Sami Istephan began his Common Purpose journey 10 years ago through the Meridian programme. Throughout the past decade, he has continued to be a partner, participant and alumnus of Common Purpose. He has moved leadership roles from being a Partnership Director & Regional Board Member at British Telecom to Head of Alliances & System Integrators at Vodafone UKall the while continuing to support the Common Purpose community.

We sat down with Sami as he looked back on his 10-year journey with Common Purpose. He shares this journey in his own words:

On how it all started

To be up front, it’s one of the very few organizations that I feel a close connection to. 

Ten years ago, I did the Meridian programme and at the time I was a regional board member in my role at British Telecom. I think there were 3 or 4 other board members who attended the programme and highly recommended it. Initially, I thought that it would be like the other leadership courses I attended in the past so I went in with no expectations. I was wrong. The Meridian programme completely blew my mind! The 6-month modular course was just so fantastic and I got a lot out of it.

Since then, I’ve been an active part of the Common Purpose community. Our Meridian cohort regularly met up socially even after the programme ended. I attend alumni events where I get to catch up with either regional or local alumni. I’ve done some roundtables and café conversations and also attended a few student programmes. Just recently, I hosted the Meridian course at Vodafone with 60 graduates in Manchester.

On what makes the programmes different 

What’s different with the Common Purpose programmes is in its design.  A lot of leadership development and training is very linear – they have a start, a midpoint and an end. Instead, the Meridian programme follows a modular design.  

I think that it’s very important to bring busy executive people out of their work environment but oftentimes it’s hard to make leadership training effective if everything is crammed into a few days. Common Purpose’s modular basis meant that you could dip into key leadership problems and issues and really explore them fully, at your own pace. It was very much a complete exploration of the subject and then using the Common Purpose framework to allow the rigor of it to conclude in a very good way.

Because of the nature of the course, with people from diverse sets of background, it meant that you were looking at issues and looking at it from several angles, which you wouldn’t naturally do. The Meridian programme really allowed you to explore the topic from multiplicity of angles.

On getting the oxygen to think and generate ideas

When you’re doing a busy job and you constantly have day-to-day challenges, you rarely have the opportunity to free your mind of all the clutter. To enter into something that allows you to think unencumbered from your day to day is refreshing. The programme gave me the oxygen to think.

I found that Meridian did that because of the people on it and the structure of the programme. Mainly, it’s because you’ve been thrust into somebody else’s world. It was very clever that when we wanted to learn about the leadership of a public sector body, we would go to that public sector body and see their offices and facilities. When I did the Meridian, we went to a court, prison, a charitable organization, a manufacturing plant. We did a whole host of things that subsumed us in that world for that period of time.

On building and broadening networks

I think that’s a big part of the Common Purpose journey – recommending to other people what the programme is about and what you get out of it. Other board members recommended the programme to me 10 years ago and I continue to recommend it to others within my network even now. I didn’t think that this network would extend to contacts in Uganda and the Commonwealth but that’s how it’s ended up.

On keeping it within the family

I’ve recommended Common Purpose to my wife who works for an award-winning health and education UK charity called Act4Africa, and she’s probably going to sign up next year. She noticed that you also offer the CSC Leaders programme so she recommended it the General Manager of Act4Africa’s NGO partner in Uganda, Patrick Kigongo. As a result, Patrick recently joined the CSC Leaders Programme, travelled to the UK and met no less than HRH Princess Anne! He’s had an experience of a lifetime.

My brother, the CEO of Eildon Housing Association in the Scottish Borders, is also an alumnus of Common Purpose. I didn’t know this until I started talking to him one day. One day, I was chatting with him about this great course that I’ve just done with a diverse group of people. Then he asked me, ‘Oh, is it Common Purpose? I did that in Scotland.’

On how the programme helps to gel a region together

Different organizations and sectors don’t naturally coordinate with each or share ideas, views and opinions. Common Purpose occupies a space that nobody does, which is about bringing together of people and filling in the cracks around how regions work. I’m not aware of any organization that does it to the scale that Common Purpose does.  I think it’s not just about the process, it’s how the people that you have help to gel the region together.

On his 10 years with Common Purpose

Looking back on the past 10 years has reminded me how much I got out of the Common Purpose journey. The contacts, the thoughts and the experiences that I had 10 years ago still remain with me now because these are so thought provoking, insightful and ethically sound. I found the concepts that have been brought to life through the course so invigorating.

Just the fact that 10 years down the line, I still want to be actively involved and give back a little bit is such a good sign, isn’t it?