Strengthening culture for growth: the story of The Equality Institute
Founded in 2015 by Dr. Emma Fulu, The Equality Institute (EQI) is a feminist organisation dedicated to advancing gender equality and ending violence against women and girls. They do this through research, education, advocacy and innovation and are driven by a commitment to reshaping societal gender norms and amplifying women's rights. They have a lot to be proud of:
- worked in more than 30 countries;
- conducted 50-plus studies;
- trained thousands of researchers, practitioners and policy makers to
- better understand what causes violence against women and girls and how to prevent it; and
- have grown their online community to over 100,000 followers across social media.
EQI has experienced significant demand for their services and is currently growing as part of a five-year strategy to scale their impact. Central to this is a renewed commitment to how they work – a culture driven by values and underpinned by feminist principles.
When EQI approached Leadership Space in 2022, they were not facing significant challenges as an organisation but rather seeking to harness their potential. They wanted to proactively prepare for their future growth and impact goals, including a planned three-month sabbatical for Emma, while preserving their culture and strengthening their leadership team.
Our journey together
The collaborative partnership between EQI and Leadership Space exemplifies how being proactive in team and culture development coupled with strategic planning converge to underpin ambitious sustainable growth.
Over the course of 12 months, Leadership Space’s Senior Organisational Coach and Facilitator, Sarit Vandegraaff, engaged in a multi-phase process to leverage EQI’s strengths.
The work began with an exercise involving EQI's executive team to capture both the organisation's accomplishments and the hurdles they were facing. In parallel, she used our diagnostic tool, Lumina Spark, to profile each team member – to understand their strengths and potential growth areas. This served to rapidly build rapport within the team and effectively harness their diversity.
Using these insights, Sarit conducted a series of four immersive team coaching sessions starting with an understanding of where the organisation was, and, as the journey unfolded, shifting focus to the path ahead. Through facilitated discussion and guided activities, EQI clarified their vision of success and prioritised their key focus areas. As we are often asked to do for many of our clients, we worked with their existing comprehensive but overwhelming five-year plan and supported the team to make their strategic planning concise, highly functional, and deeply owned.
This work also helped them to strengthen their theory of change and brought to the surface the need to embed their values even more deeply, providing a foundation for embracing change and continued growth.
With a clear understanding of their organisation’s needs, and their living culture more explicitly co-owned, EQI began taking steps to expand their workforce and implement their plan for the future.
Visible, sustainable impact
As part of EQI's ongoing transformational journey, they reconnected with Leadership Space again in February 2023. With new team members having joined EQI's ranks, they were keen to build on the work they completed in 2022.
Sarit undertook a broader listening exercise this time, involving the entire organisation. These facilitated conversations ensured confidentiality and enabled staff to confidently express their feelings about the culture and what success looked like for them.
Through a subsequent online workshop and then EQI’s ‘Home and Away’ week, which brought the team together in a week-long face-to-face engagement – which kicked off with a facilitated session by Sarit to set intentions and build connections – the entire organisation explored avenues to foster a feedback culture marked by transparency, open dialogue and effective communication. Their work with Leadership Space ensured the whole organisation understood and owned their culture and most importantly, had the skills to live it every day.
Proactive Approach, Sustainable Growth
EQI’s journey underscores the potency of having foresight as you move towards growth. Our collaborative partnership helped their founder and executive team to forge organisational excellence on their own terms and scale their vibrant, values-driven culture.
"Sarit has been an incredible support to the Equality Institute as an organisational coach over the past 18 months. She has supported us in navigating a period of intense growth and change, provided considered leadership training and consultation, undertaken a listening exercise with the broader team, and facilitated workshops to strengthen our values and ways of working.
She is warm, welcoming, thoughtful, and brings deep expertise and wisdom on inclusive leadership. At the same time, she has a unique understanding of the social justice space and how to balance for purpose with sustainability. Our whole organisation is in a stronger and more connected place because of the work of Leadership Space.”
Dr. Emma Fulu
Founder & Executive Director, EQI
With global estimates indicating that 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, we know the work EQI is doing is extremely important. And, with their proactive, collaborative approach to culture and growth, we know they have what it takes to ensure the greatest impact in advancing equality.
This strong, healthy organisation took the right steps at the right time to ensure their growth would not impact their culture – so much so that Emma felt confident to take her planned sabbatical, safe in the knowledge that her team had the tools they needed to maintain their collective vision in her absence. We were grateful to walk beside the leadership team through this journey, ensuring EQI has not just survived but thrived as they expanded.
Image Credit: By Anali Espino with Maia Films - ‘More than a dream: A Peru without violence is possible.’