An opportunity to reimagine leadership: Northern Irish leaders urged to apply for Fellowship

The Centre for Democracy and Peace Building has opened applications for its 2024/25 Fellowship Programme for leaders in politics, business, and civic society in Northern Ireland.

The Centre for Democracy and Peace Building has opened applications for its 2024/25 Fellowship Programme for leaders in politics, business, and civic society in Northern Ireland.

Now in its fourth year, the Fellowship Programme has over 70 alumni, including Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald MLA. It invites 24 ambitious leaders on a seven-month journey to reimagine and pave a new, prosperous future for Northern Ireland. The programme seeks to support the peace process, foster innovation and capacity building, and encourage collaborative decision-making so that leaders across society are strengthened and equipped to navigate complexity and deliver real change for the benefit of all.

The Fellowship Programme is supported by the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Irish American Partnership, as well as some of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers including Allstate NI, Camlin Group, FinTrU, Fujitsu NI, NIE Networks and Ulster Carpets. The programme aims to support and equip participants to take on some of Northern Ireland’s most complex political, business, and civic challenges.

Through bespoke sessions delivered by leaders in the top of their field including Oxford academics and diplomats, Fellows are challenged to step outside of their comfort zone and harness the spirit of possibility, tackling important issues such as climate and energy, policy and governance as well as taking part in the popular residential sessions at the University of Oxford and in Dublin.

This year’s Fellowship Programme was launched by the First and deputy First Ministers and Fellowship Advisory Board Chair, Darragh McCarthy at Parliament Buildings.

They were joined by alumni from last year’s programme; Cheryl Brownlee MLA for East Antrim, Jason Bunting, Parliamentary Advisor to Sinéad McLaughlin MLA, Dorinnia Carville, Comptroller and Auditor General at the Northern Ireland Audit Office, Gareth Edwards, Vice President for Compliance at FinTrU, Deborah Erskine MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Róisín Wood, CEO of Community Foundation NI, Chloe Ferguson, President of the National Union of Students UK in Northern Ireland, Áine Murphy MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Amy Gribbon, Manager of Forthspring Inter Community Group.

Fellowship Advisory Board Chair, Darragh McCarthy, said:
“The Fellowship Programme speaks for itself as a fantastic platform for ambitious Northern Ireland leaders, as witnessed by the talented group of people at this year’s launch at Stormont and our partners are proud once again to support the scheme for another year. It is brilliant to have the support of the First and deputy First Ministers for this important programme, to recognise the potential in bringing these cohorts together to spark new conversations about the future of Northern Ireland. I look forward to seeing what unique and varied skills the next Fellows will bring and how they will shape each other for the better as leaders in society.”

Applications for the 2024/25 Fellowship Programme will close on Wednesday 19 June. To apply or to find out more, please email or visit:


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Leadership and the constellation

By Charlotte Finlay

The time for heroes in leadership is over.

Traditionally, the leadership literature landscape has heavily featured a dominant individual perspective: the hero leader figure. Even today, the understanding of leadership often ends up with a blurred distinction between hero and leader as leadership is still often perceived as an individual level phenomenon. But the time for heroes has been fading away and a new understanding of leadership is emerging. Leadership mustn’t be confused with a leader or set of leaders. Indeed, the two are very different. When we consider leadership, a leader may spring to our minds, yet leadership will rarely play out solely on an individual level; rather leadership is a complex and dynamic process.

This leads us to the question; how should we view leadership today? Let me introduce a new understanding of the phenomena to consider. Leadership is a collective, social process, best practiced in a constellation. In this context, the term constellation describes a group of leaders from the public, private, and third sectors of society to achieve a future goal. In Northern Ireland this plurality of leaders is needed given the complex challenges we face, but this leadership is also needed beyond Northern Ireland and across the globe.

I have been privileged to witness this leadership constellation in action over the last eight months, while observing and taking part in the CDPB’s Fellowship Programme, as part of my PhD research into cross-sectoral leadership. The programme brings leaders across Northern Ireland together, representing the different sectors of society, with leaders from business, politics, and the community and voluntary sector. These leaders have come together to work collectively, across sectors, to create change in Northern Ireland. The programme is underpinned by the spirit of possibility, which is what I have found to be true in watching collective leadership unfold over the last eight months.

In a recent interview one of the leaders shared their thoughts on leading with those from different sectors, and they posed these questions,

What is in the interest of the person opposite me? And is there a space that we can reach in between? Or instead of going off in parallel lines, can we create a perpendicular moment where we come together further down the line?

Leadership is a collective, social process and is therefore highly relational. Social Capital Theory is about the value of social networks. Put simply, it refers to the connections and the interactions between people. And these networks, connections, and interactions matter. Research tells us that good, strong Social Capital has enormous benefits on society, and how we fill the space that exists between us determines the strength of the Social Capital we build. Every day, we will experience leadership gaps. Where do these gaps exist? They exist between us as leaders and how we fill those gaps determines the strength of the Social Capital we build.

So, how do we avoid going off in parallel lines? How can we narrow the gap, reaching into the space between? Based on what I have observed through the Fellowship Programme this year, we narrow the gap by all of us showing up at the leadership table, choosing to participate in the constellation, and building relationships across sectors.

Collaborating well and solving complex societal problems requires a constellation of leaders, working together within a social process. To finish, I love this quote from Warren Bennis almost thirty years ago, who summarised this need for leadership and the constellation when he wrote:

None of us is as smart as all of us. In a society as complex and technologically sophisticated as ours, the most urgent projects require the coordinated contributions of many talented people. The richer the mix of people, the more likely that new connections will be made. We must recognise a new paradigm: not great leaders alone but great leaders who exist in a fertile relationship with a Great Group (Bennis, 1997, P. 202).

More is still to be discovered when it comes to cross-sectoral leadership, yet one thing remains true in the pursuit of a better leadership for the future, which encapsulates the reason for the Fellowship Programme; that “We came here to do something, together” (Godin, 2023).

To conclude, as leaders, let’s remember leadership is not found in leaders alone, but is found in a process of learning with others, for the greater good of society. Let’s consider leadership and the constellation. For in narrowing the gap, in this perpendicular moment, there lies a spirit of possibility for leadership today, tomorrow, and for the future.

Charlotte Finlay is a PhD candidate at Ulster University



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Fellowship 2023/24 Graduation

On Thursday 14th April, we were honoured to join our 2023/24 Fellows at Hillsborough Castle for their graduation ceremony.

On Thursday 14th April, we were honoured to join our 2023/24 Fellows at Hillsborough Castle for their graduation ceremony.

It was an evening of celebration, as we looked back on the Fellows’ meaningful and insightful contributions over the last year. It was heartwarming to see so many close relationships and connections made throughout the Fellowship which will continue to thrive in the future.

The CDPB team would like to personally congratulate all of the Fellows. We are humbled and inspired by your commitment to making change and we cannot wait to see the impact you will continue to make for all in Northern Ireland.