'Strong leaders do not just "read" opportunities; they make them – by moulding public opinion, bringing new blood with new ideas and initiative into government, reaching beyond safe and traditional constituencies to build coalitions in support of change and by taking political and managerial risks that broaden the possibility of change.'
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
-- Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005) was a writer, professor, management consultant and self-described “social ecologist”.
Rakesh Rajani is an extraordinary man, a brilliant, passionate Asian Tanzanian with bottle-stopper glasses and a silver tongue. The persuasive eloquence may stem from his teenage years as an evangelical preacher, but these days he weaves his spells to promote transparency, active citizenship and the work of Twaweza, the organization he founded in 2009.
Rakesh is a classic example of a hybrid social movement leader, bridging the divide between policy makers and poor people, equally at ease in the homes and meetings of poor villagers and the corridors of the White House or the Googleplex (both of whom he has advised).
Last week I spent two days at a review of Twaweza’s work; an intense, exhausting, intellectually tumultuous couple of days with the smartest group of people I’ve met in a long time. Not sure how many posts it will take to do justice to it, but here goes.
First, some background on Twaweza. Its name means ‘we can make it happen’ in Swahili. It is a ‘ten year citizen-centered initiative, focusing on large-scale change in East Africa.’ Its strategy was so brilliant and ahead of its time that I nearly blogged on it just as a piece of thinking. Here’s my feeble attempt to summarize it:
A few weeks ago I attended the twice yearly gathering of Oxfam GB’s big cheeses – the regional directors, Oxford bosses and a smattering of more exotic cheeses from other Oxfam affiliates (Australia and US this time). We started off with a tour of the regions – what’s on their minds? 3 common themes emerged: political upheaval (disenchantment with elected governments, protest, the threat of civil war); religious conflict (fundamentalism) and rising inequality.
The topic of this meeting was a classic new fuzzword – ‘leverage’. And like all good fuzzwords, it was frustrating and helpful in equal measure. Frustrating in its hard-to-define slipperiness, helpful because it establishes a fuzzy-boundaried arena of conversation that allowed us to have an interesting exchange.
The overriding purpose of leverage is another bit of management jargon: ‘going to scale’. How to influence bigger players to reach many times more people than you would do by acting alone? The ambition is heroic, perhaps crushing on occasion – with your few thousand (or even million) quid, it’s not enough to just help a few hundred people, you have to think how this can transform lives en masse. I suspect it partly stems from frustration born from aiming too low; partly from the push for results.
Listening to an expert discussion of the role of elected representatives in social accountability interventions at a recent event hosted by the Mwananchi Governance Programme and CIVICUS in Johannesburg on 16th May 2013, I was reminded of this quote by Joe Khamisi, a former Kenyan MP:
“Save, you may not see Parliament again”, one two-term Member liked to tell us. In many cases non-performers with deep pockets are preferred than stingy doers. “As much as possible, avoid your constituents in the first three years and show up only towards the last half of your term, with plenty of money!”
In response, a Member of Parliament (MP) from one of the countries where Mwananchi works said, “You need to put premium on leadership”. In other words, we should not expect leaders to deliver the change we want if society encourages them to pursue perverse incentives to attain and remain in office, and to achieve solutions to collective action problems.
Looking at the backgrounds of MPs in many countries in Africa, you find that some MPs have been activists in civil society, respected civil servants or faith leaders, often suggesting that things would be very different if it was them that were in office. This is a clear case of a common African saying ‘one finger forwards, four fingers backwards,’ reminding us how easy it is to criticise without examining ourselves. This is why it should not be surprising that again and again we find that when the ‘self-imagined’ leaders get into public office they are equally caught up in the quagmire of perverse incentives as their predecessors.
A few weeks ago, I attended an internal seminar here at the World Bank. Topic: the governance challenges in a big, complex, not -aid -dependent, and deeply corrupt country. The team working on governance in the country wanted to present ideas to the broader community in the Bank and receive feedback. It was a good and lively discussion, and you will forgive me for not going into the details. But something happened that I wanted to bring to broader attention. After the country team had presented the work they were doing, one of those asked to lead the comments was my esteemed colleague, Nick Manning, one of the most experienced public sector governance advisers anywhere.
Nick opened his remarks with this arresting image. I paraphrase him thus: Some of you I’m sure are aware of the Olympic sport of curling. You see these people with a broom sweeping the ice in front of a ball. Those who do this swear that sweeping the ice makes a difference. So, maybe what we do in these situations is like sweeping the ice to shape the path of the ball that is rolling down, and we hope it makes a difference.
"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1896 - 1957). An Italian writer. From the book "The Leopard" (1958), which is considered to be one of the greatest novels in Italian literature.
This is what a good day visiting an Oxfam programme looks like. I skim the interwebs (and this blog) to put together some thoughts on a given issue from our experience or what others are writing (‘the literature’). Then sit down with local Oxfamistas and partner organizations (who are usually closer to the grassroots than we are) to compare these bullet points with their reality. Last Friday, it was ‘how can NGOs build the accountability of local government.’ My ten minutes covered:
The debate on evidence and results continues to rage. Rosalind Eyben (left) and Chris Roche (right, dressed for battle), two of the organisers of April’s Big Push Forward conference on the Politics of Evidence, kick off a discussion. Tomorrow Chris Whitty, DFID’s Director of Research and Evidence and Chief Scientific Adviser, and Stefan Dercon, its Chief Economist, respond.
Distinct from its more general usage of what is observed or experienced, ‘evidence’ has acquired a particular meaning relating to proof about ‘what works’, particularly through robust evidence from rigorous experimental trials. But no-one really believes that it is feasible for external development assistance to consist purely of ‘technical’ interventions. Most development workers do not see themselves as scientists in a laboratory, but more as reflective practitioners seeking to learn how to support locally generated transformative processes for greater equity and social justice. Where have these experimental approaches come from and what is at stake?
‘Every developing country has the opportunity to grow at over 8% a year for 20-40 years, and to get rid of poverty within a generation.’ There’s something very refreshing about listening to East Asian development economists, in this case the prolific Justin Lin, a former World Bank chief economist, launching his new book The Quest for Prosperity, at ODI just before Christmas. The contrast between his can-do optimism and the dark clouds of Eurogloom and Afropessimism could not have been greater. But is he right?
While others in development wonkland are increasingly scathing about blueprints and best practice guidelines, Justin is unabashedly a man with a plan. The book takes his paper on ‘Growth identification and facilitation’, (see my earlier review, and Justin’s reply), and boils his thinking down into what he calls a ‘six point recipe’ for developing country governments.