Exposure to the CELF leadership programme convinced former banker Susan Trodden to move away from the commercial world and into her “passion” of strengthening communities.
Formerly a banker for 15 years, Ms Trodden decided to move away from the commercial background to work in various social enterprises, including her current role as chief executive of Orchestras Central which, promotes and develops both musicians and audiences, and grows community engagement in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty.
That passion continues outside of work into her personal life, by being involved in various activities within her community, including being chair of Explore Pirongia since 2014, which promotes Pirongia village and its surrounds.
She is a current board member of Community and Enterprise Leadership Foundation (CELF), the organisation bringing together businesses and community not-for-profit organisations to increase the leadership capital of the region and create a stronger Waikato.
Now in its third year with CELF’s annual Waikato leadership development program. CELF welcomes a new cohort of 20 participants each year, endearingly called ‘CELFies’, which includes 10 people from Waikato businesses and 10 from not-for-profit community organisations.
Ms Trodden participated in the very first intake of the 9-month CELF Elevate Programme in 2015, the year of CELF’s inception.
“It was a lifechanging year. In the programme, I got to connect with people that I would otherwise have never had the opportunity to meet,” Ms Trodden said.
She won the very first scholarship from CELF to attend the programme, which is a part of the model structure CELF created to suit not only businesses but also considers not putting financial pressure on for-purpose (not-for-profit) community organisations.
The structure means that Waikato businesses sponsor and secure two seats on the CELF Elevate Programme. The first seat is for a leader within their own company and then they choose a community leader from a for purpose organisation to fill the second seat.
While she was in the CELF programme, Ms Trodden became aware that she had achieved everything she could within her role at the time in-terms of her career. So, when the job role came up at Orchestras Central, she saw it as an exciting new opportunity that she couldn’t let go.
“It brought together everything that I loved to do into one role, but I also knew it would be a real stretch because it was a brand-new organisation, and I was aware of the inherent challenges that go with that.”
Ms Trodden had an immediate practical opportunity to apply the skills she was learning in the leadership programme.
“I was able to draw on not only what I’d learnt in the programme, and also, the people I met became a circle of mentors. Those networks have been incredibly helpful and supportive.
“But also, I’ve been able to give back to them, so it works in both directions between us all, which is fantastic,” Ms Trodden said.
Those connections are still going strong, with the group meeting up for lunch every month for the past three years. Ms Trodden says it’s been great professionally within their careers and the group have formed strong friendships as well.
Describing herself as a connector of people, she believes the thing she does best is bringing people together to make amazing things happen. “I had a strong sense of what my mission in life was – my purpose – and what CELF did for me really crystallised that and reassured me that I was on the right track,” Ms Trodden said.
Ms Trodden has enjoyed growing with the organisation, from being a CELF participant in the first cohort and then to be given the opportunity to become a Board member.
“I was really excited about CELF back when it was just an idea. When I heard about it, I thought wow I really want to be a part of that whether it was a participant or helping. I just really loved the idea.”
She said she feels proud that CELF has been able to envision transformational leadership and growing that capacity and connectiveness in the Waikato.
“One thing that becomes really clear to CELF participants is that just because you’re not about profit doesn’t mean you’re about loss.
“The for-purpose sector has a huge amount to offer. I think people thought there was probably an expectation that those organisations would learn more from the businesses than the businesses would from them, but it’s been a real two-way learning process,” Ms Trodden said.
The CELF Elevate Programme has allowed an opportunity to bring both groups together to engage and learn from one another, as well as grow alongside each other.
“I don’t know that we really truly grasped how powerful that was at the beginning.
“That was very much the vision, but it took time to understand how practically that might work.
“It is now that we are seeing that in action, and it’s fantastic,” she said.