Adapting Pioneers coaching during a pandemic

The Energy and Sustainable Development Agency (AESS) in Modena, Italy has participated in the Pioneers programme since 2014 – first as hosts, then as coaches. AESS’ Lisa Sentimenti became Local Manager in 2019 and with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in 2020, Lisa and her team needed to adapt the programme to a new, virtual reality to deliver the same experience. 

The Pioneers programme is a great opportunity to change your perspective, open your mind and experience new situations. For AESS, it is an opportunity to equip participants with the tools to tackle climate change and create new, positive relationships with people working all over Europe.

Lisa Sentimenti, Local Manager Italy, 2019-2020

Lisa Sentimenti has worked for the Energy and Sustainable Development Agency (AESS) in Modena since 2004 and first heard of the Pioneers programme when it launched in 2010: “AESS has been involved in the Pioneers programme for many years and some of my colleagues were previously Pioneers.” AESS previously hosted Pioneers in Placements, but since 2016 the Agency has focused on coaching activities: “Since we started coaching, we have worked very well as a team to deliver the programme – and I was delighted to become Local Manager in 2019,” adds Lisa. 

“By participating in Pioneers, AESS has become a change agent in terms of transition thinking, equipping people with the tools to tackle climate change,” says Lisa. She adds that it is a two-way relationship: “Our participation in the Pioneers programme has also opened doors to us in terms of new business.”

In 2019, Lisa credits the in-person Workshops as the most successful tool for engaging and bringing Pioneers together. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant the programme needed to be adapted, quickly: “Naturally, team-building was a challenge as things could no longer be done in person. We accepted more Pioneers than planned – 26 people from across Italy came together to collaborate mostly online. Not everyone was familiar with certain online tools and we needed extra time to replicate similar conditions for our 2020 Pioneers as best we could.” 

Despite initial difficulties, a lot was learned from the positive experiences, and Lisa’s team will take those lessons into 2021: “Given the approach had already changed in 2020 to adapt the framework to the local situation, we are designing and tailoring the programme to match applications. Our team of coaches has many different experts and training demand from our region will influence delivery. We will likely add new topics to the traditional topics usually presented.”

As well as teaching Pioneers about systems innovations tools during the programme, Lisa says AESS have adopted systems innovation thinking in its day-to-day work: “We appreciate the added value of systems innovation thinking as a problem-solving tool,” says Lisa. “It helps us understand challenges from all angles and come up with better solutions. We are keen to transfer these tools to as many professionals as possible. Once Pioneers get used to this approach, we often receive enthusiastic results and feedback about their usefulness,” she adds.