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The Journey to Authentic Change-making

Dieudonne Allo is the CEO at Global Leading Light Initiatives and part of the FURTHER community. He has guest written an article about the journey to authentic change-making.
August 1, 2023

During a wellness retreat in India a few years ago, I encountered a fellow participant from Germany who posed a seemingly innocent question: "What motivated you to start a non-profit organisation?" As I had done countless times before, especially to potential funders, I spent a fair amount of time sharing the story of my painful childhood and how it motivated me to seek to protect vulnerable people from the same suffering I had endured. With each word, I poured my heart out, recounting the trials and tribulations that fuelled my passion to help children, youth, and women in Africa. His attentive gaze and earnest acknowledgement of the pain and fervour in my voice left me expecting praise or admiration for my noble intentions. However, in his straightforward German manner, he shattered my illusions with this piercing observation: “I feel that your traumatic past was the very foundation of your organisation, offering not only help but hope to countless people. However, have you considered that this anger from your past has fulfilled its purpose, and it is time to release its grip on your identity?”. Though his words stung and triggered a sense of unease deep within me, I put myself together and graciously thanked him for his bold advice.

The morning that followed, amid serene introspection and my daily meditation, I had a profound realisation. Suddenly I became aware that the tales I had clung to—the stories that had defined me—were permeating my work and leadership style. This realisation pointed to an uncomfortable truth: the desire to help those I consider less privileged or vulnerable had become entangled with my ego's hunger for recognition and validation. Fortunately, I had already done some personal development that gave me the ability to do self-enquiry and face my "inner darkness", reason why I was attending the retreat in the first place.

This realisation helped me grow further on my personal development. I remember stepping back from my non-profit work for a couple of weeks to process the new thoughts, inner resistance and tensions from this realisation. After this break, at a board meeting, I presented a choice: either step down as Director or change the motivation driving our organisation. I shared that I had discovered something more powerful than social justice—Love. Love and passion would become the driving force behind our non-profit work and our organisational culture. Instead of trying to change the world, we aimed to share our passion with those who shared our values. This shift infused our mission with renewed energy and attracted incredibly passionate individuals to our cause. We are not fully there yet, but we strive daily to embody and share our authenticity, love and compassion in our work, without wanting to change the world.

This experience is what some refer to as the "Saviour mindset." It is when we feel compelled to save or help others, but deep down, we seek validation and recognition for our actions. This mindset often stems from our own past traumas, acting as a shield or feeding our pain. However, the Saviour mindset can be detrimental. It can unintentionally disempower those we aim to assist, creating dependency and leading to burnout and resentment. When we don't receive the recognition, we secretly crave, it can even lead to toxic leadership, which is often a projection of our own trauma to the people we lead or aim to help. It is crucial to distinguish between authentic service, rooted in humility and respect for others' autonomy, and the saviour mentality that seeks praise and validation. The saviour complex is ego-driven and lacks empathy, while authentic leadership is driven by empathy.

I learned firsthand that the motivation and energy behind our actions greatly influence the way we approach them and the outcomes we achieve. Those we aim to help, as well as those who support our efforts with their time or financial contributions, can sense the energy we bring. When the Global Leading Light Initiatives (GLLI) shifted its focus to sharing our passion and love, our partnerships and funding saw a remarkable improvement. We began attracting a different calibre of donors, team members, and participants. It's worth noting that we prioritise hiring individuals whose values align with ours. We choose not to collaborate with donors seeking mere checkboxes but rather with investors who are genuinely enthusiastic about making a difference in communities.

Fortunately, there is a way out. Overcoming the Saviour mindset starts with self-awareness and personal growth. We must honestly examine the source of our need to "save" others. It is crucial to distinguish between authentic service rooted in humility and respect for others' autonomy and the ego-driven Saviour mentality that seeks validation. Authentic leadership is driven by empathy, while the Saviour complex lacks empathy and often manifests as excessive control.

When a leader embraces authenticity, it creates a remarkable transformation within the entire community. Becoming an authentic community leader requires embarking on a transformative journey of self-reflection, healing, and opening our hearts. It may involve channelling our personal trauma into love and compassion. By doing so, we lead with renewed energy, purpose, and respect for the autonomy of others, empowering them to shape their own lives. This is the story of liberation and rebirth, where trauma gives way to authenticity, and passion reignites our purpose.

- Written by Dieudonne Allo, CEO at Global Leading Light Initiatives and part of the FURTHER community