Paraplegic since narrowly escaping death in a climbing fall when she was 21, Karen Darke is one of the country's most inspirational coaches, and an expert tutor with the Scottish Social Enterprise Academy (SSEA). Karen is to deliver a two-day course in Fort William, Britain's 'Outdoor Capital' on March 15 and 16, and will be joined by a number of guest speakers.
The course will be run in association with the Lochaber Outdoor Learning Partnership Ltd (LOLP), which has identified a need to improve business skills within the sector to keep pace with growing global demand. The SSEA programme is funded through the European Social Fund, and is free to participants. The two day workshop can be a lead-in to the Institute of Leadership and Management level 5 qualifications.
Tina Cuthbertson chairs LOLP Ltd. She says: “The course is primarily aimed at outdoor practitioners who may work as a freelance instructor, a micro business, a manager, for an employer or as part of the voluntary sector. They'll have a background in and knowledge of the outdoor learning and adventure training sector, but there is always a need to go forward, improve and to look at things from a different perspective. We are very much in a global economy now."
Tina, who runs the Snowgoose Mountain Centre with her husband John, adds: “There are many folks like my husband and I, who had no training what ever in business when we started out some 30 years ago. There is a need for a background in business development, for innovation, for leadership.”
Karen Darke says: “We give people a series of theories and models which they can then think about and might apply to their own situation and what they can do to become more effective leaders."
“More than anything we provide them with a space to reflect on their own leadership practice, what they bring to the table and how they can develop and improve. There are qualities involved in leadership which may come more naturally to some people than to others, but there are things that we can learn and there are things we can practice and develop.”
Karen Darke adds that the majority of people have abilities that they do not realise they have: ”I think we all doubt ourselves and question ourselves and a course like this is an opportunity to hopefully find solutions and strengths we didn't realise we had. It is also a safe environment to learn and experiment before leaping in."
“Good leaders need to be resilient and able to improvise, because leaders will always encounter situations they don't expect. They must be able to see meaning and purpose in what they are doing. In the outdoor context especially, they must also have the ability to face up to the reality of situations and think about how they can learn skills and be creative and improvise to come up with solutions to the challenges they face.”
Karen was named the UK's 'Ultimate Fearless Woman' by Cosmopolitan magazine last year. Her most recent epic adventure was a month-long journey, 600 miles across the Greenland icecap on a 'sit-ski' propelled by her own arm power. She faced 200mph winds and freezing temperatures, but the experience sparked the idea for her next marathon project: Sit-skiing 1,200 kilometres from the edge of Antarctica to the geographic South Pole. She aims to raise £1 million for charities which help disabled young people lead active, positive lives.
David Bryan, the Highlands and Islands Programme Manager for the Scottish Social Enterprise Academy, says: “Karen Darke is a truly remarkable woman and one of the most inspirational speakers and coaches in the UK. Her involvement takes the Fort William programme, which is already of unrivalled quality, to yet another level.”
The Social Enterprise Academy was set up in 2004 by the Social Enterprise Network Scotland (Senscot) and since then more than 1,600 individuals have taken part in a range of courses and programmes. Some, like 'Understanding Social Enterprise', last only two days, but premium leadership programmes are spread over a year. It has offices in Edinburgh and Inverness, but delivers its programmes to the social enterprise, voluntary, public and private sectors through a network of tutors around Scotland.