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Canada Bound: Our Director - Sara-Jane Elika's Journey at the Duke of Edinburgh's CSC

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conference (CSC) stands as the premier global developmental experience for emerging leaders. In June 2023, CSC brought together 300 of the most promising up-and-coming leaders across business, government, labour, and the community sector. For emerging leaders hailing from Commonwealth nations, CSC2023 in Canada proved to be an unparalleled educational, networking, and personal growth endeavor.

Spanning over two weeks, the conference immersed each participant in novel experiences, thought-provoking discussions, and diverse viewpoints, all centered around the conference theme "engaged leadership for inclusive change." The ultimate aim was to enhance the quality and pertinence of decision-making among future leaders.

The conference commenced with a plenary session at the Bannff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Calgary, Alberta, set within the Banff National Park. This session encompassed thought provoking topics such as the digital revolution, African agriculture, design economics, and high-tech prosperity. The plenary session ended with delegates having individual audiences with Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne.

As a part of the CSC journey, participants were divided into 15 study groups, with Sara-Jane selected to explore Prince Edward Island (PEI). During her time on the island, she had the opportunity to delve into the indigenous culture of the Mi’kmaq people, who have called Prince Edward Island home for over a thousand years.

Their stay involved learning about the Seven Indigenous Teachings, which serve as guiding principles for harmonious living, personal development, community well-being, and environmental stewardship. These teachings were represented by different animals, each symbolising a distinct principle: love (eagle), wisdom (wolf), respect (buffalo), courage (bear), truth (turtle), and honesty (Bigfoot).

To fully grasp the depth of these teachings, the PEI study group engaged with various organisations, delving into each principle's essence. For instance, exploring the concept of love in leadership meant creating a compassionate, supportive environment where every individual feels valued and heard. This philosophy was illuminated through a visit to the Charlottes Town Outreach Centre, an organisation aiding those grappling with addiction and homelessness.

Another teaching, humility, was embodied by Honorary Darlene Compton at the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island. Through sharing her political experiences, she exemplified how humility fosters mutual respect, collaboration, and shared accomplishments. This idea was reinforced through the concept of wolf pack dynamics where each member of the wolf pack have their own specific role in the pack.

PEI study group visited the Sleepy Hollow Women’s Correctional Centre to understand respect's significance, symbolised by the buffalo. Respect, like a gift from the buffalo, is believed to be reciprocal: by respecting oneself, respect from others is earned from the Mi’kmaq lens. This experience prompted the participants to value differing perspectives and encourage innovative thinking.

Courage, represented by the bear's strength and resilience, was explored through a visit to the Mi’kmaq Culture Center. They learned that courage involves facing and overcoming challenges, not simply the absence of fear.

Wisdom, symbolised by the beaver's strategic nature, led the group to meet diverse leaders, gaining insights from their experiences. One valuable piece of advice, shared by Roderick W. Gould Jr, Chief and Council from the Abegweit First Nation, emphasised personal well-being as a foundation for effective leadership.

The turtle, symbolising truth, inspired open communication and transparency in leadership. The group participated in a blanket exercise at the Mawiomi Centre, delving into the impact of European settlers on First Nation People, thus gaining a deeper understanding of truth.

Finally integrating honesty into leadership promoted a culture of trust, integrity, and authenticity. It created a safe environment where people felt comfortable voicing their views knowing they will be heard and respected.

The Commonwealth Study Conference this year had a small group of indigenous leaders from Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and Aotearoa. These leaders saw honest leadership as one that encourages accountability, promotes ethical practices, and builds strong, trust-based relationships.

“For us as indigenous leaders, we championed the voice of Indigeneity collectively and shared our connected experiences to raise honest and often courageous conversations.

Coming back back to Aotearoa, I feel empowered, appreciated and centred on what leadership attributes I can share with others. I know that my voice, the people and communities I represent from Moana Nui a kiwa/ South Pacific, New Zealand and Samoa, can be heard at a global level. Listening and serving through action is my authentic voice which encouraged open dialogue and meaningful connections.” Sara-Jane Elika

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