Reimagining leadership: being open to insight will help us pave the way to a brighter future

Dorinnia Carville, Comptroller and Auditor General, Northern Ireland Audit Office

Leadership is often perceived as a final destination, a pinnacle reached after years of experience and hard work. However, I believe it’s how you approach the journey that sets you apart and to be an agent for change you must embrace opportunities to learn from others.

I gained great insight and perspective from taking part on a recent development programme. The power of collaboration across sectors was evident on the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building’s Fellowship Programme. Participants have the unique opportunity to engage with professionals from various sectors — community, business, political, and more — creating a rich tapestry of expertise and insights.

Meeting people from a range of sectors that I wouldn't ordinarily deal with made me realise that they are dealing with the same issues. There was lots of shared learning.

This cross-sector networking is particularly valuable in a place like Northern Ireland, a region so small that there is no excuse for silo working and not having joined up approaches to societal challenges.

I found working with people at different career stages to be a formative experience. I probably learned most from some of the people who were at the early stages of their career because they just had very different approaches, very different ways of looking at things.

This made me appreciate the traits of modern leadership: the ability to adapt and integrate new perspectives, especially from younger generations who bring fresh ideas and a deeper understanding of contemporary tools and trends. It’s a reminder that effective leadership is not just about imparting knowledge, but also about being open to receiving it from all quarters.

A transformative approach to leadership is what is needed in Northern Ireland if we are to progress past the usual stumbling blocks. By valuing continuous learning, embracing cross-sector collaboration, and integrating fresh perspectives, we can reimagine and redefine what it means to lead in today’s society and pave the way for a brighter future.

To learn more about the Fellowship Programme and apply, visit our website.


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Leadership and Groundedness

By Alannah Millar

People often ask me if Russia’s political atmosphere felt different. They are often so curious because it is so uniquely Russian. Leadership in Russia is culturally specific, but it is not in touch with the masses and its Achilles Heel is the fact that it is so separated from the experiences of many.

When I lived in St Petersburg, the political machine seemed miles away. So far away I had no opportunity to get involved nor could it really affect my everyday. Putin was but a figment somewhere very far away; his leadership came from miles above. Moscow and its politics seemed far away from the daily concerns of the local St Petersburgite. Even when Putin did visit St Petersburg, no ordinary citizens were disturbed or were able to reach him. He was cocooned away, safely shuttled between sites.

Don’t get me wrong, some leadership felt very real and pressing. The police presence on the streets and at every metro stop made my heart leap into my throat every time I passed them, my head physically bowing to avoid eye contact. But in general, any form of political leadership seemed untouchable. Even the city’s federal politics did not seem to disturb everyday life in the city. Decisions were made by the City Council, but it did little to make changes to the everyday life of most citizens in the city. And the decisions that did alter everyday life were hardly pleasant, such as introduction of partial mobilisation, which forcibly rounded up 300,000 men to join the fight in Ukraine.

At his annual New Year conference, where Putin was questioned by journalists, questions swirled over economics, foreign policy, military positions, and other questions which seemed so complex as to confound even political commentators. Despite speaking Russian fluently, it was one of the only times where I really felt like I needed a translator. The one representative, who seemed indicative of the masses asked a question which seemed at odds with the rest of the ceremony, meekly asking why the price of groceries had risen so much, citing that a bag of carrots had tripled in price in the last year. Putin seemed to shrug, as if the question was none of his concern, offered a litany of pretentious apologies and empty promises and moved on.

Putin’s politics are based on his untouchability. No one can criticise or alter his plans because of it, but it also leaves everyone else with no input and no sense that the end product has been created together. He goes it alone. Putin bases his leadership on the idea of him as a single figure and he operates a high-power distance style of leadership.

But that untouchability is a fault.

Leadership should be grounded with lived experience and should engage and interact with more than those at the top of the pecking order. Leadership should not be constrained by cultural myths and history. It is largely presumed that Russia cannot function without a strong autocratic leader. With its long history of tyrants, tsars, and dictators, many believe that Russia must have a strong, centralised, autocratic power. However, to excuse Putin’s regime as a necessary form of leadership in Russia is to be lulled into delusion.

This belief is proven wrong by the strong Russian support for opposition leaders, who offer a vision of a future for Russia in which leadership is drastically changed. They offer a leadership which is in touch with the grassroots, in touch with the everyday problems of the people. The Russian opposition has no one monolithic leader. It is fractured and splintered, with gloriously imperfect factions and internal divisions. Each individual has flaws and is marked by their experience with the community they live in. And that is partly the glory of the system.

Alexei Navalny, for example, chose to go back to Russia, to be amongst his community, risking arrest and further persecution after he was taken to Berlin after being poisoned. He did so because he did not believe in leading from afar; Alexei wanted to be in amongst the community and with his people. He presented himself as one of us, not one of them.

Leadership should not be detached from the everyday concerns, but rather root itself in its team. After his death, Alexei’s wife Yulia Navalnaya queued for six hours to vote in the Russian embassy in Berlin. She was in amongst the crowd and did not ask for special treatment. She was seen, felt, and heard by the Russian community.

Leadership at all levels – whether it be in national institutions, regional organisations, or local businesses – should be easily accessible, and inclusive. It should not feel elusive and far away, but here, now, and real. It should concern itself with the cost of carrots.


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Breathing Space

A day of meeting, discussion and sharing of practice convened by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Building upon IMMA’s new exhibition Take a Breath as a foundation, alongside focusing on aspects of IMMA’s Collections and Archives, the event will feature presentations and workshops exploring the theme of ‘breathing space.’ This gathering is intended to create space for dialogue and the sharing of practice and ideas. Namely, it is a coming together of key figures interested in exploring a conversation about our shared island with international representation.

This event is convened by the Centre for Democracy and Peace and the Irish Museum of Modern Art with support from the Shared Island Civic Society Fund.

More information including agenda to follow. Refreshments included.

Date and time
Friday, June 28 · 10:30am – 5pm GMT+1

Irish Museum of Modern Art
Military Road D08 FW31 Dublin 8 Ireland

About this event
6 hours 30 minutes

Register here:


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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.


Cultural Diplomacy and the Art of Soft Power seminar proudly hosted by CDPB

As part of Imagine! Belfast, CDPB proudly hosted the seminar Cultural Diplomacy and the Art of Soft Power on March 21st at Black Box theatre in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

We were thrilled to be joined by keynote speaker Evgeniya Ravtsova, International Programmes Manager at Victoria and Albert Museum, whose speech on the museum’s unique history and role in cultural diplomacy and exchange, as well as the art of soft power, was riveting.
Our panel discussion was equally insightful, covering topics such as: future opportunities for cultural diplomacy; the influence of narratives of identity in cultural diplomacy; and, Ireland and Northern Ireland’s cultural diplomacy initiatives.

Thanks are owed to our brilliant panellists: Sheena Barrett, Head of Research and Learning at the Irish Museum of Modern Art; Dr. Kim-Marie Spence, Lecturer in Arts Management and Cultural Policy at Queen’s University Belfast; and Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen.

We would also like to thank Black Box and Imagine! Belfast for their help in hosting and facilitating such a successful event.


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John Smith Trust Belarusian Fellows visit London

In March, the CDPB team were honoured to work with the John Smith Trust’s Belarusian Fellows, facilitating a residential trip to London.

The John Smith Trust offers individuals from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia working in sustainability, governance, and diversity, a fellowship programme which includes giving Fellows valuable insight into the workings of UK institutions, leadership development, and a residential trip to London.

The Belarusian Fellows travelled to London in March for a jam-packed schedule of events, which CDPB helped to facilitate.
The week included a meeting with the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs, Lord Cameron; a meeting with CDPB Fellowship alumnus Conleth Burns who gave an overview of his work at More in Common and research into UK policy concerns; a visit to the Guildhall, meeting with Alderman Professor Emma Edhem; a trip to Oxford to meet for a session on Systems Thinking with Professor Harvey Maylor from Säid Business School; and a day in Parliament featuring a trip to PMQs and a open conversation hosted by CDPB Emeritus Chairman, Lord Alderdice.

Thank you to all involved in the fabulous and constructive week, as well as the wider fellowship programme, and good luck to the Fellows in their future endeavours.


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CDPB hosts first alumni event

CDPB was delighted to launch the first event for our alumni network on January 19 with conflict management consultant and mediator Dorcas Crawford.

Dorcas offered valuable and practical insight on mastering difficult conversations drawing from her vast experience. It is certainly a skill all leaders from across Northern Ireland can continually improve on.

We would like to extend our thanks to chief financial office of Allstate NI Christina Bates and Allstate Northern Ireland for helping to host the event.

We look forward to sharing further updates on how we intend to grow and develop our alumni network as we seek to equip and facilitate leadership development to bring about benefit for all in Northern Ireland.


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