CAPA Leadership Institute

The CAPA Leadership Institute at Bennington College is founded on the premise that the most effective solutions and opportunities for sustainably resolving conflicts will emerge out of a full-track diplomacy that includes civil society and its leaders.

2015 CLI Participants

CAPA Leadership Institute 2015 participants at Equinox Pond, Manchester, VT

The CAPA Leadership Institute (CLI) brings together motivated and forward-thinking young leaders (age range approximately 20-35) from a region of conflict and offers them a space to collaborate with one another while developing a strategic plan for their individual work on issues related to climate change (water management, governance, economics, energy, agriculture, media, and the arts), as well as attaining important skills for project management and implementation.

The inaugural session of the CAPA Leadership Institute took place in the fall of 2014, bringing together 12 young innovative environmental and social leaders from Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. In an atmosphere of open exchange, participants shared their current work and envisioned new approaches and structures to address the issues they confront; engaged with students, faculty, and the greater college community who brought additional content, advisory resources, and managerial skills to the work; and participated in trainings and workshops in broadly applicable skill sets.

CAPA held its second annual CAPA Leadership Institute with selected participants from Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, along with three alumni from the previous year’s Institute. Strong projects emerged from the 10-day residency, including the creation of a People’s Environmental Academy in Azerbaijan, a community environmental program for youth in Armenia, and a shared music event with musicians from all three countries. The director of CAPA, Susan Sgorbati, and CAPA Leadership Institute participant Senem Cevik wrote a paper about the Institute that was presented at the International Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2016.

CLI is based on four components: the Bennington College plan process, complex systems analysis, project management, and full-track diplomacy. The plan process is an educational methodology based on John Dewey’s theories of “learning by doing.” It encourages individuals to further their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth through a reflective practice and strategic planning. Through writing, discussion, and critical feedback, Institute participants advance their thinking and their work. Complex systems analysis is a new paradigm arising out of the scientific community and is a way to deconstruct challenging and complicated problems. This concept is based on understanding self-organizing, emergent behavior in a context of pattern recognition and improvisation as a way of comprehending events and relationships in society and the world. Project management skills are fundamental to the success of leaders to solve complex problems. Practical and technical expertise are essential, as is an attention to detail, the ability to organize and prioritize, and the ability to implement strategic plans. Global Full-Track Diplomacy is the merging of Track One, Track Two, and Track Three negotiations, with a focus on the management and resolution of conflict. No longer are they seen in parallel, but are essentially interactive. Government employees, the NGO sector, managers, and local citizens engage in dialogue with one another, crossing traditional boundaries; through this model, new connections are made, new ideas are envisioned, and emergent structures are possible.

Coming out to the middle of nowhere—or the middle of somewhere—created a different kind of space, a very positive one. Space in the Vermont trees and hills, room in nature to breath again." – CLI 2014 participant

CLI is a transformative experience for all of its participants. By bringing young leaders from a conflict zone to the beautiful hills of Vermont, there are few distractions. Because it is clear there is no expectation for them to resolve the long-standing intractable conflict of their region, they can focus on their own work, to rigorously develop and further a strategic plan for their current project. Therefore, deep relationships are formed as a result of a willingness to share best practices from their experiences, building a network of young leaders from around the world and growing their capacities to succeed where more traditional structures have failed.

Application Process

CLI participants are chosen through a thoughtful and comprehensive application process. Potential candidates are first identified with the assistance of organizations or individuals that are prominent in their communities in that country. The application includes basic contact information questions, as well as five short essay questions that ask applicants to address the current work they are doing in the field; how they envision their part of the world ten years from now and how they see themselves in that vision; and in what ways they view both good governance and environmental practices as essential to the success of their work in the world. This prepares them for a reflective practice and an individual Plan Process as part of their work at the Institute. It also gives them a way to evaluate how far they progressed on their project at the end of their residency. Applicants are also required to provide two letters of reference to be eligible for acceptance into the program. For more information, please contact