I have worked closely with Bob since 2000, when I invited him to join the Berkana Institute at a time when we were going global and focusing on supporting younger leaders in many different countries, especially those in the Global South. Together with a few other colleagues, we developed several programs and initiatives, and discovered hundreds and thousands of leaders emerging from their communities filled with bold ideas and a deep desire to serve their communities. These people were not formally appointed leaders, but those who saw a need and were brave enough to step forward. They were leaders who knew they had to mobilize their communities, and not fall into the heroic leader trap. They were extremely committed, yet often lacked the tools and confidence to be as effective as possible.
Bob worked tirelessly with these people and communities. He was a mentor, coach, friend, learner, teacher and theoretician. He moved easily among these many roles, becoming a trusted friend and wise counselor to many people over the years. Bob has extraordinary levels of curiosity and caring. He wants to see with new eyes; he wants to understand what he is seeing; he wants to be able to bring others into his explorations; he wants to ensure that new ideas get translated into actions that work; he wants people to succeed in bringing their aspirations into reality. And his deepest motivation is to ensure that these new leaders, with their ideas and capacities, can make a difference in creating a future of richer possibilities.
Bob has a deepening commitment to understand how communities change and develop into healthy and resilient entities where all people are served and all can contribute. After working on the ground with people in many different cultures and countries, Bob used his experience to develop his theory of “Enspirited Leadership” for his doctorate and subsequent work and publications. I believe this is a major contribution to the field of leadership—complex, wholistic, culturally sensitive and well-grounded in experience. It also demonstrates Bob’s capacity to develop a coherent theory from his work, even while fully engaged in the work. This is a skill rare in most academics and consultants. People either do, or think. Bob has demonstrated an outstanding capability to do both.
It is has been an eye-opening experience to interact with Bob Stilger from The Berkana Institute over the years in his short trips to Southern Africa. Bob has been around the work we do at the eThekwini Municipality’s INK Area-based Management and Urban Renewal Programme as a friend, a co-learner, a coach and consultant. Through his multifaceted roles and relationships, he has helped us to navigate our landscape and made us feel that is in fact okay to have questions and not have all the answers. Our practice is deeply embedded in co-creating with communities be they not-for profit community organisations, local business, Councillors and other government departments. Bob has been precise in identifying the need for internal practices and rhythms which provide a foundation to take our work to the next level. He has made these suggestions without prescribing, but rather encouraging us to find our own answers. We have been honoured by his sharing of the Berkana experiences through insightful presentations and the depth of Bob’s view as a community development worker. The community of Inanda Ntuzuma and Kwa Mashu is now richer through his thoughtful, dynamic and easy manner in which he made the development practice easily understood by both ordinary people and professionals. As a programme, we salute his tireless and continuous efforts to enable community to collectively create and hold a vision. Through Bob’s commitment to learning we are now able to appreciate the thread that connects various community learning centres in South East Asia, America, Africa and elsewhere. Bob’s work has been overwhelmingly positive in the lives of many people he has met, and I hope he never stops giving in to what he has called `the energy of yes’.
Linda Mbonambi, Area Project Manager INK Area, Durban, South Africa