Initiated in 2021, the OSUN ExEd Hub builds upon CEU’s record of educating global leaders, academics, and practitioners in the humanities, social sciences and policy. Inspired by open society ideals, the ExEd Hub offers innovative and experiential professional and executive education programs focused on the most critical leadership skills and behaviors needed in today’s world.
Lydia Wazir-Staubmann provides leadership as Director of the OSUN ExEd Hub at CEU. An experienced university professor, instructional designer, certified resilience trainer and executive leadership coach, she has developed a variety of hybrid training solutions and blended learning and leadership programs for international organizations and NGOs. Her personal background and international education have shaped her ethos regarding leadership and the approach of the ExEd Hub’s programs.
We caught up with Lydia on the occasion of the ExEd Hub’s first year in practice, which also coincides with the launch of their newest professional development offering, Executive Coaching. This is an edited interview conducted on January 11, 2022.
My parents emigrated to Austria in 1979 from Lebanon during the civil war in order to offer their three children the hope for a better future. They left their homes, their family and friends behind in search of a safer, better life. At first, they struggled to find jobs here in a country where they didn't speak German or have the support of a community, and the culture was very different. We moved apartments 7 times in that first year. But they never gave up, and they never lost hope. My parents’ resilience afforded us the chance at a better life and high-quality education. They believed getting a good education was the key to a better life. And I embrace that principle every day.
So how does that link to my work with the ExEd Hub? I understand what it means to come to a country where you have to start over and can't fulfill your potential unless you have opportunities. And I know what a difference quality education can make in the choices you have at a better life. This is why I was so interested in this position. Our mission is to help the underserved get access to quality education which is not only pivotal in securing a good job but plays a major role in cultivating a good life – one in which you have choices.
What excites you about this newly established unit?
I love the ExEd Hub’s mission. Who doesn’t want the chance at changing the world, or making an impact that changes people’s lives for the better? It was our Provost Liviu Matei who spearheaded it, and he took this very timely and necessary idea for CEU’s own continued educational innovation and combined it with the missionary activist perspective of OSUN, of providing access to world class education to those most in need, to the vulnerable, excluded or stigmatized communities around the world. And with OSUN we have direct and even more intensive connection to the local communities. We are building community leaders around the world, in South-East Asia, Africa, Latin-America, who are equally interested in building capacity, resilience, solidarity, self-determination and expertise within their own communities as well. Only CEU with this network can give those executives and professionals the kind of classroom, the kind of peers in the classroom that we can give them.
Much of my motivation for leadership development began from experiences of working in environments with poor leadership. My passion is to help people be better at doing whatever they do, and that includes helping to develop leaders to be better leaders. Another aspect of our work is to empower people to learn how to lead change from any position, from wherever they are in their context or organization. I was lucky enough to learn this approach from Teach for Austria. Their principle is to send change makers into schools, training them on how they can affect change from positions without authority, influencing their surroundings, and changing the life paths of children through empathy, kindness and mentoring. That is the future of leadership and change.
And lastly, my team. I can’t stress enough how having a kind, agile, honest and supportive team culture is often the one thing that keeps us going in tough times. And times have been tough, I can tell you that! We try to live what we preach, in terms of leadership principles and team dynamics. Our diverse skill sets and personalities compliment each other perfectly, we always have each other’s backs, and we engage in debate and honor each other’s perspectives. Leading such a team is a blessing and an honor.
As the pandemic introduced major disruptions to work culture, how do you think about the role of executive and professional development today? Are there any trends you’ve noticed in how people are seeking new skills?
Demand for short courses is growing twice as fast as that for degree courses which will signal a shift to an industry-wide trend towards more flexible and modular pathways for continuous learners. We need to realize that education is not easily accessible to all groups. Many underserved communities miss out on marketable skills due to barriers such as affordability, time and access. Looking at these developments, universities must consider employers’ perspectives when developing programs, putting the focus on what competencies students demonstrate during their college careers that will lead to stable, lucrative occupations and keeping underserved communities in mind.
We need lifelong learners. We need space for people across their careers to learn new things so that they can continue meeting their own, and their communities’ and organization's, need to grow and adapt. The world is changing: if you don't know how to adapt and accumulate new knowledge in order to stay on top of what’s happening now and in the future, you’ve already lost. Because shorter-term credentials enable career mobility in less time than a degree allows, they are more attainable to those who need access to immediate upskilling.
The real opportunity moving forward is to ensure that we are constantly assessing the real value for continuous learners and how we can deliver relevant, real world education through which professionals and leaders (both aspiring ones and experienced ones) can find ways to ensure they remain competitive.
Employers are now accepting certificates for certain entry-level, mid-career and leadership positions. I'm seeing courses in the direction of change management skills, strategic skills, and leadership skills, not to mention the fintech, big data and AI trends. Adapting to this trend of flexibility in educational programs is essential for training graduates toward the current job market.
The digital trend has also increased the capacity for online learning. Student still seek classroom components since a lot of learning happens with peers and in cohorts in the same room, but also the integration of feedback from instructors during online courses distinguishes these classes from, say, a fully online on-demand course.
What is unique about the ExEd Hub?
Our professional development courses for higher education administrators, for example, led by Pusa Nastase, feature high-profile instructors who believe in and support our mission. The participants enjoy the discussions that take place with peers who are in different countries around the world with different experiences and contexts. If you're only learning in the same context with the same people from the same place, this does not create a flexibility or diversity in mindsets that produce new insights and new ways of solving problems.
What the ExEd Hub is trying to create is this truly global classroom in terms of resources, experiences, motivations, and the ability to interpret problems and apply solutions at a global and local level. The students appreciate at least in equal measure the expertise and the quality of education that they get from CEU faculty and matched by this really unique classroom experience that very few other universities in the world can offer.
For those who might be less familiar with the ExEd Hub, what are some of the ways to plug in and get involved?
Our Expert Insight series offers free workshops that are experiential with leaders and practitioners in the education field. These are very practical workshops on topics that apply to one’s work and personal life, ranging from leadership topics and how to steward change, to creating better habits and fostering strong colleague collaboration and relationships. These are topics that affect us all - not just executives - and I encourage everyone, including CEU staff at all levels, to attend because leadership starts with one person and can happen from anywhere in an organization.
How does the open society mission and context of CEU distinguish the ExEd Hub’s programs and curricula?
I think the ExEd Hub could play a major role in continuing professional education at CEU, which is already transforming the university. And then really play a role within OSUN and outside OSUN, in facilitating access to high level professional education and executive education of all kinds. So not only degree education, but non-degree certifications, for traditional learners and less traditional learners. I am not aware of anything similar – at least in intention – a global Executive Education Hub, with a strong professional anchoring, and with that open society and access mission. I think this could potentially grow as a remarkable endeavor.
We focus on nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions, specifically their pain points and needs, which are often very different than for-profit organizations and corporations. Nonprofits and university administrators have very specific issues related to their constituents, or challenges stemming from unstable environments because of limited resources. In these contexts, one person must wear many hats and be skilled in wide variety of areas. People need training to be more secure in what they're doing in particular areas, so we are building out these customized and context-aware opportunities for training.
Can you talk about the recently launched Executive Coaching service at the ExEd Hub?
This was important to set up because I believe leadership development must include training leaders to be coaches. Through one-on-one coaching and consultations you can empower your colleagues and employees and help them grow; they will feel heard, appreciated, supported. Just having someone as a sounding board - not giving advice or the answers – but someone guiding you through the process and helping you visualize and clarify your goals so you can get to solutions and reach your vision faster. I wish I had had that earlier on in my professional career.
You can book a session through the ExEd Hub online form. All you need to bring is a topic you would like to be coached on. Some examples of topics are: "I want to transition out from my current role"; “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.’; “I want better work/life balance"; ''I'm nervous about a presentation I have to give next week". Before the conversation you are asked to complete a list of questions to help you formulate the coaching need and focus the session.
What advice would you give those aspiring to lead change in their communities?
Invest in yourself! Find the gaps in your skills and keep on learning and growing. Don’t lose hope that better things are ahead, that you can get through the toughest times, that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way, that you are exactly where you are meant to be right now. Failure does not mean you are not succeeding. It means you are learning and growing. And if you can’t change the bigger system, focus on the people around you. Build others up. In smaller steps…
Our slogan is “Lead the change,” and this helps orient the work that we do. I return to this phrase often and I think it helps remind me why I do this work and what the ExEd Hub contributes.