Group CEO of Common Purpose, Adirupa Sengupta, tells Business & Finance about the need for leaders who cross boundaries, and the next big challenge in Diversity & Inclusion. This article was first published in Business & Finance on 16 October 2019.

Common Purpose Ireland recently welcomed the Global CEO Adirupa Sengupta to Ireland to speak at an evening graduate event on the topic of Culture Collisions and A Changing Ireland and to celebrate the 30th year since the birth of Common Purpose globally, and its 22nd anniversary in Ireland.

Business & Finance caught up with Adirupa, a globally-renowned expert on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), to discuss her work, and the challenges today’s leaders face.

"Common Purpose’s vision and mission, what we are trying to do in society, which is to improve the way society works by improving the capability of leaders to lead better, to lead differently, to be able to cross boundaries – I don’t think there was ever a time in the world when this has been more relevant than it is today," she states.

Common Purpose was founded in 1989 by Julia Middleton, who served as CEO of the charitable trust, until Ms Sengupta took up the reins this year. She now drives new Common Purpose initiatives as Innovation Officer.

"There has been so much wrapped up in the founder’s vision, mission and values. It’s always got its challenges when you take over from a founder, both for the founder and the first generation CEO but I think we’ve had a very exciting transition in Common Purpose, because the founder and I had worked together for many years and had our ups and downs. I learned a lot from that relationship and I’m hugely inspired by Julia," Ms Sengupta says of the transition.

"It’s such an exciting time to shape the next chapter of the organization. I’m lucky, that although our founder is in a very different role, that we still have her energy, her thinking and wisdom, still in the organization."

"We’ve got over 85,000 alumni now across the world. If you ask them what Common Purpose means to them, I suspect they will all say different things. Any kind of learning and development opportunity touches different people in different ways, no matter how we set it up," says Ms Sengupta.

"One of the things I think they will all say is that it inspired them to be themselves as leaders, differently to the way they saw themselves before they worked with us. We give them connection, and networks which are so vital in this day and age. Even though social media is omnipresent, you cannot replace the power of those deep and meaningful networks that are created by different people learning together. It is much more powerful, but also much more turbulent, and therefore much more needed in the current climate."

She continues, "There are so many more things that divide people these days than unite people, which is a real shame, but that is the reality. We can’t paper over the cracks. Whichever part of the world you look at – Europe, UK, Asia, Africa, US – that is an issue. We’ve got to a point in society where we can’t run away from it. We’ve got to find a way to work with that. We’ve got to find the leaders who can stand up, who want to be counted, who are willing to have brave, bold, courageous conversations, in order to be able to cross those boundaries, and make difference into a virtue, rather than shy away from difference and make it into a liability."

The issue which Adirupa sees as being the next big challenge to tackle head on is the divide between different generations. Being careful to point out that she doesn’t want to make a sweeping generalization, she still avers that there are huge differences between how the young and old come together – or don’t – in Eastern and Western cultures.

"I can say that because I was born in India and grew up there and I have spent the last 20 years of my life in the West, out of the UK. I see it’s very different," she states, predicting, "This is going to hit organizations and companies. If people need to come together and collaborate it’s going to be a big issue."

"In any organization or society, at any one time you almost have three generations needing to work together and that is a challenge. How do we make sure we don’t lose the wisdom of the experienced generation? There are so many parts of the world where they feel like they are being overlooked because they have reached a certain stage in their life and career, and they still have a lot of value to add. The economic situation requires of them that they continue to be active, and yet they are starting to feel marginalized in society and the community. If we are not careful this could present itself as a macroeconomic or societal divisions if we don’t deal with some of these issues, and get people to be brave enough to understand them and talk about them."