Leading differently: The Anima Leading with Integrity, Vision and Effectiveness (ALIVE) Program

(Annotated by Paula Cameron)

This past January, thanks to the SSHRC-funded research that supports this blog, I was fortunate to participate in Anima Leadership’s Leading with Integrity, Vision and Effectiveness (ALIVE) Program. Over two days, facilitator and Anima co-Founder Annahid Dashtgard led a small group of women in exercises designed to guide us toward our inner leader. Led by Annahid in movement, drama, and brainstorming exercises, we examined our leadership styles and assumptions, and learned about conflict resolution, goal development, and body image. Our diverse mix of ages, interests, and careers (from student activists to non-profit CEOs) meant we examined various strategies, styles, and assumptions in a multi-faceted way.

Together, we considered what women’s leadership looks like in a post-second-wave world. I was struck with how deeply rooted the course material was: it took us to places seldom reached in conventional learning. “It’s about inviting a new style of leadership,” Annhid pointed out. “A new form of power to take place—one that marries intellectual knowing with emotional knowing, and not sacrificing that. It takes courage.” The mission statement on the Anima website aligns this new kind of power with “building healthier, more equitable and sustainable relationships with ourselves and the world around us by connecting to a deep sense of who we are as opposed to who we believe we should be” (animaleadership.com).

I later met with Annahid in an east-end Toronto café to ask her about her path toward feminist leadership and popular education. She explained that she came to leadership training and popular education through disillusionment with political campaign work: “I got disenchanted with creating change in that way. For me, it felt very one-off, fast, superficial education, and I wanted to go to people’s core, where they would act for change in the world, but in a very rooted, wise place.” Working with a talented group of educators in Vancouver led her to a different style of raising awareness. This approach includes using artforms such as sculpture, storytelling, role playing, and bodywork to access the heart of leadership.

Though she had been aware of gender issues from an early age, Annahid’s commitment to gender equality surfaced after time spent working in the political sector. “My first job was in the political field working at the Alberta legislature for one of the political parties. I watched the absolute masculinity, the hierarchical nature of power, how invisible women were in that sphere. And, you know, working out in the gym beside the premier at the time, just the whole experience of invisibility. I felt on a gut level that the whole idea of having to be twice as intelligent in order to be considered equally competent is so true.“

She first incorporated art and popular education in her practice through organizing and leading body image workshops. “The majority of women get divorced from our own power source because we are caught up in appearance. So on some level, I believed that if I just looked right I would somehow get closer to that feeling of power that I was seeking.“ Annahid decided to develop curricula about conscious eating, to help other women heal their fractured relationship with food.

Eventually, Annahid joined with Shakil Choudhury to form Anima Leadership, and now leads workshops on the topics like anti-racism, conflict resolution, and women’s leadership. [See the Anima Leadership website (animaleadership.com) to learn more about Annahid and Shakil’s work, including their Diversity and Equity Leadership Institute, Conscious Eating Program, and workshops like Brown Book: Using Storytelling to Combat Racism.]

True to Anima aims, in the workshop I attended, Annahid created space for bodies and emotions within learning. The effect on me (and other participants, clearly) was energizing and empowering. Instead of feeling drained by a day of sitting still and absorbing facts and ideas, we moved and laughed and struggled and encouraged. Within a small council of women, we shared our (whole) selves, and learned how differently learning—and leading—can be done.

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~ by artpoped on October 5, 2009.

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