Embracing Leadership: A Decade-long Journey of Learning and Growth at Equal Community Foundation


Every person is a leader in various ways, at various points of time and there is a lot to learn from each and everyone. To talk about my leadership journey at Equal Community Foundation (ECF), it’s a ten year story of immense learning, of passion, of ups and downs, of commitment, of transformation and of being the person that I am today. In the course of my journey I have had an opportunity to be mentored by four amazing leaders within ECF who have been instrumental in shaping my attitude and my approach towards leadership.


I began my journey at ECF working with two wonderful leaders. Although both of them were working towards the same goal, their leadership styles were different yet extremely powerful. While one leader comes with full of ideas with a broad perspective and strong network skills, another leader brought in creativity and looked at the practical side of the ideas to ensure that ideas are turned into actions. What was common for both of them and then onwards for every other leader in ECF was that “Leadership is not about holding the power; it is strongly about sharing the power” and that was my first learning as a leader and I truly believe in this. 


Initially my work was more to do with programme and content development and team capacity building which was something that I enjoyed and was comfortable with. However, the best thing about the leaders I worked with was I was given immense opportunities to try out different roles, to come out of my comfort zone and the time to learn, re-learn and unlearn and my leaders were OK with my failure as long as I was able to learn from it. So my second learning as a leader was to trust people, to believe in the fact that people are willing to learn and failure is not a negative term after-all… “to fail means to learn”.


As I started to learn and take on more responsibilities, I started to enjoy the learning process even more. Just then, I came across an amazing new leader at ECF who is more of a mentor to me. This new leader who stepped in came with immense experience on the human rights approach and knew all the ways to bring innovation and to strengthen the approach of the organisation. While she could have done this directly, she introduced us to participatory methods in a more real way and showed the wonders of participatory decision making. While I learned a lot from this leader both personally and professionally, one thing that stands out is “ Participatory decisions lead to effective results and makes everyone accountable” and that was my third learning – “Help people own the mission, goals, programmes, tasks so that everyone is able to connect to the work they do and do it not because someone else want it, but because they want to do it”. 


Then I came across a leader with another completely different leadership style. An extremely knowledgeable person, yet openness to learn more, Extremely firm and assertive but also empathetic and a strong leader especially in times of struggle-some period. From her, I learned how to be strong and firm so that the team feels they are supported and motivated while they continue to have some healthy work pressures and they feel positive about it. My fourth learning was “a leader can be assertive and firm while being compassionate and empathetic”


With a blend of my leadership lessons that I learned while I worked with four leaders, I stepped up to take the lead of my organisation in the year 2022 while ECF was still going through a challenging period. 

Like other organisations, ECF also faced its struggles during pandemic – whether it was tweaking the content, revisiting the plans, adapting to online mode of work or use of technology but also how do we ensure we cater to the needs of the people we work with in low-income communities while we continue to work towards having enough funds to support this work along with our core work. But during the same time ECF also saw a fund crisis and the transition in the board and leadership. 


The positive factor about my transition towards leadership was that I had complete buy-in for this internally within the organisation but it also meant that people have trusted me and so I did have the pressure of living up to that trust. Also I was unsure of what the external world holds for me. There were lots of inhibitions and questions including self-doubts on this big role that too when the organisation was in the struggle period. And then I started to reflect on- what stops me? What is the worst thing that could happen? What is the best thing that could happen? Is this aligned to my goals? If things work well, What would the future look like for the organisation and organisation’s goals and the results? When I spent time reflecting on these and many other questions and finding responses to them, I gathered the courage to accept it and try to make the best of what I can. 


While I took on the challenge, I was aware of my learning from my leaders, mentors and how I need to change gears as and when required. It was a tough journey, especially when you know you are constantly going to be judged as a leader. Although, I should admit I was fortunate to have people who believed in me and supported me both internally and externally in this journey which made things a little easier for me.


Along with a lot of other things I did, I focused more on four main points:


Believe in Team Strength:

First thing I tried was to do what I had learned from my leaders- sharing the power, creating a safe space, allowing the team to fail, to learn, to own and to be assertive while being empathetic. 

I also allowed myself to be vulnerable in order to push through challenges as I knew I was embracing uncertainty and that the sailing is not going to be smooth but letting the team know that we will sail together was important. I knew while I showed my vulnerability I had to maintain a positive attitude to keep motivating the team and myself to adapt to the ever-changing situations. Also, being open and brave to Initiate and encourage many purposeful conversations, innovations, ideas which may hold unknown outcomes but still was the need of the hour.  


One tiny Step at a time:

While I knew there was a lot to do and that the team, partners and supporters are willing to take on a lot and give a lot, I also knew that we will have to take one step, infact tiny, one step at a time especially when we are in the zone of uncertainties. So we started with simpler and smaller goals and decided to pause if needed, go slow so that we keep ourselves focused and celebrate the smaller accomplishments, which will in turn, encourage us to take on the next challenge. This also meant we had to say ‘No’ to 100s of things but for that moment it was required. 



We were fortunate to have wonderful trusting partners who stood besides us throughout the struggle period. This also meant that we needed to be absolutely honest and transparent about the uncertainties and the current situation. It meant change of plans, it meant pausing for a while, it meant re-purposing the grants to a completely different arena. We had honest conversations with each other and overall it helped in smoothing the sail while we were figuring out ways to reach our destination. 


Adapt to different leadership styles:

It isn’t always easy to put on a different leadership cap or alter the way you assess a situation, but being able to shift leadership styles as each of the new challenges that appear is important.  While I was learning how to switch gears, I was also trying to be mindful of the fact that as a leader it is a huge responsibility and one needs to be accountable for not just what one does, but also for what the team does. 

There is still a long way to go. Leadership is a constant learning journey and I will be happy to share more learning as I sail through this journey. 


Gratitude is the word I would like to end this write-up with!  

Gratitude to my mentors from ECF- Rujuta Teredesai, Will Muir, Danit Shaham and Christina Furtado and to each and every member of ECF team. 

Gratitude to each and everyone who has directly and indirectly, personally and professionally been a part of this challenging yet wonderful learning journey. 


Anjana Goswami, Executive Director, Equal Community Foundation


Disclaimer: The opinion and views have been expressed solely of the individual mentioned, not belonging to the organisation.