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Tag Archives: leadership development

There is only one you…



“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. “
Martha Graham

For a long time I have grappled with who I am and what my work is – especially at this point in my life.  I am drawn to working with story, and with voice, and I also feel strongly that I have skills as a facilitator and a coach.  The conversation within me has been about being one or the other, until I realised that all of this is me – all of this and more, and it is my responsibility to bring this combination of talent, skill and experience into the world.  It is so wonderful to arrive at this place.  May you also find that place, and keep the channel open.


Philippa in Maama's dress - laughing

The Artist as Peacebuilder in Africa: Part 1

I am in Addis Ababa doing a course called ‘The Artist as Peacebuilder’ through the Institute of Security Studies.  We are an interesting mix of participants – all 25 of us.  From 15 countries – Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Togo, Cameroon, The Gambia, DRC, Malawi, Egypt, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Bourkina Faso and Morocco.  And representing different Arts and roles – we have visual artists, photographers, musicians, poets, storytellers, performing artists, film makers and a ‘nature’ artist who works with permaculture.  Then we have peacebuilders who work as journalists, and civil society activists working in a range of areas –  environmental issues, youth,  women, gay rights, street children, sex workers, identity, diversity and so on.

The Artist as Peacebuilder, Addis Ababa, April 2013

Day 1: Mapping African Peace and Security Challenges

The first two days the facilitators lay down the theory that will underpin our work over the next two weeks.   One of the questions we grappled with, and are still working with is ‘How well do you know your continent?  Or your country, or neighbourhood for that matter.’  I found this question very interesting, and am still thinking about it.  It made me realise that there are many things I assume I know, that I do not really know – and things that one takes for granted that one should not.  And things that I know that I did not know I knew.  I was grateful for my East African education.

In one exercise we were given a map of Africa with all the countries outlined but with no names.  The task was that each of us writes down as many names as we could.  It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be.  I named about 38 and got 28 of those correct.  The highest got 44!  Of course I started with the East African region where I grew up, and went down South. I was so upset that although I had put Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe in the correct general area, I mixed them up.  The Easter part of North Africa (Egypt and Libya) were easy but West and North Africa were not as easy.  With some countries I knew the general area they were, but not the exact spot.


Naming the countries is just the beginning of really getting to know the continent.  The process though,  reminded me of the time the OAU was hosted in Uganda. I was in primary school, and we took the time to get to know the countries in Africa, to know their capital cities, their presidents, their national languages.  I used to sit with my neighbours, Alex and Michael, and play a game where we would ask each other questions like, ‘What is the capital of Angola?’ or ‘Describe or draw the flag of Gabon’.  I havent paid attention to any of those things lately.

How well do you know your continent?  What do you know about the countries – beyond their names?  Is what you believe about certain ethnicities in your country true, or is it prejudiced?  Do you see your people through knowledge and information that you can verify, or through the eyes of the media?  Are you able to entertain another perspective?

I have decided to take time to learn more about the rich and diverse peoples of my continent.  And I will stop getting angry with people who say to me, “Oh, you come from Uganda?  I have a friend who lives in Ghana.  Do you know them?”


Honour those who show up

Labyrinth by Francois Korver


A few weeks ago, a colleague and I were supposed to facilitate a one day workshop for some clients in Johannesburg.  It was the last session of a 7 month leadership programme and I had been asked to lead this final day using Story as a tool for reflection and planning.  I was excited.   Then things started to go wrong.  With all the previous leadership cohorts we worked away from the organisations premises, in a guesthouse with a lovely quiet garden, but because of the current financial context they were saving on costs and so they used their own premises – a distribution hub with lorries passing outside of the windows of the facilitation room regularly.  It was not the most conducive venue.  The dates had been changed in January, but somehow not all the participants received the new dates until a week before the course!  5 days before we were to facilitate the day was almost cancelled because of poor attendance.  Then, for some reason, they decided that we would go ahead.  So we were flown to Johannesburg and on arrival at the airport, both my colleague and I had two different shuttle services come to pick us up at the airport.  One organised by our administrator in Cape Town, and the other by the company!  We got to the B and B, and they were not expecting us because the client had not confirmed the booking.  Luckily they had rooms for us and this was sorted. Things were not looking good at all.

On the morning we were to work we got an email from the client to say that the numbers had dropped …  We were now expecting 6 or so people – from a possible 14.  We looked at each other and wondered what to do – cancel or facilitate? We had designed a very interactive process – time for reflection in small groups – to practice leadership skills of listening, asking incisive questions, sharing insights.  This required time but with only 5 people, it would be a short day – and would the design work with 6 people?

As we ate our breakfast and planned our day the thought came to mind about honouring those who came.  People had cleared their diaries, some had travelled as far as we had to be at the programme.  If we cancelled because ‘there weren’t enough participants’ what were we saying to them? And how many is enough? The saying, ‘whoever is there are the right people’ (from open space technology) came to mind, and I said to my colleague, “Whoever comes, lets facilitate what we have prepared.  We can tweak the exercises to suit the numbers, and we will most probably finish earlier than expected, but we would have honoured those who came.”  And that is what we did.

We ended up with 5, not 6 people – all men.  As we gathered to start people spoke about how angry they were with the way the course had been organised internally – and how upset they were with their own colleagues for not making the time to be there.  It was not a good place to begin the course.  So my colleague asked us to sit still, close our eyes, and she lead us through a visualisation which centered us and helped us to focus on the purpose of the day.  We worked with the Hero’s Journey, using it to reflect on the 7 months leadership journey they had been on.  And then, instead of the sharing in small groups, all 7 of us sat in a circle, and each participant shared their journey with such honesty and integrity.  And then – in a very unexpected turn – each of the listeners gave the speaker feedback.  I was struck by how aware they were of each person’s journey.  For everyone in the room there was someone who had seen their struggles and successes within the organisation, and was able to reflect this back to their colleague.  They gave statements like, “You took a job no one wanted to take.  In fact we thought you were crazy, and you have worked wonders.  Now everyone in the organisation is looking at you.”  Or “You made a decision that made sense to your family, but could have been a career limiting move.  And you have made it work for you and for the company.  You are a real inspiration.”  As we sat there, my colleague and I knew we had made the right decision.  Here were people in leadership, in an organisation, that understood each others challenges and were supportive of each other, who were able to speak openly with each other.  It was clear that these 5 people had the potential to make real differences in the organisation.

It was such a fulfilling day – all the challenges leading up to it faded away, and I realised three things:

  • Whoever comes – these are the right people and one should honour the effort they made to be there.
  • You have no guarantee what impact your work will have, but in being present, and giving your best to those who came – something will change.
  • Story is a very powerful tool to work with.  Each person told a personal story – in fact one person made it into a myth, but it was based on the organisation, and everyone recognised parts of it.  Through the storytelling they were able to articulate the movement and growth of each individual, and the challenges that lay ahead in a way that they would all remember.


Group Coaching in 2013


Every once in a while we arrive at a place in our lives that invites us to be as bold and audacious – to take one more step towards our dreams, to let go of what is holding us back, to do what we believe is right or just to take a moment to slow down, reframe our lives – and get our bearings again.  This is not always an easy step, and it helps to have some support.

From time immemorial women have supported each other as they walked to the river, or cooked together, as they sewed or did their hair together – in community – but in modern times those kind of support systems are not so easy to come by – especially not in the cities.

This is an invitation for you to intentionally co-create a support system for yourself and a few other women – all Bodaciously, walking towards their own, specific goal, supported by an experienced coach and each other.

Starting date:  Saturday 19 January 2013

Time Investment – Morning introductory workshop on 19 January 2013 and then 2 contact hours a month for 6 months

For more information please contact Philippa:


Mobile: 082-894-1718

Going full-circle

7 years ago, I was invited by Dorian Haarhoff to facilitate a workshop on using storytelling for development for a People to People Ambassadors group from the United States.  It was at the Centre for the Book next to the Company Gardens in Cape Town.  This led to a collaboration (between Dorian, Elma Pollard, Toto Gxabela and I) a few years later on a project for UNICEF that we called Storywell.  In this project we developed a programme for Caregivers of orphans and vulnerable children in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces on the use of stories and creative process to provide psycho-social support to each other and to the children in their care.  The Storywell concept grew out of a belief that

  • everyone has a well of stories inside them that they can draw from
  • we can all story well – i.e.  tell stories in a way that engages the listeners
  • telling and listening to stories helps us to heal and be well

We continue to do Storywell work, individually, in various ways, although we do not always call it Storywell.   I continue to work with the concepts and understanding in coaching, in my leadership development work, and working with change in organisations.  It also underpins the Bodaciously me…! networking events that I organise for women in some ways.

Well, today Dorian and I worked together again, after 3 years (during which I focused more on birthing and looking after the unexpected gift of a child, just as I was getting ready for an empty nest – but that is a story for another time).  Again it was at the Centre for the Book, where we met 7 years ago, and this time we were working with delegates to the Global Alliance Summit for Ministries and Departments of Peace.  Dorian was doing a two-day pre-conference training on the use of storytelling for peace building, and I was the guest storyteller.  My role was to give them experience of the power of storytelling and story-listening.  I shared personal stories, in poems, and a few folktales – and this led to an unexpected conversation on ways in which one uses stories.

One of the most interesting insights for me was the conversation we had about endings – not all stories end with ‘they lived happily ever after’ but all powerful and strong stories end with a sense of hope.  This is an important understanding that one needs to carry when using stories for development work.  Hope might mean that the protagonist is remorseful, or maybe the rains have come again, or as in the Nama story about !Urisib, where even though the original verdant land is not restored, once a year the flowers come back to Namaqualand and the people can enjoy them.  Storywell for Peacebuilding – potentially powerful processes!!!

Hello world!




Images – in pictures or words, propel us forward and backward, inward and outward.  The molten gold pouring over the landscape, like honey from a golden orb, draws me into a view that I see everyday from my balcony.  And as I look I see more than I saw the first time, maybe less than I saw yesterday – it is old and yet new.  As I take it in I am moved – all of me – I smile at the beauty, and my mind asks a question, starts to tell a story – of now, and the past, and tomorrow, my breathing slows down, my body relaxes and I know again, with all of me.

Using story, art and movement in working with change and development does just that.  It draws us inward and outward, and enables us to see something that we engage with daily in a new light, from a new perspective – and we can the find a new possibility.

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