Inspirational Leadership

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“Life is a risk, if you haven’t risked anything, you haven’t lived” 
– Sister Emmanuelle

During the last century, the concept of leadership has evolved from being power-centered and defined in masculine terms to including leaders of all shapes and sizes. This shift is especially apparent in the area of philanthropy, where we find individuals driven by moral values and the desire to give back, such as Mother Teresa, Sister Emmanuelle, or Melinda Gates, who have all inspired others with their actions.

Within the wide spectrum of ways in which a leader can inspire others, we can find servant leaders, who focus on the well-being and growth of their communities. They are best exemplified by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who devoted her life to serving the poorest of the poor, to caring for the sick and the suffering and, in general, to walking with the excluded. Her actions inspired many, both lay and ordained.

Father Sebastian Vazkhala met Mother Theresa in March of 1966. After hearing her speak, he resolved to serve the poor as she did. His work with her inspired him to co-found the contemplative branch of Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity, where he applied what he had learned from her: to help the poor by doing small deeds and to lead others in helping them as well.

Princess Diana of Wales was also inspired by Mother Teresa and, after a trip to Calcutta, became a prominent philanthropic force, and is known for her work with the excluded. She managed to change the world’s perception of HIV and AIDS and raise awareness of leprosy, as well as working with the homeless and with terminally ill children, among many other initiatives.

SImilarly to Mother Teresa, Sister Emmanuelle dedicated over 20 years of her life to ragmen of Le Caire by healing, feeding, watching after those forsaken. Her boundless energy brought to bear the fight against world’s injustice was acknowledged by profiles from the political sphere such as Bernard Kouchner, former minister of foreign affairs and co-founder of Doctors Without Borders. He was admirative of her happiness and her “faith that could make the mountains shake”. Hence, with her driving determination, outspokenness and empathy which can be put into a nutshell as her catchword “Yalla”, she was lifting people and turned out to be one of France’s favourite characters.  

From her experience, it is never too late to become a leader since she devoted to the Poor while retired. Her legacy of “giving oneself fully” was also passed on through her organization Asmae and demonstrates that leadership can start from any age. Asmae fosters youth social commitment as it aims to give responsibilities to young people within solidarity projects. Sister Emmanuelle’s life example can stir up future enlightened leaders by showing them that yearning to help those surrounding you and being opened to difference is appreciated in a leaders’ traits. 

A more recent inspirational leader is, without a doubt, American philanthropist and former Microsoft manager, Melinda Gates. Although she was ranked by Forbes in 2018 as the 6th most powerful woman in the world, the fact is that Melinda did not decide to step-up and take on a public role regarding the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation until a few years ago. She herself got inspired by women from mostly developing countries to take this bold step of losing her privacy and using her voice in the system to represent those who do not have one. 

Despite being one of the healthiest people on Earth, Gates is known for her deep moral reflections, committing herself to a life-long dedication to the poor in developing countries, especially children and women, and education in the United States. This decision comes from a number of influences. Firstly, the social justice grounding she received at her all-girls catholic high-school and the values she learned from it. Secondly, her up-bringing in a middle-class family, having to work hard to pay her way through college. Finally, as a mother, how she wanted her behavior to be a reflection of the values to teach her 3 children. 

Furthermore, once Melinda got inspired herself by the lives of women and men in developing countries, she decided to use these stories to inspire more people, mostly in developed countries, through her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. Gates encourages people to connect and understand each others situation, helping them with our hearts, intellects, energy, time and resources in the amount we can. 

These three leaders are known for their humbleness and dedication to serve their lives in favour of the silent, the excluded. In fact, they never sought acknowledgement but they wanted to do what is right to make the world a step closer to fairness, starting with one life at a time:

“To know that one life has breathed easier because you lived. To me that is success.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Loreto Machés Blázquez

Blanca Marabini San Martín

Emilie Noël