It can often be difficult to rouse interest in pan-European initiatives, not least when it's a cross-border leadership scheme. It was surprising, then, that representatives from more than 130 organisations in 24 European countries turned up to the March launch of chief executives body Acevo's European third sector leaders network in Paris, all keen to improve their leadership skills.
Euclid, as the network is called, counts among its founding members representatives from the NSPCC, France's Institut Europeen d'Economie Solidaire and the Swedish voluntary sector umbrella body Ideell Arena. "Leadership has to be learnt," Marianne af Malmborg, president of Ideell Arena, said at the launch. "A well-functioning civil society needs and benefits from the third sector."
There are already several third sector networks across Europe, most of which work in specific policy areas - for example, the European Children's Network, known as Euronet.
But according to Filippo Adaarii, head of Acevo's international programme, Euclid is the first network devoted solely to leadership. As he puts it: "We have individual membership. Individuals are free to join, leave and even propose crazy initiatives. They don't have to report to a board or to play political games. They are free, which is very important for innovation in the sector."
Euclid's primary aim is "to promote a professionalised and innovative third sector across Europe". Adaarii says: "We need to do this because tasks across Europe are getting more and more challenging. For example, public service reform is a priority not only in the UK, but across the continent. You need a professionalised sector to react to that."
A number of leadership workshops are already in the pipeline, according to Adaarii. Euclid will also set up job-shadowing opportunities and exchanges between individual third sector executives working in similar fields.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Verny, director general of UNA, a French umbrella body for voluntary groups providing domestic help, hopes Euclid will help third sector leaders across Europe exchange ideas about how to confront the numerous challenges the sector faces.
He points to the competition voluntary home help groups face in France from global companies that have begun to offer the same services. "One of the reasons for this network is so we can react together," he says.
LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES IN CANADA
Canada is home to one of the most developed voluntary sectors in the world, so there is no shortage of opportunities for Canadian third sector leaders seeking to improve their leadership skills. The Voluntary Sector Forum, for instance, is a network of more than 20 sector umbrella bodies that aspires to improve leadership throughout the sector by pooling expertise in key areas, such as human resources, finance, technology and advocacy. Forum members also collaborate with smaller, local organisations.
More formal training and mentoring opportunities are provided by CentrePoint, which runs up to four courses a month on leadership improvement, stress management and handling the media. A number of bursaries are made available for voluntary organisations that don't have extensive resources.
The Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship has programmes tailored specifically to individuals running social enterprises. It works in partnership with various groups and education colleges across Canada to hold low-cost seminars, workshops and talks on subjects such as leadership development and charity law.
HOW THE US TEACHES LEADERSHIP
Because the US is more than 3.7 million square miles in size, it's hardly surprising that most support for leaders of non-profit organisations is provided at state level. Most of the 50 states have an 'association of non-profits' that helps local charitable organisations of all sizes to improve their management and leadership standards, make cost savings and influence policy.
Leaders are encouraged to network and share their working practices at annual state association conferences, and many associations offer regular training and professional development courses in areas such as financial management and governance. Some associations play a role in negotiating reduced prices for, say, office equipment for the entire non-profit sector in their state.
Many state associations are in turn members of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, which runs the Nonprofit Congress. The congress encourages leaders and members of non-profit organisations to decide and then act on priorities for the sector at a local, regional and national level. Last year it held a national conference for non-profit leaders. It also hosts online forums and blogs.