Lake Victoria was a black still mass as we passed on the way from Entebbe to Kampala, the first of many journeys that we would take together in Uganda. I was tired yet excited for the week ahead, keen to get a feel for Uganda’s culture and countryside, and slightly apprehensive about the journey that lay ahead – I wanted to capture every second.

MAC-UK was set up to support the mental health needs of young people who are excluded from mainstream services and involved in offending. We do this by setting up and running projects with, by and for these young people, with a focus on supporting their development through a mental health understanding.

On meeting my fellow Discoverers at breakfast, I heard myself repeat the familiar patter of traditional intros “Hello, my name is Olive, I’m the clinical lead at MAC-UK….”. All the people around the table led amazing organisations that better other people’s lives and had a particular expertise in enterprise. Immediately I started thinking what MAC-UK might gain from the experience. What network links I could make to improve young people’s access to opportunities, and what experience I might pick up for the bridging out phase of the Integrate Model at MAC-UK where young people are supported into mainstream services including employment. Coming from an organisation in which everyone is a leader, from trustees to young people, it felt strange that I was experiencing a privilege in going to Uganda that few young people we work with would, and I wanted to carry their voices with me.
As the only psychologist around the table, I looked forward to learning what enabled this amazing group to authentically lead other people within their organisations and beyond. But it quickly became clear that everyone not only wanted to share learning but was interested in mental health and its impact on themselves as leaders and the communities they support.

Our theme for Discovery was value based leadership, based on the concept that leadership is not just about what you do but who you are. Suraj challenged us to focus on how we wanted to be as a leader to raise awareness of our core values, in order to develop clear intentions for how we would act and be. Across the varied sessions with room for reflection, debate, workshops and practice, this gave me a new perspective on my role as clinical lead.

MAC-UK is strongly value-driven. Co-production, openness, flexibility, non-judgementality and determination are core to everything we do. Its therapeutic approach asks practitioners to be actively aware of their values and of their intentions. By broadcasting our intentions, we believe that young people and practitioners can develop trust in their relationship, which will allow us to facilitate change together. The idea is that by giving other people a look inside your beliefs, desires, wishes, hopes and dreams they will begin to become more accurately aware of their own and others intentions, and begin to make different decisions. It is as challenging in everyday life to maintain an awareness of your intentions as it is at work. As the week progressed, I realised that the approach we use with young people could be broadened out from therapeutic work to support value based leadership.

Suraj coached us through raising our awareness of our core values and to then focus on our intentions as leaders. This helped me crystallise a core value that I hold strongly and also to reflect on my intentions for joining MAC-UK and becoming a leader in the organisation. The value is integrity. Like Maggie, the journey of reflection and awareness of my actions and intentions in reference to this value brings me back to what kinds of leader I want to be.

The week also gave me the opportunity to properly experience and so appreciate, the benefit of time and space to reflect. As Michael has mentioned on Monday, this is something we always talk about in our work but so rarely manage. During the week I taught a yoga class to share something I have learned about the importance of gaining perspective to take care of ourselves as leaders, that as help-givers if our relationships to help-seeking were to improve, we might be better able to remain true to our values. It was fun to watch everyone in yoga gear concentrating hard at breathing on our outdoor hotel patio! It also reinforced the importance of making time to reflect.

My most colourful memories are of the great people that I was with on the trip, and that we had the chance to meet. We were lucky to visit and learn from organisations associated with Forward in Uganda, especially Restless Development and Educate! Restless’ country director Jess has worked hard at facilitating her employee’s abilities to lead, and we had a thrilling speed-induction experience with her team. Educate! showed us how to do interactive learning, with good pace, a range of materials for all learning styles and learning from other students expertly managed by a humorous teacher. Their country director, Maggie, had organised for her managers to lead a Q&A session with us that was an interesting and reflective experience. Meeting Tina from Basic Needs, Ebrima from Warchild and Abraham from Breakdance Uganda was a lesson in humility. They were all so knowledgeable in their fields and committed to supporting young people in whatever way they could.

Another lasting memory is the food. The vibrant colours and smells while walking around the vegetable market in Kampala, and eating dinners late at night with the others, the conversations that we had which were warm, funny and supportive.

My first blog, my first trip to Uganda, my first business lesson! I returned to work pretty amazed at the whole Discovery week, and the opportunity to discover Uganda and learn from others there. My intention is that the staff and young people at MAC-UK will benefit from this experience both through new opportunities and by proxy, by having a leader in me who is calmer, with reinvigorated passion for improving social inclusion with young people, and clearer about how the values I portray as a leader are important to the work MAC-UK does.

Olive shared her experience with leaders from Enabling Enterprise, Educate, War Child and Restless Development.

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