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How a DC-Based Chapter Delivered Pro Bono Aid to Ukraine

The Washington, DC, chapter of the International Coaching Federation proved well-positioned to help its counterpart in Ukraine when it asked for support. Here’s how it became ICF’s biggest chapter collaboration ever.

The Washington, DC, chapter of the International Coaching Federation has done plenty of pro bono work in the past—including support for pandemic relief workers and an initiative to boost emerging leaders who are people of color.

But an email from the federation’s Ukraine chapter, at a time when the conflict between Ukraine and Russia was in its early days, promised something dramatically different.

ICF Metro DC President Marlene Thomas said the message from ICF Ukraine Past-President Larysa Homans led her to act immediately.

“When I got the email, I didn’t respond by email; her WhatsApp number was on the signature line, and so I just picked up the phone and called her,” Thomas said.

That conversation, in which Thomas pledged ICF Metro DC’s support to the Ukrainian chapter, has now grown into the largest chapter-to-chapter collaboration in ICF’s history, with ICF Metro DC donating nearly 200 hours in pro bono professional coaching services to its Ukrainian counterpart.

How the Program Came to Be

Kenny Leahman, who leads the DC chapter’s pro bono initiatives, said he and Thomas researched the needs of the Ukrainian chapter, working with Homans to decide on a plan. “Not having done anything like this previously, we wanted to make sure that we got it off to the right start and that we did it appropriately and that we did it professionally because of the circumstances of these individuals,” Leahman said.

Logistical factors came into play, particularly around language support. At first, the chapter decided to offer one-on-one coaching support in English. After the success of the initial coaching sessions, Leahman and Thomas expanded the effort to include group sessions conducted with translators. The volunteers who took part in the initiative helped to fuel the success of the program, particularly when it came to discussing trauma.

Ongoing Support for Ukraine

ICF Metro DC’s support began as an agreement to offer one year of coaching to the Ukraine chapter. But the collaboration has evolved into something more and will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, Thomas and Leahman said.

The chapter leaders emphasized that they were quite moved by the experience. Leahman, who served two years in Afghanistan and has a background working in the CIA, emphasized that even if the war ended tomorrow, the ICF chapter would continue to support its Ukrainian counterparts.

“Were it to end tomorrow or whether it continues for another year, the impact on the individuals, the humanitarian impact of this, is going to last,” he said, adding, “You can’t just walk away from these individuals.”

The large size of the DC chapter—1,600 members—helps make this possible too. When the initial call was put out to support the initiative, the organization received interest from 65 coaches—something Thomas said is common with pro bono work within the chapter.

“We take this work very seriously, and we’re just happy that we are in a chapter of people who take the work just as seriously,” she said. “It’s rare that we have to go find people. For our pro bono initiatives, more than likely we have to turn people down.”

A Lesson for Chapters

ICF favors this chapter-driven approach to collaboration, as it “promotes the greatest success and encourages sharing,” explained CEO Magdalena Nowicka Mook.

“We have found a strong foundation for this to be providing clarity around the organization’s mission, goals, and initiatives so that chapter leaders understand how they can mobilize members to contribute to these efforts—as well as nurturing a strong community across chapters so they can share ideas, learn from each other, and support each other’s endeavors,” she said in an emailed comment.

But the Metro DC chapter’s exceptional results stand out even in that context, she added, and its lessons have been shared with other chapters globally.

“Chapters in every corner of the world are finding new, unique ways to use their skills as professional coaches to achieve positive social change, and it is shining a light on the value of coaching,” Mook said.

Thomas added that chapters in other fields can find their own ways to leverage their services to make an outsize impact.

“To the other chapter leaders, you may think you only have 50 people, there’s not much you can do,” Thomas said. “There is something—put on your thinking caps and try to figure out what that is.”

(Zuberka/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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