The Roots of Inclusive Leadership

Submitted by Linda Hill

Part of welcoming more and more Inclusive Leaders from around the world into our global Inclusive Leadership Community, is remembering and honouring the roots that Inclusive Leadership has grown from.  The co-founders of Inclusive Leadership have many stories of how this collaborative, creative, compassionate, courageous skill-based field of practice evolved.  Here is one of my stories.

My journey toward Inclusive Leadership began in the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980’s when I was a child, a teenager and then a young adult searching for fairness in an unfair world. I was so concerned about the social isolation, marginalization, poverty and discrimination facing so many people who seemed to me to have been systemically pushed to the side-lines of communities. It seemed to me that decision-makers in government, education, and social services were developing and cultivating cultures of exclusion based on viewing almost any kind of difference as a problem.  In fact, in those days the word diversity was not part of anyone’s vocabulary – instead differences were referred to as “deviance”.

Although my concerns were immense, this was an exciting time of learning and growing for me. I was taking courses, doing a whole bunch of library research, immersing myself in grass-roots community building, working in education and social services, volunteering and travelling. I was learning about Participatory Action Research, Participatory Education for Social Change, the Psychology of Learning, Inter-cultural Communication, International Development, Community Development, and a multidisciplinary area of research into prejudice reduction called Inter-group Contact Theory. When I stumbled upon Qualitative Research methodology, I realized I could organize my growing stacks and boxes of file-cards into themes and sub-themes. The Building Bridges steps soon emerged.

Now that I was organized, I began applying these Building Bridges steps over and over again in school, health, recreation, professional and community settings in on-going Participatory Action Research spirals. By 2001, I had written two books about Building Bridges across differences based on this work. I was especially passionate about building intergenerational bridges between youth (who need safe places to explore their diverse identities) and adults (who need hopeful places where they can share their wisdom).

In the meantime, my life-partner John Scull and many other eco-psychologists were exploring connections between social diversity and biodiversity. This led us to the Earth Charter which has become the global framework for Inclusive Leadership. During a 2001 eco-psychology conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada, I happened to meet Raj Gill, a life-skills coach who was studying Non-Violent Communication with Marshalll Rosenberg. Raj was very interested in anything that might connect people from diverse cultures and generations to the challenges of building more peaceful, compassionate relationships.

Raj and I found ourselves on a journey that has lasted fifteen years now. We have had lots of company during our collaborative, creative, compassionate and courageous exploration of Inclusive Leadership development.  I remember linking up with Sabrina Williams, Than Tazumi, Shawn Marsolais, Sarah Mathison and other youth workers who were looking for new ways of guiding youth to become leaders of their own lives and their communities. Together we developed intergenerational/inter-cultural Inclusive Leadership Adventures and other Inclusive Leadership projects in partnership with Cowichan Intercultural Society and other non-profit societies in my local Cowichan Valley community in Duncan, BC, Canada. Inclusive Leadership Adventures introduced youth and adults to safe, respectful, equal and FUN ways of exploring our diverse identities. As we participated in co-operative learning, outdoor challenges, creative arts, and heart-to-heart discussions were were all following the Building Bridges steps while developing our skills for connecting with differences, communicating with compassion and responding to hurtful situations with Anti-Discrimination First Aid.

During one of our very first Inclusive Leadership Adventures in 2002, we began learning about social justice, truth and reconciliation from elders Hazura Sangha and Theresa Thorne and from Theresa’s daughter, Lisa Daniels. They had each been building intercultural bridges all their lives and the three of them had a lot to teach us about getting off the beaten path, laughter, exercise, story-telling, poetry, music, planting trees and gardening as tools for building bridges to equality. I also want to thank Graham Fielding and Glaucia Desrochers who were teenagers at the time and who – now in their thirties – are each, in their diverse ways, still involved in guiding the development of Inclusive Leadership. Along the way Linda McDaniels, Kix Citton, Tara Jordan, Neil Dolan, and Art Phipps showed up with their spirit-based youth-focused, adventure programming, world-travelling energy. More and more youth and adults were showing up at our Inclusive Leadership Adventures weekends and our Facilitator-training weeks. Literally thousands of people from diverse cultures and generations have helped develop these Inclusive Leadership projects into what is now the Inclusive Leadership Co-operative.

Then three Inclusive Leaders who did not live in our rural community of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada advocated for the Inclusive Leadership Co-operative to explore ways of using the internet to connect Inclusive Leaders around the world. Janice Milnerwood in Quebec, Canada, her Mom Harriet Greenwood in Yorkshire, England and Sarah Mathison in Ontario Canada volunteered to form an Inclusive Leadership Online committee. Together we began applying our Participatory Action Research skills to the challenge of developing our Inclusive Leadership for Our Global Village online offerings.

And now many of us pioneering Inclusive Leaders are joining with new Inclusive Leaders who are each bringing so many gifts to Inclusive Leadership. Together we are discovering our potential to share this skill-based field of Inclusive Leadership with – what we hope will eventually become – millions of champions of inclusion and diversity around the world.

Youth worker, Thanh Tazumi, recently reconnected with the Inclusive Leadership Community with these words of encouragement: “I love how you have expanded the reach of Inclusive Leadership through this on-line opportunity. I admire your dedication and perseverance to continue training and mentoring others to discover their inclusive leadership potential and work towards an inclusive, diverse and peaceful world”