Growing SAI Young Leaders: The IDI Story

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“I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the results.”
—Nelson Mandela

When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, he tended his garden and spoke of throwing seeds on the ground, watering them and watching them grow. Similarly, the INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) has observed and nurtured young leaders from Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) worldwide through the SAI Young Leader (SYL) initiative.

As these future leaders take the journey from seedling to blossoming tree, the SYL initiative, now in its second iteration, provides nourishment through enriching exchanges, as well as leveraging work and support from the pilot program.

Preparing the Ground
Before gardeners sprinkle seeds upon the ground, they must survey the land. Time and again, IDI’s experience shows that leadership drives SAI transformation and performance enhancement. While IDI and other partners can certainly play supporting roles, leadership remains at the forefront of change.

Once the ground has been prepared, we must plant the seeds. The SYL program selection process is designed to identify candidates with the highest potential to grow and succeed. Selection also includes examining each candidate’s change strategy project (an integral component of the SYL program) having the highest likelihood for SAI implementation.
These criteria meant ensuring a SAI environment conducive to change and possessing leadership fully dedicated to the young leader, as well as the program as a whole. The IDI fulfilled both objectives through a two-stage process—assessing change strategy projects then interviewing nominated candidates.

As spring began in March 2018, IDI and the participating SAIs began nurturing and growing the select young leaders. Through an intense interactive, engaging program that included workshops, communication platforms, support from SYL coaches, and innovative evaluation methods, candidates continued learning leadership skills and perfecting their change strategy projects.

Individual responsibility combined with INTOSAI community support further cultivated young leader transformation. The many gardeners tending to the seedlings provided valuable inputs—SAI-coordinated and hosted interactions, specialists and leaders sharing personal journeys, coaches providing extensive support beyond the call of duty, and, perhaps most significantly, a network that created a climate necessary for encouragement and growth.

The inaugural young leaders established five core values, identified behaviors best reflecting those values, and endeavored to hold one another accountable for them. They also introduced the “SYL Digital Yearbook” to capture experiences, memories and achievements on the personal journeys of discovery and change.

Blossoming Trees
As autumn nears, a gardener takes stock of progress and seeks to uncover key ingredients to his flourishing crop. As IDI reflects on the SYL initiative and the young leaders born from the pilot program, there is an enormous sense of pride at the blossoming trees that have taken root.

Twenty young leaders completed the first iteration of the SYL program and developed change strategy proposals on a wide variety of topics—including communications, digital solutions, data analytics employment, value chain reporting—that have already impacted SAI capacity and performance.

Some ideas and experiences have also been published (SAI Malta Unveils Audit Smart; SAI Estonia Shares Stakeholder Engagement Strategies), enabling broader outreach to the global accountability community.

Rising Above the Canopy
To motivate SYLs in change strategy implementation, the IDI will present the “Best Change Initiative” award at the XXIII INTOSAI Congress in Moscow to the young leader who demonstrated the highest level of innovation, impact, quality, inclusiveness, personal growth and community values.

Fallon Stephany Arias Calero from SAI Costa Rica earned this year’s award for her innovative change strategy on design thinking, which has profoundly impacted the SAI—Fallon developed design thinking methodology, trained a design thinking team, and facilitated a design thinking audit approach while displaying significant leadership growth.

Planting a New Crop in Spring
A gardener can never rest, and when spring comes, it is time to plant a new garden. Twenty-five seedlings were selected in March 2019 to represent the new crop of SAI young leaders.

They began the SYL journey in Cape Town, South Africa, in May, and are already benefiting from the fruits of the pilot program, as previous graduates extend support and provide valuable lessons learned.

SAI Young Leaders Lead Us to the Future

by Tytti Yli-Viikari, Auditor General, SAI Finland, and SAI Young Leader Coach, Mentor

Just before the turmoil and havoc, the sea was translucent and calm. Soft sounds of oars diving in the water—pushing a wooden boat smoothly forward—were in unison as a team of men rowed toward the shy promise of sunrise. Seconds later, the Sampo, a magical machine that could create riches, was lost forever as it slipped into the sea that now rolled and roared.

This story, “The Stealing of the Sampo,” from the epic tale “Kalevala,” has left a cultural footprint on Finnish society. Perhaps the Sampo could allow today’s young auditor to easily master challenging, emerging topics—employing data analytics, ensuring Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) policy coherence, applying design-thinking to audits, enhancing stakeholder relations, ensuring audit work independence and quality. However, no such magical machine exists, so we must come together as a professional community and build new competencies to tackle such issues.

I had the honor to evoke the Sampo with the first cohort of IDI SAI Young Leader candidates, where I observed a journey that required determination, courage and a strong belief in one’s ability to turn challenges into opportunities. I witnessed a group of bright minds, warm hearts and inspired audit professionals grow—as persons, as well as a network.

As the one-year program came to its end last October, I was touched by the magnitude of a common path and its impact—the young leaders had been transformed, and they exuded empowerment, positive self-awareness and joy. They supported each other, valuing the chance to reflect on leadership skills and openly share lessons learned.

The change projects they were charged with writing as part of the program compelled their respective institutions to discover and share new ways of thinking and working. Coaches encouraged similar participation and outreach efforts in what was clearly a change-making journey.

The SYL program contributes to my strong belief in the future of public audit. The operating environment, methods and stakeholder expectations are rapidly changing, but our young leaders give us a great source of inspiration. Personal leadership journeys link peers to experimentation and change, and such exposure to global challenges brings about a wider understanding and incorporates enthusiasm from a community of change leaders.

Let us welcome the next generation of IDI SAI young leaders, who cultivate the future of public external audit by working together, discovering the INTOSAI community, and sharing insights in transforming challenges into opportunities.

The treasure they gain will not disappear when storms come—it carries on in their hearts and minds and is shared by alumni eager to cheer them on!

Past, Future SAI Young Leaders Share Perspectives

“The SYL Program, one of the best development programs I have experienced, provides a holistic approach that includes all facets of leadership.

Through the program, I completed a project from concept to implementation and was able to share it with other teams. It was an empowering, eye-opening experience, as the challenges I faced helped me exercise knowledge and skills and helped me grow in my leadership journey.”

—Seolebaleng Nkhisang, SAI Botswana
2018 SAI Young Leader Graduate


“There is a Chinese idiom that weaves the tale of a group of blind men touching an elephant for the first time. Each touch results in a completely different answer in describing an elephant. Before this project began, I was like one of the tale’s blind men—not knowing what I would learn and experience.

Though the young leaders are from different countries, different backgrounds and different cultures, we have similar expectations—seeking growth and change. As we met for the first time in Cape Town, perhaps we hoped to touch the elephant exactly as we envisioned. Yet, much like the tale, communicating, cooperating and coordinating with others was key, particularly as personal observations tend to have limited data and biased interpretations.

I am confident to continue the SYL journey with my peers and with the help and guidance from IDI and inspirational INTOSAI leaders to further explore the “elephant” (change and transformation).”

—Boyuan Su, SAI China
2019 SAI Young Leader Candidate


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