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Leadership

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.
 

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.

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
OECD
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
ODI
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.

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.
 

Transformational fantasies, cumulative possibilities

Brian Levy's picture

Reality Check Ahead signDreams die hard. I was on the road for much of last fall, talking about my new book – which promotes (as I put it in a recent piece in foreignpolicy.com), the virtues of modesty in our approach to democratic development. While my message is a sober one, my aim is not to foster pessimism but rather to highlight pragmatic ways forward.

Yet, repeatedly, I come up against critics who bewail my seeming lack of ambition. “Why”, they ask, “do you sell short the possibilities of transformation? Isn’t what we need bold, decisive, ethical leadership which cuts through the messiness of present predicaments?  Where governance is weak, bold leaders can and should make it strong – rapidly and systematically!”.

By now, there is plenty of scholarship that makes the case that changes in governance cannot be willed into being – but rather that ‘good governance’ is the cumulative consequence of a long, slow incremental process. Nobel-prize-winner Douglass North and colleagues have clarified conceptually how personalized bargains between contending elites can provide platforms for both stability and (perhaps) the slow evolution of formal rules of the game. Francis Fukuyama masterfully documents, over two volumes, the deep historical roots of the rule of law, and of the difficult challenges posed by democratization in settings where state capabilities remain weak.

For many, though, conceptual and historical perspectives remain unpersuasive. “We need change”, they insist. “Therefore good leaders should provide it.”

In Praise of Cranks and Contrarians

Sina Odugbemi's picture

I hope you have been fortunate enough to meet a few of these. They live amongst us, but they are really an archetypal category: The Outsider. Our settled views on the great issues of the day, our rules and norms, our codes of conduct, all these things annoy them. They mock us. They dispense rudeness with great liberality. They are stubborn, self-willed and ferociously argumentative. They dress as they please. They behave as they please. They dance to the rhythms of drums that the rest of us cannot hear. They annoy, even madden us; yet, every healthy community needs them; every truly diverse and vigorous public sphere needs them, as well.

Cranks are eccentrics. They are capricious in behavior or appearance. And they are almost always contrarians: whatever the majority opinion is, they are against it. Loudly. Vehemently. Yet there is one fundamental reason why we should not only tolerate but celebrate the cranks and contrarians in our midst: every major shift in public opinion started as a view propagated by a few bloody minded contrarians, boldly, even recklessly, taking on the received or conventional wisdom of the day.  We often credit huge social movements for a lot of the progress we have made as human beings, but before the social movements formed crucial path-clearing work was done by tough, rock-ribbed eccentrics and contrarians.

Governance and the Supernovas of Politics

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Every now and again, somewhere in the world, a politician comes along who is a supernova: a special astronomical event.  Reacting to him or her, citizens feel a tingle in the spine, they become emotionally flooded, and they fill up with galloping hopes and effervescent dreams. In my adult life, I have yielded to the power of supernovas twice. Between the Special One and the followers, and amongst the followers themselves, you have a case of interpenetrating intensities.

Each of these cases is an instance of what Max Weber calls charismatic authority. According to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, charisma is: “a capacity to inspire devotion and enthusiasm.”  And according to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “Charismatic authority exists where exceptional abilities cause a person to be followed or obeyed, and the ability is perceived as conferring the right to lead” [page 70]. Add formal power to charismatic authority and you have power and influence of a tremendous variety.

How do these situations arise? Nobody knows for sure. Clearly, it is a potent mix of a gifted person, some inner magnetism, and the specificities of the particular cultural and political context. What is clear is that for the leaders so blessed being a supernova is great for winning elections. It produces enormously enthusiastic, self-sacrificing efforts by millions of followers. It tends to produce big wins and powerful mandates. What fascinates me about the phenomenon though is what happens to governing when the leader is a supernova.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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

Why are indigenous people left out of the sustainable development goals?
The Guardian
The great danger in compiling a list of priorities for international development, which is what most of the development industry has been preoccupied with for the past couple of years, is the dreaded “shopping list” or “Christmas tree”. This is where everyone’s pet problem is included and we don’t have a list of priorities at all, but a list of almost everything wrong with the world. So I write this article with some caution. All told, I think the drafting committee for the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after 2015, has done a decent job. The fact that there are still 17 goals (which is too many) is a consequence of the pressing problems that global co-operation can help to fix, rather than an inability to prioritise. Nevertheless, there is a gaping hole. Indigenous people are conspicuous only in the fleeting nature of references to them.

Leaders Indicating
Foreign Affairs
The normal rhythm of politics tends to lead most nations’ economies around in a circle, ashes to ashes. This life cycle starts with a crisis, which forces leaders to reform, which triggers an economic revival, which lulls leaders into complacency, which plunges the economy back into crisis again. Although the pattern repeats itself indefinitely, a few nations will summon the strength to reform even in good times, and others will wallow in complacency for years -- a tendency that helps explains why, of the world’s nearly 200 economies, only 35 have reached developed status and stayed there. The rest are still emerging, and many have been emerging forever.
 

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