Future leaders: Maria

6. Jun 2022

In the autumn of 2021, the second round of the development program for future leaders of NGOs has started. We asked all participants five questions. Meet Maria Sakarias.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Maria Sakarias and I currently work at Mondo World School, where I lead the project “World Education from Kindergarten to High School; Estonia’s contribution to the goals of sustainable development”. As part of the project, we develop new educational materials for global education, organize teacher trainings and youth events, and raise awareness in society about various global educational topics such as climate change, migration, equality, development cooperation and much more.

I also coordinate the EPAS program of partner schools of the European Parliament, where we involve students and teachers in exciting activities related to the European Union. In addition to my main work, I participate as a trainer or discussion leader in various projects with social impact.

“Who are you?” the tag “returnee” has recently been added to the answer to that question. I lived abroad for the last 10 years. I studied and worked in the Netherlands in the field of education, development cooperation and sustainable development, I was a volunteer in Nepal and India. After longer journeys, it is time to return to Estonia to contribute to changes here. Education subject is very dear to my heart – I am now constantly learning about the educational landscape of Estonia. I am also constantly working on my own development in order to grow into a better project manager, trainer, discussion leader, self-leader, listener and… a person.

Why did you join the Future Leaders Development Program and what do you hope to learn from it?

I joined the program to understand the role of a leader more deeply and to get to know myself better in this role. Today, I am not a “leader” in its literal sense, and in the same time, the definition of a leader has been rather broad for me. We are all leaders after all, as we are constantly leading ourselves and at least to some extent our own journey. In leading others as well as ourselves, we must ensure that our actions, words and thoughts are consistent and that we take full responsibility for them.

A good leader knows how to create an atmosphere where people can manage themselves – they feel the freedom to come up with ideas and at the same time, the responsibility to implement them. In the program, I hope to learn how to grow as a leader and create such an atmosphere – to inspire and support the team so that trust and a sense of ownership can arise. This in turn enables meaningful collaboration, a real co-creation. Certainly, in addition to important management skills, meeting and exchanging experiences with all talented and motivated future leaders  is one of the greatest values of the program.

What kind of change would you most like to see in Estonian society or in the wider world?

We live in Estonia, but we are part of the world – global problems such as deepening inequality, military conflicts, climate crisis, polarization of social groups and so on affect us directly or indirectly. As Liisa Puusepp writes in the article “What is global education?”, we know that these problems exist, but we do not act accordingly – we do not contribute to environmental protection, development cooperation and helping developing countries, or reducing inequality at home. I agree with Liisa and see the need to develop the feeling that we belong to a global community and responsibility in order to create a fairer, more solidary world with more equal opportunities and more universal human rights, both in young people and in Estonian society in general. The key words are empathy, caring and holding.

If complex problems and constant uncertainty about the future can seem quite a burden, the goal of global education is to stay positive and look for solutions. We should not feel paralyzed or overwhelmed, but rather find the strength to act. One of the goals of global education is to analyze how everything is interconnected and in which global systems we live – while we look at these systems with a critical eye and invite them to be re-evaluated. For example, what economic model would allow us to operate in such a way that human societies in any part of the world do not have to suffer from hunger, ill health and poverty? And at the same time, so that we do not overuse the planet’s resources and endanger the environment.

Seeing the big picture, feeling one’s own responsibility and contributing to solutions with smaller or bigger actions – this is the change I would like to see in people both in Estonia and around the world.

Do you hope to contribute to this change and how?

Global issues reach the consciousness and actions of young people through education. At the World School, we work every day to ensure that education and youth workers have the necessary tools, skills and knowledge to deal with global issues with young people of all ages. We create materials and organize various seminars, trainings, competitions and study tours, which give both teachers and young people the opportunity to develop themselves and grow a global perspective. At the moment, this is the best way and place to contribute to change. I feel like I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

More specifically, how to achieve change? We live in a complex and fragmented world, where the role of a leader is not to come up with solutions, but creativity and ideas only grow from the shared wisdom of many different people. Coming up with ideas and implementing them is the responsibility of all of us. At World School, we try to involve as many young people, educational workers and members of the school community as possible in the process of creating various activities – then hopefully the results will be more influential and meaningful.

A book, film, show, podcast, person or any other important influence, that inspired you and that you would recommend to others?

I am currently reading the book “15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership”. Its main message is – at any given moment, the leader is either above or below the imaginary bar. If you are above the bar, you are leading consciously, and if you are below it, you are not. Those who lead above the bar are open, curious and committed to learning. Below the bar a person is closed off, defensive and only cares about being right. I constantly try to notice from which “place” – that is, with which feelings and thoughts I am currently having. And aim for that spot to be above the bar.

The book that is constantly on my desk for browsing is “Nonviolent Communication”. Nonviolent communication is a method based on language and communication skills, where the development of empathy is important – we learn to know and express our needs and emotions. For me, it has helped me resolve major and minor conflicts and build better relationships with people around me. I plan to become a nonviolent communication coach/certified trainer. Global education topics are often sensitive and different communication strategies come in handy when talking about them.

See more about the development program for future leaders.