The weekend was full of all the usual chaos, colour, smells and energy that characterises Mumbai. It is a city of both great beauty and hardship. I had the opportunity to see how even within a challenging and harsh environment it is possible to create other micro-environments where there is hope, optimism and the potential for success.
Ashok Rathod founded the OSCAR Foundation ten years ago with one football and a huge amount of enthusiasm. He wanted to help children from his slum community in Colaba to choose a path of education and self-development rather than crime and drudgery. He now runs programmes in 5 Indian Cities and helps over 2000 kids per year.
He and his team create a variety of environments which enable this transformation to happen despite the odds.
Saturday afternoon saw me holding hands in a circle of 30 children all under the age of ten, warming up for their football session. This group was one of about ten, all training at the public park, sharing the ground with nearly 50 cricket matches. It was very likely that a hard ball would come speeding into the groups of children. Still, amidst the crowded pitch, the young leaders coaching were encouraging children to learn new skills, focus and just be children, as many of them spend much of their day working for their parents.
Above the Bombay Veg Restaurant, Ashok proudly showed me around the new OSCAR offices. There was a real energy to the place, the young team were learning how to manage and lead a rapidly growing organisation. I was told that every week the team are given space to get together and share their challenges, successes and to learn. Their learning mindset and the environment they had created together, were the real drivers of their performance.
On Sunday, I joined the OSCAR team for the 6km Dream Run, well... walk, as there were thousands of participants. As I arrived to meet the team, the migrant families who lived on the streets were just waking up. A small boy in an OSCAR T-shirt emerged from under his blanket and started to beg those finishing the marathon to give him some food from their goody bags. Later, when Ashok arrived, the boy came over and chatted with the team, through the football programme he had gained wider connections and different role models, who might just help him do something different when he grows up.
As I reflected on my weekend, I was struck by how often I hear, ‘if we had’ or ‘when we’ or people complaining about the environment they work in. There is no doubt that with systems or shiny new office equipment we can create high performing working environments. However, as leaders, we can create environments even within less than ideal environments, if we choose to do so by:
The way we lead - Keep calm, whilst radiating energy and enthusiasm. Take the time to listen and encourage conversations and connections that can ultimately bring a different perspective. Thriving through all the knocks and bumps and demonstrating resilience.
Vision - Make it simple and compelling whilst continuously creating and telling the story around it, ensuring our everyday actions when we lead, hear and see is aligned to the vision.
The standards we set - We never work in total isolation from our environment and it can provide some limitations. But if we focus on what we can control, take ownership of that and pursue high performing standards, we can then lead people to do brilliant things, creating micro-environments of high performance.
Ashok has infected his team with his vision for OSCAR. They have bought into it and turning the vision into a warm, encouraging and supportive environment that offers children a great deal, no matter what their wider circumstances are.
These are just some of the many ways of creating an environment where success is inevitable. What is your organisation doing to develop a supportive environment?