Saturday, 10 August 2013

Leadership, Bangladesh, Women and the Imam

One day, the time before last, when we were in Bangladesh we were really lucky to share a meeting space with a group of women who were, in turn, meeting with the Imam. The Imam wanted to borrow money and the women were considering his request. They decided not to agree but to ask the women who contribute to the community fund first. It looked like a pretty momentous decision. When he left the meeting after "not today" they all raised simultaneously from the floor, a thousand colours merging in unison to form a kaleidoscope of human butterflies. When they dust settled and the surge of adrenalin it took for them to say "no" seeped away we were given the space to ask questions. Always a tough one. What do I know of what it take to find the courage and imagination to haul up the anchor of poverty, steer toward a life and find the strength to lead and speak out amongst all that?  Not much I can tell you about that but our visitor status and, worse, the colour of our skin means I am often asked for the benefit of my "opinion".

I had nothing to give that came anywhere near what they'd just done, or were doing. So I asked a question. They were leading their community.If I took them to meet women in the UK and asked them to define what leadership is what would they say? Kate grabbed a bit of paper and scribbled what they said. I have been looking for it all morning. I will post it when I find it. It says what you'd expect. Courage, inspiration, humility, self confidence, self awareness, compassion. That's not the punch-line of the story.

No, the punch-line is not that the women's definition was so breathtakingly inspiring. It is that knowing they have never been to school & had only just learned to write, for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, I  was afraid the question might be too difficult.

Leadership isn't defined or understood by organisations, status or job role, it's defined by doing it. Even though I believe that with every ounce of who I am, even though I could see the evidence of it before me with my own two eyes, even though these women were doing it  against odds I felt an atomic sliver of doubt. As I recollect it is crystal clear that the singeing flames of doubt had no right of place on the edge of my consciousness that day. They taught me a big lesson.

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