Leonor is an award-winning social enterprise entrepreneur, whose career has spanned both the private and NGO sectors. As Chief Executive of The Montessori Group she establishes versatile education solutions in partnership with international authorities, private corporations and NGOs.
Prior to this role, Leonor was CEO of the medical research institute RAFT. Alongside this she spun out a commercial company called Smart Matrix Ltd where she raised 8 million dollars in social investment. This has been widely used as a case study in how to avoid risk in social investment.
At The Legacy Globe we are collectively working alongside each other to leave lasting legacies which will empower future generations. How do you feel that your upbringing has shaped you?
I come from a family of political refugees, who came to the UK with nothing, unable to speak English, and who were active in peaceful activism against the fascist regime in Spain. Like many families in that situation, I took on responsibilities at an early age to support the family. That sense of responsibility has stayed with me all my life and made me understand how fortunate I was to grow up where I did; this led me to feeling a need to give back.
At the age of 18, I co-founded the Amnesty International Working Group for Children, to campaign for children who were imprisoned or tortured, (before children’s rights became part of their mandate). Growing up in a family whose life had been disrupted because of injustice, I have always known that life is not fair but it does not mean that we should not try to make it fair.
You are a driving force in global education, delivering positive social impact around the world. Why has education always been so important to you?
I am the first woman in my family to have a career. I would not have been able to do that, nor been a CEO for 20 years, if my family hadn’t sacrificed to make sure that I had an education. My life and career progression is living proof that education changes lives.
Under your leadership as CEO of the Montessori Group you have established transformative initiatives such as the leadership programme which overlays Montessori values in to the board room.
Tell us more about the programme?
When I became CEO of Montessori, almost four years ago, it very quickly struck me that the principles behind Montessori are the very principles of modern leadership – wanting your team to fulfil their potential, freedom within a framework, learning through doing, respect, etc. It is no wonder that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are ex-Montessori.
Leadership is not just about the CEO and the Executive Team; as a CEO for the last 20 years, one of the most important things that an effective CEO needs for success is a good board. We are also developing, and trialling, board training.
What do you think are the most important qualities that a leader should have?
Authenticity – always be yourself, but the best possible version of yourself.
Fearlessness – as a leader you must be able to take managed risks.
A sense of humour – anyone who takes their status too seriously will fail as a leader. A leader needs to be able to laugh at themselves.
The ability to ‘walk the talk’.
How do you feel that we can nurture social responsibility in our societies?
Obviously it starts at the earliest age with education and that is education by educators but also by families and the community. So that means that we need to role model the behaviour we want to see in others and teach our children. There is no point in telling a child not to drop litter if they see their parents drop litter.
In my view, we need to listen more and talk less. Social media platforms, such as twitter, was designed to encourage community communication but it would seem that it has encouraged a form of communication where people talk but don’t listen to what the other person is saying. We may not always agree with others but we should give them the respect to at least listen.
What does the word Legacy mean to you?
For me, legacy is about the lasting, tangible outcome of our actions. What drives me is the vision of what I want to be able to think on my deathbed. I want to look back and know that, because of my actions, I have made the lives of others a little better.