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LEAP Meeting 2019: What is leadership, anyway?

Crisis in economics, ecology, and society has become a defining feature of our times. These never-ending stream of emerging disasters captures our attention day in and day out. It also attests to our need for effective and transformative leadership. But what is leadership, anyway? And who should lead us?

At oikos, we answered these questions through our Leadership Program – LEAP. The program, in its 5th run currently, helps young people discover their true potential and instead of seeking leaders in others, inspires them to garner courage and take the lead in their local communities and universities. Every year, the oikos LEAP Meeting kicks-off the 9-month long leadership training, that urges participants to become responsible leaders at the forefront of sustainable development.

This year, over 65 oikos members, alumni, and partners traveled from 24 cities – as close as St.Gallen and as remote as Boston and Jamshedpur – to Leysin, Switzerland. The goal of the meeting was clear-cut – to share knowledge, exchange ideas, develop new partnerships and above all inspire each other to lead change. Over the course of the week, from 25th to 31st of October, these strangers bonded over the shared cause – sustainability, and developed friendships that are bound to last well beyond the days in the Swiss Alps.

Only the participants can authentically reconstruct the week with all their vivid memories.  Monika from oikos Vienna and Florian of oikos Witten/Herdecke took upon the challenge of becoming Memory Keepers of the LEAP Meeting 2019. Through this Memory Lane, you can follow and learn about their LEAP journey. 

The program was challenging – full of information and new insights. Session after session, our participants learned what the sustainability status-quo looks like in different countries and how our community at local and international levels works to disrupt it. They learned about oikos International, our partners and hundreds of projects their fellow members across the globe host every year. They organized workshop sessions to exchange on a concrete topic and hosted music and cultural nights to share part of their background. They visited UNHCR and walked the earth as refugees in an awareness game

Nicolas Vaudroz, an artist from Leysin, took our participants on a panoramic journey through the village. On the screen of a cramped conference room, he unraveled art installations dedicated to the climate crisis and explained how artists express their frustration over and hope for the environment. The very next day, our participants walked up the Leysin SDGs Hiking Trail with two brilliant students from Leysin American School. Antonio, 11, and Sean, 13, created the track for oikos with their teacher and two other classmates within a couple of weeks. They wanted to lead our group of international students to 17 landmarks of the village, each connected to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, the track was too long for the packed LEAP schedule and they had to halt the expedition halfway. Antonio and Sean, nevertheless, managed to show part of the landmarks, including a local public garden filled with edible flowers, ponds, baby carrots, and bees. “Gardening requires time and attention. It’s great, except when it rains” – said Antonio, just before he showed the hikers a baby carrot he kept in his breast pocket throughout the walk.

Leadership in many ways resembles gardening, it requires time and attention. And it’s great, except when it is not. When there is so much to do, that a person starts to falter, unsuspecting and unsuspected. To circle back to the original question, leadership here, at LEAP, is about being curious about yourself and being generous to yourself. Leadership is more than unrestrained drive and good management, it’s also about appreciation and affection. It’s about acknowledging that there are no leaders unless you are there to lead and to live a fulfilled life.