Claire Piela, Managing Director, Global Markets / 12 December 2023

I've Worked On Common Purpose Programmes For More Than A Decade. These 3 Alumni Stories Have Stayed With Me.

It all starts with a spark.


Some stories leave an imprint on your memory that can’t be erased, and at Common Purpose, we are fortunate to be surrounded by people who are living out these very stories as they each pursue their leadership journey. When they participate in our programmes, a spark ignites, but it’s what they go on to do with that spark that makes each of them extraordinary.

I have delivered, shaped and led programmes at Common Purpose for more than 13 years now, and with every year, I have the privilege to work with, and learn more about our incredible alumni. I have worked with leaders from all different levels and backgrounds – people who are taking responsible steps to harness their influence for good. I love reconnecting with and catching up with alumni, listening to what they’re seeing and hearing in their context helps us to shape powerful experiences that genuinely reflect the real world.

There have been many stories that have stayed with me, stories that alumni have shared about the profound impact Common Purpose has had on them. Those stories are always hugely inspiring, they fuel my passion and continually remind me of why I do what I do.

These are just three of the stories that have stayed with me.

1. Antony Esyalai, Marketing Director, Home & Hygiene, Unilever Southern Africa. CSC Leaders (now Global Leaders Programme) in 2018.

When Antony moved to South Africa, the world as he knew it was flipped on its head. Having lived in Kenya all his life, he felt deeply rooted by the country’s culture and way of life, and this was reflected in how he connected with other people wherever he went. But arriving in South Africa challenged his default way of leading and being. Any of us who have experienced a geographical move or immersion in a different culture have felt the challenge of needing to figure out how things are done – confidence and familiarity in one place doesn’t neatly translate to the new context. This was not always easy, and he spent a lot of time navigating cultural collisions.

But Antony also arrived in South Africa with an important mindset taking formation. Shortly before he moved in 2018, he participated in CSCLeaders as part of his work with Unilever, and here he was thrown into an experience with diverse peers from across the world. At times this was daunting but the learning around core and flex, learning to understand context and lived experience before jumping to judge a person or situation proved incredibly helpful when he did make the shift to South Africa.

Since the programme, he makes it his mission to understand as much as he can about the people he works with, and the context and culture he's operating within. He is truly dedicated to learning more about the people and the place that is integral to his work - he even took a three-day course that detailed South Africa’s entire history back to 1280!

Now, Antony’s constant learning and his deeply considered work at Unilever has been so successful that he is moving to Uganda to head up a new role there. Given his dedication to leading with deep cultural intelligence, I’ve no doubt he will thrive as he moves into this next big leadership transition.

2. Bernie Flaherty, Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director, Adult Social Care and Health at Westminster City Council. Participant on the Global Leader’s Programme in 2020.

One of the things myself and colleagues are often asked about our Global Leaders Programme is whether you have to already be working globally in order to participate in it. This isn’t necessarily the case, because a big part of it is actually about broadening your horizons beyond a local context, and looking outside of your circle and community for inspiration and learnings that you can incorporate into your own work.

Bernie, whose work at Westminster City Council impacts the social welfare and health of so many people, is an amazing example of a leader who has done exactly this. She took part in the Programme just as the Covid-19 pandemic began, which meant she did the programme virtually. While this was a completely new environment for her, she embraced it as a new way to connect with leaders from all over the world, listening to their thoughts and ideas, and finding ways that these could translate effectively in her own context.

There’s something that I’ll always remember that I learned from the Google Digital Academy, which plays a big role in curating the Programme curriculum with us, they said that innovation isn’t necessarily ‘coming up with new ideas’, it’s actually often about understanding how ideas have worked in one place and translating that into your context. This is exactly what Bernie does.

She is able to recognise that the challenges and barriers that naturally occur in her work are not always going to be solved if she siloes herself within her own local context. She constantly looks outwards, and she even told me that her colleagues have noticed and appreciates the way she draws on alternative perspectives and global references when it comes to finding solutions. By leading this way, she is able to bring so much more to the table and to tackle challenges in ways that can be more impactful and efficient.

3. Richard Morgan, Head of Government Relations at Anglo American. Participant on CSCLeaders (now Global Leaders Programme) 2014

When Richard participated in the Global Leaders Programme in 2014, I think a revelatory spark ignited within him. He was in a transitional period as he settled into his role as Head of Government Relations at Anglo American, and as he joined a group of other global leaders in Birmingham, an important notion formed in his mind: The local government has so much power and influence when it comes to big social agendas, but the individual leaders within the government were also serious players when it comes to making real change and influencing policy.

This made him think about the ways he, as a leader can have influence and make a difference, drawing on his own position of leadership in order to do this. It motivated him to build stronger connections and coalitions within his governmental work.

Almost 10 years after partaking in the programme, it's always inspiring to hear Richard speak about moments on the programme which were pivotal in terms of his learning. Richard has since orchestrated scholarship funding with Common Purpose for people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to professional development on a global scale, via the Anglo American Foundation. He also demonstrates a real commitment to leading outside of his own remit when he sees a greater purpose – and always with people and communities at the heart. I love this about Richard – and am so grateful for his continued support.

Of course, these stories are a few of many from our inspiring alumni network, and we are so grateful to all of them for continuing to share their stories with us. Hearing how these moments of clarity and realisation helped to inform their next steps in turn helps us to continue shaping powerful experiences for leaders as they continue on their leadership journeys. 


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