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Demystifying leadership

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture

If you search on Amazon.com for the term ‘leadership’, 247,409 results turn up. James MacGregor Burns, the eminent American historian, political scientist, and authority on leadership studies once famously remarked, “Leadership is the most observed, yet least understood phenomenon on earth.”[1]  It is clear that leadership has the potential to build or destroy society and its institutions – we have seen this time and again over the course of history. And yet, when it comes to development, we tend to treat leadership as this soft and fuzzy part that often has to do with people, mindsets, and complex relationships – and hence is uncomfortable for many professionals. As I noted in my last post, when faced with uncertainty or lack of clarity, human beings tend to think reflexively and gravitate to the subject matter that they are most comfortable with. As a result, in the development context, we tend to address challenges through technical solutions instead of taking on the more complex people related issues, and end up with less than satisfactory results. Addressing these issues requires leadership.
 
Though there is general agreement that leadership plays an important role – there is still a healthy debate on what type of leadership interventions are needed and how to nurture such approaches. With the intention of enhancing the know-how around practical approaches to finding sustainable, inclusive solutions to complex development problems, the Global Partnership on Collaborative Leadership for Development convened the 2016 Global Leadership Forum from June 1-3, which brought together more than 300 development practitioners, leadership and change management experts, government clients, civil society organizations and academia. The premise was that along with technical knowledge and finance, leadership and coalition building are important ingredients in the generation of inclusive development solutions and thus play an important role in accelerating progress towards the achievement of results.

How Can We Get Better at Promoting Active Citizenship? Lessons from Ten Case Studies

Duncan Green's picture

Over the last few months I’ve been writing a series of ten case studies on Oxfam’s work in promoting active citizenship, and blogging the drafts for comments (thanks for those – really helpful). These will be published shortly, along with an overview paper on the patterns that emerged across the ten studies. Here are some highlights – the full paper is here, Active Citizenship synthesis consultation draft. Comments very welcome.
 

Lessons on Programme Design

The Right Partners are Indispensable: Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners, usually local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh); they often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power – crucial for brokering discussions with citizens’ groups. And they will remain working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

Starting with Power Analysis: Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their internal ‘power within’ – self confidence and assertiveness, especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building such ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organization that enable poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice in confronting and influencing those in power. Taking this ‘back to basics’ approach has led to some impressive progress in what are apparently the most unpropitious of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

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:
 

'Convening and Brokering' in Practice: Sorting out Tajikistan’s Water Problem

Duncan Green's picture

In the corridors of Oxfam and beyond, ‘convening and brokering’ has become a new development fuzzword. I talked about it in my recent review of the Africa Power and Politics Programme, and APPP promptly got back to me and suggested a discussion on how convening and brokering is the same/different to the APPP’s proposals that aid agencies should abandon misguided attempts to impose ‘best practice’ solutions and instead seek ‘best fit’ approaches that ‘go with the grain’ of existing institutions in Africa. That discussion took place yesterday, and it was excellent, but that’s the subject of next week's blog. First I wanted to summarize the case study I took to the meeting.

The best example I’ve found in Oxfam’s work is actually from Tajikistan, rather than Africa, but it’s so interesting that I wrote it up anyway. Here’s a summary of a four page case study. Text in italics is from an interview with Ghazi Kelani, a charismatic ex-government water engineer who led Oxfam’s initial work on water and is undoubtedly an important factor in the programme’s success to date. Ghazi is currently Oxfam’s Tajikistan country director.

Meetings with Remarkable Women: Lan Mercado’s Journey from Megaphone to Microphone

Duncan Green's picture

Lan, the megaphone years, circa 1985A while back, I wrote about some amazing Oxfam women I met in East Africa. Here’s another, this time from the Philippines.

Lan (real name Lilian, but Filipinos never use real names) is one of those quiet but effective (and very determined, and maybe not so quiet….) women that abound in development work. She was formerly our country director in the Philippines, but has now moved to head up a project on ASEAN (more on that below). She is also yet another Oxfam woman with a remarkable story. In 1988, as a 28 year old Communist Party activist in the Philippines civil war, her own Party denounced and arrested her on trumped-up charges of being involved in an intra-Party assassination. They held her for 6 months in the mountains, blindfolded and handcuffed in a cage. She and the other prisoners were tortured physically, mentally and emotionally. At least she avoided the fate of prisoners in other camps, who were forced to play ‘eeny meeny miny mo’, with the loser taken out, killed, and their blood smeared over the remaining prisoners.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Journalism
Report published on 'delivering trust' in digital age

“Former director of BBC News Richard Sambrook has called for "new ways to place a premium" on reporting that shows a focus on evidence, diversity and transparency, in a bid to "help rescue the core of what impartiality and objectivity delivered in the past" in a digital world.

In a report published today by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Sambrook asks whether there is a need for "different codes or journalistic norms for the digital age" in order to ensure trust in the media, particularly in light of the Leveson inquiry into the press in the UK and "debate about a ‘post-truth’ political environment in the US".

He identifies that the journalism industry is ‘in transition from the old analogue world of limited supply, where professional codes and regulation were effective in ensuring quality, to the digital age of plenty’.”  READ MORE

How Can an NGO Campaign against Rape in Armed Conflict? An Inspiring Case Study from Colombia

Duncan Green's picture

I recently ran a fascinating workshop with colleagues at Intermón Oxfam (Oxfam’s Spanish affiliate) at which the different country programmes brought examples of change processes at work. One that particularly struck me was about our work in Colombia on sexual violence and conflict. Here’s the write up, jointly authored with Intermon’s Alejandro Matos.

The campaign began in 2009, jointly agreed by Intermón Oxfam and 9 national women’s and human rights organizations. The main aim was to make visible, at national and international level, the widespread use of sexual violence as a tactic by all sides in the armed conflict, and the gaps and failings in the responses of the Colombian state, in terms of prevention and punishment, the end of impunity and the care of women victims.

Three Harmless Words

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it. Once I appreciated the full enormity of the blunder, I used to say - more than a little unfairly - to any civil servant who would listen: Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him? We had legislated in the first throes of power. How could you, knowing what you know have allowed us to do such a thing so utterly undermining of sensible government?"

The Art of the Posse-able

Michael Green's picture

If you want a model for how the world can solve its most pressing problems in the 21st Century, it is the posse. As governance systems go, the Wild West approach of rounding up a few available hands and driving the bad guy out of town is certainly messy, but, if our favourite westerns are any guide, it could be highly effective. Political theorists who can see the potential dress it up in highfalutin’ language as "coalitions of the willing" and governance based on "flexible geometry", but we prefer to call it what it is: a posse. And this week, in New York, we are going to see plenty of evidence of why, increasingly, solving global problems is all about the art of the posse-able.


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