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The Power of Collective Leadership: Batonga’s biggest strength

By Emily Bove

End of June, I will move on from my role as the  Batonga Foundation’s Executive Director. As I reflect on the past three years, I can’t help but feel incredibly proud of our team’s journey towards collective leadership. And while we have made some noise around the incredible resources we managed to mobilize to scale our work in Benin and Senegal, I feel we haven’t talked enough about the beautiful professional journey our team has been on. If you will allow me, I would like to share these last few thoughts with you. 

As I’m writing these lines, Batonga is home to one of the best teams ever to work on adolescent girls empowerment. Some of them are entrepreneurs, some are activists. Some are development practitioners, while others come from sectors like journalism. Many of them have received awards for their leadership and work, and all have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the adolescent girls and young women we serve. 

But beyond their incredible talents, every single one of them has achieved something that is still rare enough to be celebrated when it happens: contribute to a collective leadership model deeply rooted in feminist values and work. 

Truth is, it took a lot of hard work. Collective leadership doesn’t just jump out of a hat. It is an intentional tailored effort that aims at bringing every single member of a team into a circle of trust, creativity, initiative and leadership. To do it, we followed a three-step process that delivered an authentic and sustainable result. 

First, we aligned our values. And I don’t mean just check the box of “strong defender of girls’ rights”. We had uncomfortable discussions about  sensitive issues in our programming and in the communities we serve. We listened to what the girls and other community members had to say about those issues. We listened as some of us came to the conversation with bias. We deconstructed it together. And while this work never ends, we now know who we are as a team, what we believe in, and why we believe it is important. 

Second, we coached and mentored each other. This happened at all levels of the organization, and without any regard for hierarchies. If someone needed help building a skill, developing an idea, understanding something about themselves, we all showed up. As the Executive Director, I learned a lot from my colleagues, and their feedback was a priceless asset in my own professional growth. We also made sure we listened beyond just the work-related topics- we got personal, and took interest in each other’s lives and stories. This meant that we could support each other when needed, lift each other up when necessary and thrive together as a team. 

Third, we practice what we preach. “It is yours – own it and show us your magic!”. Leadership is allowing others to do great things. And you can only achieve that if you give people ownership of what they are bringing to the table. We gave each other the space to fail, to learn, and to bring our contributions (as imperfect as they could sometimes be) to the table. We have built leadership skill reflexes in all of us, and we committed to never stop making space for every single person on our team. 

Batonga is set to reach 10,000 adolescent girls and young women by 2025, an incredible impact that will make such a difference in Benin and Senegal. And while I can’t wait to see how this work has improved the futures of those we support, I also am going to be so excited to keep on watching how this team works together, how they lead together. How leaders in Benin support leaders in Senegal. How our local teams get to experience the same spaces and opportunities as our global/national teams. How the Batonga Foundationcontinues to mold this incredible collective leadership we created, aligning it with the values, beliefs and actions that make transformational social change work worth the time and resources put into it. 

Thank you to Wence, Cait, Ella, Natacha, Brice, Ariel, Florence, Aida, Teslanik, Chanceline, Lakisha, Merry and Wilfrid for being part of this crazy adventure with me. Keep on doing what you are doing!