Early in November, two dozen social justice leaders from our community came together for a special deep dive into the topic of intergenerational leadership. Spring CEO and strategist Ellen Sprenger teamed up with feminist activist-storyteller (and Spring Associate!) Purity Kagwiria for an immersive conversation headlining this month's edition of our Leap of Leadership series.
The Leap of Leadership is our monthly online meet-up for social justice leaders around the world. Each month, we tackle cutting-edge topics through conversations about our experiences, perspectives and strategies. Our online community comprises more than 300 leaders from 30 countries around the world. Sign up for our monthly newsletter for the next opportunity to join the conversation.
Listen to the 30-minute podcast clip of Ellen and Purity's conversation below and read on for some key strategies you can try in your organization.
Ellen (in her fifties) and Purity (in her thirties) share stories about their deeply personal experiences coming up in feminist movements and in philanthropic organizations over the past decades.
Side note: Before founding Spring, Ellen held several management positions at Oxfam-Novib and was the Executive Director of Mama Cash, a feminist foundation based in Amsterdam. Purity is the Director for With and For Girls Fund and Collective, the world’s only participatory fund by, and for adolescent girls. Previously, she served as the Executive Director of Akili Dada, a leadership incubator for girls and young women.
In her early years coming up in non-profit spaces, Purity reflected on how there was room for young women to push back collectively to help create more equitable spaces for themselves. At the same time, it was harder in one-on-one relationships; Ellen found that it was difficult to disagree with older leaders, who expected more loyalty from their mentees. As young women, both remembered having a feeling of righteousness, that older generations should get out of the way. Now, they're conscious of not wanting to be in the way themselves!
Today, as a youngish elder, laughs Ellen, “my greatest fear is that one day, young women like me thirty years ago, are going to say how can we get Ellen and her contemporaries out of the way, we need to give them something to do."
But there's a lot of freedom in being the “sandwich generation” — women who have aged out of youth movements but are established in more senior roles, like Purity. “I love the idea of being able to learn from people who are younger than me. I currently have an advisory board made up of young people who are all below 24 and I love the perspectives they bring to the work that I do,” says Purity. The sandwich generation has this ability to flip between being old school and new school and to leverage the opportunities of both. It’s a time that passes quickly, she says, so she wants to make the most of it.
The pair's conversation also touched on the climate crisis and how central intergenerational justice has to be to our work. As Ellen notes, “100 billion people have lived and died on this planet, 7.7 billion are alive today, and the future generations are the silent powerless majority. There is no justice for them if we don’t keep them in mind.”
One question that we all need to think about is, what is my role in this moment? For Ellen, it’s a quieter, reflective spirit than the past — one ruminating on how to ensure justice across time, how to spark mental shifts and ways of being with one another that take inspiration from nature. For Purity, it’s an active engagement in pushing forward power-sharing models and a process of decolonization in philanthropy that goes beyond box-ticking.
As one participant in our conversation put it: “when older and younger generations meet, magic happens!”
Wisdom from the collective (aka the breakout groups we split into after the expert chat):
- It’s important to ensure older leaders are giving younger ones (and all members) space to disagree while still maintaining good relationships.
- Let’s break the wisdom-hierarchy chain. Wisdom comes not just with age but from a variety of experiences.
- We sometimes notice a tendency to withdraw from one another, whether from fear of judgement or a lack of trust. Let’s try to remember to stay curious.
- We need each other. Every generation comes to the table with unique tools and ideas.
- Many established leaders remember the support older generations showed them, feel honoured when young people seek out mentorship relationships and appreciate feedback and mutual learning.
- Younger people are bringing powerful system change, including redefining their existence under capitalism by prioritizing mental health and eschewing unattainable ideas about productivity.
Put it into Practice 👇🏾👇🏾👇🏾
Download our Intergenerational Leadership Resource to learn strategies for moving away from binaries of old and young toward strong, reciprocal relationships across the spectrum of age and intersections of time and experience.
In this resource we cover some of the existing fault lines that rumble when groups or partnerships of different generations are pulling in different directions. We also share some tangible practices for building trust, reverse mentorships, shared assumptions and more.