross, the COA, the Foreign Office and the mayors, the participants were divided into four groups that each dealt with one question. These groups were split into subgroups composed of a mixture of people. Over several rounds these subgroups first tried to create a clear picture of the challenge by answering several different questions about the problem, its causes, possible solutions and  important people and organisations involved. The great diversity of the
participants meant that there was a dynamic, interactive discussion
bout the various challenges.


After this, the whole group reconvened to reflect on the implications for leadership. The central focus was the question of what role leadership could play and what type of leadership would be necessary to address the problems. The knowledge on leadership gathered by the Leiden Leadership Programme was especially useful here.

Finally, the process resulted in creative posters and concrete advice for the stakeholders. Although it is virtually impossible to find a solution to the refugee crisis and the challenges the stakeholders are facing in the space of a few hours, it was nevertheless impressive to see what the dynamic and interactive nature of this challenge had accomplished. Seeing how the proposals were received by the stakeholders was a beautiful end to a very worthwhile afternoon. 

Vincent Bakker, student of the Leiden Leadership Programme 2015-2016 

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