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Transcending fragility – The importance of inclusive leadership

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture

2016 continues to witness a growing incidence of violent conflict around the world. These conflicts are particularly problematic in the group of 60 countries often referred to as Fragile States. Donor agencies pour billions of dollars annually, through policy advice and conditional loans to alleviate fragility and promote development. For the citizens living in these countries, change cannot come soon enough.
Development, however it is defined, involves economic, social and political transformation. Such a transformation is shaped by ideas, engages multiple interests, and proceeds within rules and norms set by political institutions. Since the structure of political institutions is influenced by human agency, leadership becomes an important factor in determining development trajectories. It is clear that leadership is crucial particularly in fragile states, where institutions are weak or have been destroyed by conflict. Leadership as an institution is paramount because it provides a transitioning society with the means to solve problems, make decisions, and craft policies. Leaders can help shape institutions that reduce uncertainty.[1]
There is widespread agreement in the international community and among researchers that institutions matter for stable and secure states, economic growth, political democracy and inclusive social development. Policy makers and international financial institutions have been insisting on the adoption of ‘appropriate’ political, economic and social institutions in the belief that these would promote economic growth, accountability and responsiveness through good economic governance and political democracy.[2] It takes effective leadership to achieve this.

Implementing successful reforms: The case of social assistance in South Africa

Lucilla Maria Bruni's picture

South Africa’s social assistance system – through a comprehensive set of cash transfers -- covers nearly 16 million people. This is a big improvement from 1994, when cash transfers reached fewer than three million beneficiaries and suffered from discrimination and weak administration.

Estimates suggest that cash transfers in South Africa raise market incomes of the poor by a factor of 10, far greater than in other middle-income countries, including Brazil - often celebrated for its successful social assistance. Access to safety nets contributed to reducing poverty and inequality and had positive development impacts on health, schooling, and labor supply.

Demystifying leadership

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture

If you search on 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.

Leadership for results

Ajay Tejasvi Narasimhan's picture
In my experience, when development practitioners are called in to help address a complex challenge, they are not alone. Every development project requires an implementation team – people working together to achieve development objectives and outcomes. Depending on the nature of the challenge, practitioners may work with government officials, staff from NGOs and CSOs, community leaders, sector specialists, and others. It, thus, becomes vitally important for members of these teams to understand one another and the stake each has in the project, the perspective from which they approach it, and their assumptions about it, their history with, and their commitment to it.
In addition, development professionals must become knowledgeable about the reality of the communities in which they work to avoid designing implementation plans that don’t always work out as intended. For example, we have all heard the stories of cook stoves or toilets that are introduced into communities, but are used as storage objects. This attention to personal, political, and social factors affecting project design and implementation is precisely what the Collaborative Leadership for Development Program helps operational teams achieve and maintain, to get desired results.
In the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, the World Bank identifies three kinds of thinking we all do by reflex.
  • Thinking automatically, rather than carefully and deliberatively – we typically do not bring our full analytical prowess to bear on the issues and experiences of our daily lives;
  • Thinking socially, or in ways that are related to how others around us think – the influence of peer-pressure on our thought process is an example; and
  • Thinking with mental models generated by societal norms and the culture in which we live that tacitly influence how we perceive and think about our world.

These ways of thinking, research suggests, are implicit and fundamental and they shape human behavior, including interpersonal and collective interactions and decision making. This insight has enormous implications for our development work. If we do not account for and bring to the surface such social, cultural, and psychological realities in the design and implementation of projects, we can expect to be setting ourselves up for failure. Most challenges today are a complex mix of technical problems and behavioral or adaptive challenges.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Development Co-operation Report 2015: Making Partnerships Effective Coalitions for Action
With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the question of how to finance, implement and monitor these goals moves to the centre of the debate. Today, international development co-operation takes place in an increasingly complex environment, with an ever growing number of actors, policies and instruments involved. This complexity raises the stakes for achieving the goals, but also opens up new opportunities. Although governments will remain the key actors in the implementation of the new post-2015 goals, the role of non-state actors such as civil society, foundations and business is growing. Their association through effective partnerships will be key to the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. The Development Co-operation Report 2015 explores the potential of networks and partnerships to create incentives for responsible action, as well as innovative, fit-for-purpose ways of co-ordinating the activities of diverse stakeholders.

Women and power: overcoming barriers to leadership and influence
Around the world, women now have more power than ever before. Men still dominate decision-making -- but the number of women is on the rise in parliaments and cabinets, judiciary and police forces, formal employment and education. Increasing the number of women in political and public positions is important, but does not mean that they real power. Women in public life are often subject to sexism and prejudice. Women are less represented in the sectors and positions with the most power. This two-year research project on women's voice and leadership in decision-making, funded by DFID, set out to understand the factors that help and hinder women's access to and substantive influence in decision-making processes in politics and society in developing countries. The project also considered whether, as is often assumed, women's leadership advances gender equality and the wellbeing of women more broadly.

Avoiding perversions of evidence-informed decision-making

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Emanuel Migo giving a presentation in Garantung village, Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.How to avoid “We saw the evidence and made a decision…and that decision was: since the evidence didn’t confirm our priors, to try to downplay the evidence”

Before we dig into that statement (based-on-a-true-story-involving-people-like-us), we start with a simpler, obvious one: many people are involved in evaluations. We use the word ‘involved’ rather broadly. Our central focus for this post is people who may block the honest presentation of evaluation results.

In any given evaluation, there are several groups of organizations and people with stake in an evaluation of a program or policy. Most obviously, there are researchers and implementers. There are also participants. And, for much of the global development ecosystem, there are funders of the program, who may be separate from the funders of the evaluation. Both of these may work through sub-contractors and consultants, bringing yet others on board.

Our contention is that not all of these actors are currently, explicitly acknowledged in the current transparency movement in social science evaluation, with implications for the later acceptance and use of the results. The current focus is often on a contract between researchers and evidence consumers as a sign that, in Ben Olken’s terms, researchers are not nefarious and power (statistically speaking) -hungry (2015). To achieve its objectives, the transparency movement requires more than committing to a core set of analyses ex ante (through pre-analysis or commitment to analysis plans) and study registration.

To make sure that research is conducted openly at all phases, transparency must include engaging all stakeholders — perhaps particularly those that can block the honest sharing of results. This is in line with, for example, EGAP’s third research principle on rights to review and publish results. We return to some ideas of how to encourage this at the end of the blog.

Vietnam: Breaking gender stereotypes that hinder women’s empowerment

Victoria Kwakwa's picture
Empowering Women with Job Opportunities

In August 2015, I traveled with colleagues to An Giang Province in southern Vietnam to visit beneficiaries of an innovative project that is helping 200 Cham ethnic minority women learn embroidery.  Selling their embroidery, they earn incomes for themselves. We were inspired by the positive change that the small amount of money invested in this project is bringing to the lives of these women and their families.
This project, with funding from the 2013 Vietnam Women’s Innovation Day, supported by the Vietnam Women’s Union, the World Bank, and other partners - private and public - has helped improved economic opportunities for Cham women.  All through the old traditional art of embroidery.    
“This training and job creation project has helped a group of women get a stable monthly income of more than two million Dong (about $100), without leaving their homes. This means they can still take care of their children and look after their homes,” Kim Chi, a local female entrepreneur and leader of the project, told us. “Women participating in the project not only learn embroidery skills, which preserve Cham traditions, but also provide opportunities to share experiences in raising children and living a healthy life style, and support each other when needed.”
While we were all excited about the successes under the project, a bit more reflection reminded me that unless cultural norms which require Cham women to mainly work from home, are addressed, it will be hard for projects like this, no matter how well designed, to have a lasting impact in helping Cham women realize their full economic and social potential. 

Thinking globally: Local governments leading the way to a global climate solution

Thomas Kerr's picture
California wind power. Bryan Siders/Creative Commons

The Canadian Province of Ontario announced last month that it would join California and Quebec in linking their cap-and-trade programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The move was met with approval by carbon market watchers, as local governments showed how they could avoid the lengthy political battles sometimes faced by national governments preparing submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At a time when governments are looking for ambition, could this sort of local government action be the start of something much bigger?

Last week, I attended the Navigating the American Carbon World (NACW) event in Los Angeles to explore whether the momentum we are seeing to price carbon is evident on the ground. I found a lot of local government leadership on climate change.

Quote of the Week: Arnab Goswami

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"I don't believe in creating an artificial consensus, which some people are comfortable with. So if there is something wrong, you can ask yourself two questions: 'Why did it happen? Will the people who did it go unpunished?' "

Arnab Goswami, an Indian journalist and the editor-in-chief of Indian news channel Times Now. He anchors The Newshour, a live debate show that airs weekdays on Times Now and hosts the television programme Frankly Speaking with Arnab.

CEO: We are moving away from the fossil age

Feike Sijbesma's picture

Feike Sijbesma is CEO of Royal DSM, a health, nutrition, and materials company that has evolved from its original purpose (it was established by the Dutch government in 1902 to mine coal) into a science-based company that develops sustainable materials. It takes its name from the original Nederlandse Staatsmijnen, or Dutch State Mines.

“I think, first of all, we need to agree that climate change is real.