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Reputation and Governance Styles: The Leader as a Smart Aleck

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Because we have a global audience, I must start by explaining that, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, a smart aleck is “a person displaying ostentatious or smug cleverness’.  It also reports that one usage of the word ‘smart’ means: “(of transactions) unscrupulous to the point of dishonesty”. If you watch crime movies the way I do, there is a tendency to admire ‘smart play’, that is, ruthlessly clever and effective maneuvers. The best crime bosses are masters of ‘smart play’. In order words, they are smart alecks.

What is fascinating is how often (particularly in the massed punditry of elite global media) a capacity for smart play by political leaders is glorified. Leaders are routinely judged and compared with regard to whether or not they appear to shape the game, determine events, or impose their will on others and so on. If they do not seem to do that, they are dismissed as effete. If they seem to do that, they are admired and glorified.  What is particularly striking is how often the writers who say these things leave out ethical standards. I believe, for instance, that true evil is a willingness to act without ethical considerations. Yet, notice how often leaders are admired for ostentatiously clever play even if the methods are odious.

But I am interested in a much narrower question. And it is this: if we leave out ethical considerations, is a reputation for ‘smart play’ good for a leader? Does it make her more effective?  To throw this into bold relief, I am going to tell two kinds of stories- one domestic, and the other global.
 

Strengthening Active Citizenship After a Traumatic Civil War: Dilemmas and Ideas in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Duncan Green's picture

I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week to help Oxfam Italia develop advocacy and campaign skills among local civil society organizations. They have their work cut out.

Firstly, there is a crisis of trust between the public and CSOs, which are poorly regulated, often seen as little more than ‘briefcase NGOs’, only interested in winning funding, and under constant attack from politicians. Many CSOs seem pretty disillusioned, faced with a shrinking donor pot and public hostility.

I think there’s a strong case for the CSOs to take the lead in putting their house in order, practicing what they preach on transparency and accountability, and working with government to sort out the legitimate organizations from ones that have registered (there are some 10,000 in the country) but do nothing, (or worse).

Meanwhile, Oxfam is working with some of the more dynamic ones to develop the advocacy and campaign skills of what is still a maturing civil society network (after decades of state socialism, followed by a devastating war, and then an influx of donor cash that had mixed results). Two days of conversation and debate with some great organizations working on everything from disability rights to enterprise development to youth leadership identified some big issues and dilemmas:
 

Does Social Media Create (or Destroy) Social Capital?

José Cuesta's picture

Like cholesterol, “social capital” comes in bad and good types.

Elusive to define, social capital consists of those bonds created by belonging to a group that instills trust, solidarity, and cooperation among members. We know that good social capital has an enormous development potential, positively influencing economic growth, democracy, cognitive development, and adoption of farming practices, among others.

In a recent study on crime in Colombia1, a colleague from American University, Erik Alda, and I show that high rates of crime help destroy social capital (victims trust less). But social capital can also reduce crime when it effectively increases the involvement of all of us in the prevention and management of crime and violent behavior and when it reduces the temptation of each individual to let others solve the problem of crime.

Stronger interpersonal trust, however, also allows an easier exchange of information and know-how among criminals, reducing their costs of committing a crime. Because bonding and trust within these groups demands the exclusion of others, a perverse social capital may lead to the kind of extreme violence and hatred seen in the Mafia, the Ku Klux Klan, maras, or genocides.

Can the Bank and CSOs Bridge the Trust Gap?

John Garrison's picture

This was a question asked by numerous participants during a consultation meeting held in Washington on February 29 on the Bank’s proposed Global Partnership for Enhanced Social Accountability (GPESA).  They noted that this lack of trust comes from a longstanding view that the Bank tends to favor governments in detriment of the broader society in many developing countries.  Others noted that the lack of trust comes from the perception that the Bank is not accessible and does not effectively engage civil society in some countries. This contrasts with the view, expressed by several participants, that the Bank has made important strides in opening up and reaching out to civil society at headquarters over the past decade and that this positive momentum should guide GPESA implementation.

Training with the Enemy: How CSOs Are Improving Bank Staff’s Ability to Engage with Civil Society

John Garrison's picture

While some staff of the World Bank and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) may have considered each other ‘enemy combatants’ on the proverbial policy battlefield some years back, today many are collaborating in joint training efforts geared to improving relations.  In a reversal of roles, a number of policy advocacy CSOs are helping to train the very same Bank staff whom they often advocated against in the past.  A good example is the participation of well known CSOs who monitor transparency issues in the extractive industries – Global Witness, Oxfam, and Revenue Watch – in a training session with staff from the Bank’s Oil, Gas, and Mining Department in April 2010.  The session was geared to improving the Bank staff’s knowledge and skills to engage civil society, and the CSOs were asked to both diagnose the nature of Bank - CSO tensions and suggest ways to improve these relations. While CSOs highlighted the difficulty they often face to get information or set up meetings with Bank staff, they also noted how the Bank’s presence can actually guarantee the safety of local CSOs.  Bank staff, in turn, shared the difficulty they have in identifying the appropriate CSOs to engage with at the country level, and expressed frustration with some of the critique the Bank receives despite their efforts to reach out.  They also welcomed greater civil society involvement in Bank-financed extractive industry projects.

The National Adaptation Programmes of Action

Arun Agrawal's picture

The National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) are the most prominent national efforts in the least developed countries (LDCs) to identify priority areas for climate change adaptation. Now that most of the NAPAs have been completed (38 out of 48), it is time to ask if they matter. 

The NAPAs were completed at a price tag of near 10 million dollars for preparation and another anticipated 2 billion for implementation. It might appear they are a golden opportunity for the developed world to show that it is serious about supporting adaptation in vulnerable countries. But the NAPA reports continue to sit on the UNFCCC’s website, available to anyone to read but with little prospects of attracting funds for implementation – or so think many who participated in the NAPA process!