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Raising leaders of hope

Francine Crimmins  |  12 February 2020

Making a difference isn’t just up to our political leaders – it’s up to all of us. Caritas Australia’s Just Leadership Days are about encouraging the next generation to be social justice leaders.

You don’t have to search very long these days to find people in leadership positions who may not be acting in the interest of the common good.

The more we look at the way politics is played out today, the more we are confronted with attitudes that prioritise the self-interest of the few over the needs of so many around the world.

This issue is most obvious when we look at the complexity of world hunger. Why are we continuing to waste food here in Australia while deadly famine continues to ravage parts of South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria?

This is just one of the social justice problems Caritas believes they can solve through educating young people on the value of being a servant leader to others.

The not-for-profit organisation tries to preach this message to young people through their ‘Just Leadership Days’ which are run in Catholic primary, secondary and even tertiary institutions.

See, judge and act
Chris Nolan, a Justice Educator for Caritas, said a major focus of the day is taking students beyond the headlines to look at the broader issues facing people around the world today.

The day also involves introducing them to some lesser-known leaders who have positively affected the world, such as Saint Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador who was killed after speaking out against injustice, poverty and torture in his home country.

The Just Leadership Day is divided into three themes: ‘See’, ‘Judge’, and ‘Act’.

‘We start the day by guiding the students to recognise global injustices and seeing what is happening in the world’, says Chris.

‘The ‘judge’ part of the day then looks at how we can critique the injustices happening in the world in light of Catholic social teaching – such as human dignity.

‘In the final ‘Act’ stage of the day, we give the students an opportunity to start to work out how they might respond as global citizens to the issues we’ve spoken about.’ 

During the day, students are accompanied by a facilitator who leads a range of activities and group discussions.

‘The students also have a chance to learn about the work of Caritas and what projects we work on as an organisation overseas’, Chris says.

One special feature of Caritas’ leadership days are how the themes may adapt according to what an individual school, or students, would like to focus on.

‘During Lent – when Caritas runs Project Compassion – a leadership day will focus on stories that feature prominently during this time of year’, says Chris.

‘But depending on the needs of the school, or their requests, we might also focus on the experiences of refugees or on climate justice. Students who have participated in Caritas’ program said they enjoyed the day because it informed them about the dynamics of leadership ‘in an interactive and fun way.’

‘The day helped us understand what other people are going through and we liked learning about all the people in Caritas’ programs that we have helped’, one student said.

Another student said once they learned about the value of just leadership, they finally understood the reasons why Catholic organisations run campaigns such as Project Compassion.

The value of unity
If you’ve experienced some form of leadership education you’d know that bringing people together for a common goal is a defining characteristic of leadership. Many schools decide that the best way to model this is to run a Just Leadership gathering in conjunction with other schools in the area.

According to teachers, joining with other schools brings with it the attitude that ‘we’re all in this together’.

‘The day is a reminder about why Caritas is important. It was a thorough explanation of what is wrong in the world but also what can be done’, one teacher said after a recent gathering. 

Chris says it’s important to focus not only at the practical social justice projects that can be inspired by these workshops, but whether the social justice problems are being solved with compassion and dignity.

‘When we look at the characteristics of a just leader we’re looking at the best version of people while acknowledging that we’re not always perfect, and that leaders face challenges, and make mistakes’, Chris says.

Recognising the human qualities in leadership is where forgiveness becomes one of the biggest takeaways from the day.

‘I always start with Jesus because he is someone who sets such a high standard of leadership – focusing on those in need, making sacrifices for the common good, and challenging the society in which he lived’, Chris says.

‘He is a model of servant leadership and someone the students can emulate by serving others with the same humility and compassion.’

For more about the program, go to

Pictured: Students from St Ursula's College in Kingsgrove NSW get hands-on learning about water issues. (Photo courtesy Caritas Australia).


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