Sonal Mehta

Regional Director for South Asia IPPF

Advocacy & Global Coordination: the IPPF leaders take on the IMPM

There’s a team that connects a family planning and sexual health app in Palestine, to volunteers in Indonesian women’s health wards. People fighting for abortion rights in the USA are connected to campaigners in Kenya. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is a global non-governmental body that looks to create bonds between local and national family planning, reproductive and sexual health providers across the world. But just because they are not a business, doesn’t mean they don’t need business acumen, as Sonal Mehta (Regional Director for South Asia) underlines.

Sonal has over 30 years of experience working in humanitarian agencies that engage with communities around sexual health and development, from a one-on-one basis to overseeing international projects. A lot of her work has involved supporting initiatives that target marginalised people and communities, who suffer from the continued stigma around sexual health present in many parts of the world. Before being appointed to her role at the IPPF, Sonal worked as the Director for Policy and Programmes at the India HIV/AIDS Alliance. During this time, Sonal undertook the IMPM to take her management to the next level.

“After participating in the International Masters for Managers (IMPM), I gained confidence in my ability to sell”

Working in an NGO requires fundraising, and the director highlights that fundamental to her work is drumming up financial backing from donors, and ‘selling’ them the good work IPPF was doing around the world. Sonal believes the business skills taught over the IMPM’s five different mindsets equipped her with the confidence she needed to go out and increase her fundraising goals.  “I overcame any fear or shame in asking for donations from corporate sponsors, and instead became proud of going to them and saying ‘this is what we’re going to do with your money’. Everything is sales, and being in IMPM exposed me to managers who were doing exactly this; going to people and asking them to support their business. I needed to do the same.”

Since 2020, Sonal has continued her work in her role as Regional Director for the IPPF. Based in London, England, the IPPF is a federation of 149 Member Associations working across more than 189 countries to promote, campaign and provide for safe sexual healthcare for women, including accessible family planning measures. In many communities, and not only developing ones but in countries of the global north too, sexual healthcare for women can be difficult to access for a multitude of reasons. The IPPF seeks to connect different organisations that address this not only with one another but with a wider global community and greater funding options. For example, a grant by the IPPF provided funding for the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association to create an app which confidentially provides resources for women and connects them with the correct professionals.

And now, in 2023, the other regional directors at the IPPF are following Sonal’s lead and also undertaking the IMPM. “There is real benefit in exposing our leaders to the business skills and history presented in every IMPM cohort” Sonal continues. “not only is it of personal benefit, but the wider organisation gains from more experienced leaders who now come back with greater international connections… I am a big fan.”

Two of the modules that especially stood out to Sonal were the reflective and worldly mindsets. The reflective mindset, currently hosted at Lancaster University Management School in England, allowed Sonal to “really question what type of leader I was, and understand the leaders I was going on this journey with.” In the program today, the module gives the participants the chance to visit old English Quaker meeting sites, to which reflection was a vital part of any business agenda.

“Being reflective on how we engage with our teams, and how we want to engage with them, was insightful but I especially learnt a lot listening to the self-reflections of others.”

Closer to home for Sonal, the worldly mindset is today hosted by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. She highlights that diversity is not just of skin tone or religion, but of mindset; “Bangalore, and India more widely, is a global hub of diversity, with different backgrounds that pave the way for different perspectives on the world of business” Sonal, who began her education in India, highlights. The different cultures that coexist so close together in Bangalore provide the perfect understanding of how diversifying our perspectives as managers can be fundamental for more successful leadership.

Sonal’s IMPM journey, soon to be experienced by her colleagues at the IPPF, highlights its benefit in management education for leaders who don’t come from the typical business background; much like Henry Mintzberg’s founding thesis, situating your leadership, no matter the organisation, within a global business ecosystem widens their exposure to the skills, perspectives and mindsets needed for better management.

“Core to the IPPF’s mission is advocacy, and the IMPM’s prepares us for this; you can’t advocate if your leadership is not reaching its full potential.”

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