Fantastic leaders and where to find them

 In food for thought

How to spot our fellow food citizen leaders

You believe in people. You want to do the right thing for society to thrive now and in the future, but you know that you can’t do it alone. A key step to building our food citizenship movement – and to getting anywhere in the ethical food sector – is to find the right partnerships. Whether we are bringing multiple organisations to work towards a common goal or wanting to bring a range of different stakeholders around a (dinner) table to tackle a pressing food issue, there are many ways in which we can identify potentially fruitful partnerships.

We are all guilty of aiming for specific job titles – and yes this is indeed very helpful, as certain ‘leadership positions’ will come with particular connections and ‘power’ within the existing system we are trying to influence. But not all of these posts are easy to reach nor do they necessarily mean the relationship will get us anywhere with our mission. And while job titles can be useful, they can also be limiting.

How can we expand our understanding of ‘leadership’?

There are first the considerations we all take when it comes to partnering or collaborating with another organisation. But let’s think beyond this. Who within that organisation are we building a relationship with? What about that individual, that food citizen? This person is key for us making progress towards a fair and resilient food system. We are looking for those that are more resilient to the consumerist narrative in which we live today. Those who survive within that system and yet embody the values that we want to see more of in this world. How do we spot them? Here are four key aspects worth considering.

 

  1. Are they in a position to influence?

Here I’m mostly concerned with the position within the system we are trying to influence. A CEO will have more power to influence how a company operates because she gives strategic direction to the business. A receptionist will have power to influence an organisation’s culture because she knows and speaks to everyone within the organisation. Both also have critical and potentially complementary knowledge of the system we want to influence. Both have different ways in which they can exert their power to influence the system. Both have lots of connections. And connection is power. Think of why networking events can be so powerful: They connect those who may not have otherwise connected, giving room to share resources (knowledge, contacts, other networks, etc.).

Some useful questions to ask ourselves:

  • Which networks do they belong to? Who else are they connected to?
  • Which resources do they have access to (e.g. knowledge and information, contacts, funding, training/mentoring, tools)?

 

  1. What are their values and beliefs?

This one seems obvious, and to an extent we already gravitate naturally towards those who share our values and beliefs. But here are some of the things that our fellow food citizens think and feel:

  • People matter and care
  • We need to help people and look after people’s wellbeing (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual)
  • We care for and protect those who are vulnerable (whether they are younger people, those in poverty, those in old age, animals and any other voices that are not usually invited into the discourse)
  • We must contribute positively towards the future
  • Food is so much more than just another commodity
  • Sharing is caring. We want to share learnings and talk to everyone. We want to help others and with this comes sharing our experiences
  • Setbacks are opportunities to learn and grow
  • I can’t do it alone but crucially I am not alone

And what if that person doesn’t feel or think these things? We can either move on and focus on those who do (for now) or we can also think about how we engage with them in the first place and allow their inner food citizen to come out! It is up to us whether we have the capacity and time to do that at any given moment.

 

  1. Does their personal and/ or career history show a passion for change?’

Throughout my interviews with fellow food citizens, I have been blown away by the sheer range of backgrounds and skills that they all bring to our movement. But amongst this incredible diversity lie some key ingredients that seem to support them in their quest:

  • They all have some form of social activism in their past, from encouraging family and friends to shift their habits to full-scale lobbying. Scale here doesn’t matter but they all fight for their beliefs (see above) in whatever form they can (or want to).
  • At the individual level, they also each have done multiple careers or have different, parallel interests. We have a social activist/film producer/business owner. We have a youth engagement/farmer. We have a fashion/foodie/philanthropist. We have an actor/zoologist. And let’s face it, none of us have only one facet to our lives but how much to we connect the dots?
  • They’ve all experienced influencing positive change (even at a small scale). Experts tell us this is key to building resilience and feeling empowered.
  • They’ve all received (or are receiving or are giving) peer support throughout their lives. Again, this community of peers and (in)formal mentors guide us and cheer for us, empowering us.

 

  1. Do they have a certain set of personality traits?

Food citizens come with an infinite variety of personalities (thank goodness!), but there are certain traits that I have found so far among all of them:

  • An unspoken humility towards the natural world and our dependency on it.
  • Courage to stand for their beliefs and to seize the opportunity when it comes (even when nothing about it is ‘perfect’).
  • A flexibility to adapt to demand, to receive new information, to constantly revise things and make sure we are still in the right direction. With it comes a positive attitude towards making mistakes, which leads us to…
  • Resilience to set-backs – which are always seen as a learning experience.
  • They relish a challenge.
  • Authentic, honest, open, creative, collaborative and persistent by nature.

 

Leaders are all around us, and within us. Let’s find them, nurture them, and connect them. Together we can accelerate the shift towards fair food systems that respect people, animals and the planet.