What’s the Common Purpose

What's the Common Purpose

I have just completed the Common Purpose Senior Leadership program.

This is an international program which is designed to develop ‘leaders who can cross boundaries between geographies, generations, sectors, specializations, backgrounds and beliefs. Both at work and in society.’

Common Purpose was established in 1989 and to date 70,000 leaders across 100 cities have completed the program. Interestingly, they focus on cities and not countries – based on the idea if leaders can solve the problems in cities the solutions will flow from there outwards.

The program focuses on three areas to create three outcomes:


  • Personal Agility
  • Leading People
  • Transforming Systems

These were broken down into topics such as Understanding Other Cultures, Suspending Assumptions, Acting Courageously, Soft Power and Solving Complex Problems.

The understanding of the topics was achieved by firstly bringing in a diverse range of leaders to speak on their experiences and secondly having a diverse range of leaders participating in the course interact on the theme.

The speakers were fascinating. They included (but were not limited to):

  • Tom Arnold – Chairperson of the Convention of the Constitution (AKA the Citizens Assembly)
  • Nevan Clancy Hanumara, Research Scientist, MIT
  • Lalini Veerassamy, Chief of Mission, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Ireland
  • Frances Daly, Governor of Cloverhill Prison
  • Su Carty, World Rugby Representative, IRFU
  • Senator Ivana Bacik
  • Billy Hutchinson, Progressive Unionist Party Councillor
  • Tony O’Brien, former Director General, Health Service Executive
  • Galway’s own Ruaidhri Prendergast, author of The Game Changer Formula


I think for me, the two most fascinating speakers were Jack Kavanagh  (paralysed from the chest down at the age of 20 and who is now a wellbeing coach) and an unnamed man currently in prison in Ireland for murder speaking on taking personal responsibility.

As well as the speakers on topics, I did also love the introduction talk by Common Purpose CEO Adirupa Sengupta who I can only describe as having a heart-warming optimism and enthusiasm to solving the world’s problems through leadership.

Each speaker talked on a theme and then the group was separated into breakout rooms to discuss specific topics brought up by the theme.

Our Dublin group (as I said city focused, though I am in Galway and several other Irish participants were in ‘the country’, most were in Dublin) was made up of Start Up leaders like myself and mixed with leaders from large corporates, the arts, journalism, Gardai (Irish police force) and senior civil servants. Seemingly an odd mix, but that is how it works. Broadening horizons by discussing issues of the theme and the speakers experience, problems, and potential solutions with a people with completely different life/work experiences and backgrounds.

The sessions were, of course, all virtual – fourteen, three-hour meetings (run by their salubrious Ireland CEO Dara Connolly and his team)  – with four sessions being an extended group with participants from UK, India and Hong Kong who were on the same course in their cities. You would never know who you would be talking to in a breakout session. One session I was in – where we had 30 minutes to learn from each other’s experiences on a specific topic (Chatham House rules – so I have to be vague!) include a charity worker in Glasgow, a member of Northern Ireland Equality Commission and a military leader in India! As I say, diverse!

The course was an amazing experience of stepping out of our day to day and looking at what our personal goals and missions are through a new perspective. I got feedback I never anticipated from people who had totally different life experiences to me. I got insight into institutions and the people who work there. These I had only viewed externally, usually through the media, so I gained a new appreciation of what they do. I experienced people coming out of their shells and changing from a self-image of an employee in their organisation to realising they are leaders.

Though the Dublin group never met in person, bonds were certainly created, and I look forward to the day (hopefully soon) that we can all meet up and talk about our experience with Common Purpose.