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Leading for a cause

Episode 220125 / 25 Jan 2022

Images: Getty / BBC

Introduction

Personal experience can be a powerful driver for leaders who want to bring about change in the community. Marcus Rashford knows what it feels like to be hungry. The footballer comes from a humble background. Now a Manchester United star, he is using his fame to campaign to end child food poverty.

In the third part of our series on leadership, we discuss effective ways to gain support for a cause that is personal.

TRANSCRIPT

Presenter
The footballer who forced his government to feed hungry children. 

Boni Adeliyi
Fight for your black friends. Defend your black colleagues. 

Presenter
And the young student who got her community active and fighting for their rights. We'll show you what qualities these young leaders showed in fighting for something they believe in. Marcus Rashford — in action for Manchester United. Not the obvious person you'd expect to help fight hunger and poverty. The Covid pandemic: children in the UK were sent home from school and many poorer children no longer got free school meals. Marcus wanted to help get food to those that need it the most. He wrote a letter to the government, calling on them to end child poverty. Unlike many in the British government, Marcus had come from a poor background. 

Marcus Rashford
You know, what families are going through now — I once had to go through that same system and it's very difficult to... to find the way out, but... now that I'm in this position that I'm in, it's... it's very important for me to... to help the people that are struggling and... that was the main reason why the letter was... was written.

Presenter
Public support for the footballer grew. He became a leading voice in the campaign to end child food poverty. He got the British government to carry on giving free food to those that needed it, with the support of thousands of people. How did he do it?

Michael Ngoasong
The personal connection that Marcus Rashford has to the cause is very important, because of his strong belief and conviction that child poverty is not something that should be allowed in society, and because he has experienced it, he knows that this is a cause that can... is as important and even bigger than football.

Presenter
So Marcus Rashford's personal connection to the cause is important here. And we can see how that motivates him.

Michael Ngoasong
Although there is so much you can get from being a footballer, there is a bigger cause in society — in this case child poverty — that is bigger than football and he sees that as a vision and feels that he has a position in power to be able to influence that.

Presenter
So, Marcus Rashford sees the bigger picture. He knows there are many children experiencing hunger like he did and this drives his leadership.

Michael Ngoasong
Marcus Rashford feels he's got a role to play in fighting child poverty, because he's in a... a position as a professional footballer and he has the vision. And the honesty and simple way in which he communicates and drives that vision pulls people around him and creates a team spirit within the community, such that even politicians are challenged to try to do more.

Presenter
Marcus Rashford knows he has a role to play. His passion and commitment draws people to the cause and his message cannot be ignored, even by the politicians.

Michael Ngoasong
He is able to stay the course, irrespective of what people might say or want him to do. He knows that he has to stay the course to be able to achieve his vision, because that is what he has been doing most of his life.

Presenter
So, resilience and persistence are important character traits here, and enable you to stand firm in the face of criticism.

But what if you aren't a high-profile footballer? The killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer was caught on video and led to massive protests around the world. Boni Adeliyi, a student from the UK, decided to join the growing movement.

Boni Adeliyi
Fight for your black friends! Defend your black colleagues!

Presenter
Boni organised a protest in her home town. She set it up in just two days. So, what were Boni's experiences of leadership?

Boni Adeliyi
I didn't watch the video, but I felt the, like... I felt the effects of that....

Sorry.

I felt the effects of that immediately, because just hearing about it is enough to shake somebody, I think.

Presenter
Boni Adeliyi, as a black woman, had been personally affected by the killing and wanted to respond.

Boni Adeliyi
I tried to make sure that this protest is not linked to any political party, any local agenda — nothing. This is about black people having a space to grieve and if you are a self-proclaimed ally and you want to support, that you have a space to come and support.

Presenter
Boni knew others felt the same way as her and wanted to give them an opportunity to come together. She also knew she was putting herself at risk. 

Boni Adeliyi
As somebody in charge, you take full accountability for everything that happens, and knowing that, you have to be ready for things to go wrong: things to not go your way, for people to hurl abuse at you, like... I think, knowing that before you decide to take something on is really, really important, because self-awareness should let you know whether or not you can... you can hold that.

Presenter
Boni took a risk and accepted personal responsibility for the event, knowing it might not go well. This makes her a believable leader. She also thinks it's important to not forget the issue you are fighting for.

Boni Adeliyi
Honour the people that you've come to serve, because I think it's about leading and taking charge, sure — but it's also about serving. You're there to... I organised a protest, but it... it was... it was to serve. It was to serve my community. I... I don't know how else to phrase that. But, when... when you lead, you also serve. And that's... there's lot of humility that comes with that, I think. I was, like I said, very humbled — by the end of that protest — humbled to my absolute... to the absolute extreme.

Presenter
Boni says she was humbled. She didn't see herself as bigger than the cause. People are more likely to follow her because of this. So, to lead for a cause, you need to show your connection to the cause. You might need to take a real risk. And you should remember — you're not bigger than the cause itself: be humble.

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