Working in this field of leadership development, every once in a while we get the chance to work with aspiring leaders and organisations that are truly destined to make a difference, to make our world—now and for generations to come—a better place. For me, that experience is embodied in the leadership coaching work I’ve been privileged to undertake for eight years with a group in East London called the Active Change Foundation and the organisation’s founder, Hanif Qadir.
Those who were fortunate to attend the 2013 Leadership Forum in Scottsdale, AZ may remember Hanif and young Samiuel who together presented a session on the organisations’ Young Leaders Programme (YLP). Well, since that time Hanif, Sammy, and the rest of the young leaders at ACF have been very busy—raising their voices and Modelling the Way to make a change in the world.
Appalled by the recent activities of the Islamic State (IS) organisation, in particular the barbaric acts of violence like those reported in such U.S. newspapers as The Washington Post , Hanif and the ACF team wanted to ensure that young people in their local communities—especially those vulnerable to radicalisation themselves—understood that the actions and behaviours of IS in no way represent good Islamic practice. Their view was that what the members of IS were doing was the antithesis of Islam. They also shared a belief that the only way to defeat the radical elements of Islam is for the moderate voice to prevail. They wanted to DO something. But from their youth centre in East London, the question was “what?”.
Their knowledge of and confidence in Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® helped strengthened their resolve to act. They decided to launch a social media campaign that has gone viral. From the streets of London to cities across the U.S., “Notinmyname” has become a unifying focus for Muslims everywhere who share a sense of outrage at how ISIL has hijacked their faith. The ACF’s “Notinmyname” YouTube video has been viewed more than 250,000 times in just the first three weeks!
President Barack Obama, in his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, paid tribute to the work of these young leaders.
"The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies – Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.” Look at the young British Muslims, who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “notinmyname” campaign, declaring – “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron also has mentioned in the British Parliament the work of Hanif and the team from ACF as he described the importance of a credible counter-narrative to Islamic Fundamentalism coming from within their own community. And within the local communities in London, it most importantly has engaged both moderate and radical Muslims and Christians in a debate about the kind of community they want to build.
These young leaders of ACF have found their voices and, even more importantly, have found the courage to speak up in a deeply divided community. No doubt there will be consequences, both good and inevitably bad. But this is exemplary leadership at its best—great leaders I think we all can learn something from.
On a final personal note, my experience with this incredible group of young leaders has made me ever more thoughtful about what leadership will look like for the Y&Z generations. We’ve seen a glimpse of that future over the last few weeks on social media and I believe it has profound implications for us as leadership educators.
Chris Nel is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge. When not helping his commercial clients lead change in their organisations, he happily volunteers his time as a mentor for the Active Change Foundation where he uses the Kouzes & Posner’s The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model and the Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI®) framework to coach outreach workers and community leaders. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information about ACF, visit www.activechangefoundation.org.