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Incredible Leadership

By Sara Venn

Within the idea of food citizenship is the idea that people behaving as citizens are facilitators and champions for their local communities.

When Incredible Edible groups form, they are usually just that; a group of people executing a change through small actions that supports their community to come together, in the Incredible Edible case around food, growing , skill sharing and local economies. Rarely do these groups have a leader as such, or anyone paid to carry out the work of the group but instead are a group of committed grassroots activists, stepping up to make and become the change they want to see.

Hence leadership within our movement is fluid and allows individuals to step up and lead on a part of the work being done by the whole group, focusing on their particular talents and allowing them to use those skills and talents whilst trusting their ability to do so in a self managed way. As community members come up with ideas, so we encourage them to lead on those ideas, offering support but never taking over. This means often that change happens very easily, as groups just get on with action led change, which of course is what we are, as a movement, all about.

Of course this leadership model is far from new, and is a part of the way communities have organised themselves across the globe for centuries, but slowly this method is becoming ingrained in new ways of working. Cooperatives have existed as a governance model in Britain since 1498 when the Shore Porters Society was first set up in Aberdeen, and the cooperative movement has flourished ever since. Cooperatives have always supported a particular community, be that a community within a workforce, such as the Shore Porters or an area, to lead better lives through coming together to address an issue that is causing a problem and finding the solution to that. As we move forwards the cooperatie method of engaging with community, co-production, has become a model that communities can use to ensure full community engagement, with the principle being that whilst it can be easy to remain in our bubbles, to create true change the first people to invite to the table are those with whom you may disagree, ensuring everyone has an equal voice. Whilst this is challenging, if communities are to become resilient in the face of climate change, and face the oncoming issues together, this is an important model to engage with and understand.

So why is this so important for Incredible Edible groups?

The lessons we have learned about leadership at Incredible Edible are not unique. As we have mentioned they are rooted in a long tradition which finds the power of leadership in distributed local structures. This learning is also present in the corporate world where disruptive models of leadership like the ‘shared leadership’ and ‘collaborative leadership’ models have been adopted by multinational organisations. Perhaps it has always been true that what people like us have learned from our experience and felt in our guts is now filtering up to organisations who are longing for more authentic models where every single person matters.

Our ethos has always been to encourage ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things and since the beginning of Incredible Edible Todmorden in 2008 that is exactly what has happened. Self organised, grassroots, community groups have self organised, created change, supported their local economies and in some cases social enterprise has risen from the work, strengthening those local economies and supporting the grassroots work. For our movement to strengthen, expand and be counted a voice for sustainable change, it’s vital that whilst we all may execute what we do differently, that our beginnings stay the same. Communities coming together to make the change they want to see, and support everyone to succeed and find their voice, becoming food citizens and feeling empowered and able to support others to take on the challenges of the future.