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January 14, 2007 3:34 pm

Nature’s way of growing talent

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When a big company faces a dilemma it usually hires high-priced consultants to help it figure out the answer. But how does a non-profit organisation solve its problems?

Six years ago, the Nature Conservancy asked itself that same question. The environmental protection group, based in Virginia, was grappling with how to prepare its next generation of leaders and how to ensure those leaders were driving the increasingly global mission of the organisation.

In June 2000, the conservancy came up with a plan: an 18-month fellowship to be awarded every other year to 15 employees – those deemed “high potential”– for senior management positions. The programme was initially funded at $4.5m, a $2m contribution from the group’s board of directors and $2.5m awarded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Leadership skills

The conservancy enlisted Duke Corporate Education at Duke University in North Carolina to create a customised leadership development programme, as well as working in-house to create internal training through job rotations, career coaching and a “Washington Week” where participants spend time in DC learning more about environmental policy.

Carrie Painter, managing director of Duke CE, facilitated the conservancy’s customised programme, which is now in its second official cycle of operation. She says the courses were centred on cultivating leadership skills. Indeed, the programme emphasises active group problem-solving activities and team-building exercises.

“The classes are designed to help members think about how to be effective leaders, how to build relationships, how to have productive – though sometimes difficult – conversations,” she says. “There were some MBA-like elements but no classes on finance or marketing.”

Roberto Troya, the external affairs director for the South America conservation region, is a participant in the programme. Mr Troya, who has worked at the Nature Conservancy for 10 years, says he is starting to see improvement in the way he manages his team. “I am already applying communication tactics and techniques that we learnt,” he says.

Flaminia Mangone, leadership development consultant for the conservancy, says the programme has so far been successful. She says it appears to have improved the extent to which the 3,200-employee conservancy is able to hire internal staff to fill high-level positions, rather than having to recruit outside the organisation, as well as enhanced staff retention levels and diversity among senior management.

Non-profits

In addition, she says, the programme has helped prepare future leaders to work in a global environment.

Ms Painter says that while Duke has worked with num-erous non-profit organisations in the past, they represent only a small portion of its customised programme portfolio. This could change, however. She says a growing number of non-profit organisations is looking to business schools to develop leadership programmes.

“The missions [of non-profits and companies] are different, the players are somewhat different but the challenges are very similar – how you cultivate talent, how you operate in a global environment, how you translate a strategy,” she says.

“There’s a tremendous amount of value to be learnt from ‘the other side’. Non-profits need to be thoughtful about how they educate and train the next generation of leaders.”

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