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Leadership Observatory 22: Polarisation, community leadership & war

16 August 2022

This Leadership Observatory, we look at how development programming can be more effective in the Pacific, what causes war, how to combat polarisation and how donors should navigate support for women’s rights movements.

Development projects may be less effective in the Pacific – is contextualisation the answer?

In their open access Development Policy Review article, Terence Wood, Sabit Otor and Matthew Dornan draw on data suggesting development projects are, on average, less effective in the Pacific than in other low-income countries. Contextual understanding brings success, but donors need to carefully adapt to the Pacific context and undertake structured learning. Here at DLP, you will also find research on why contextualising and understanding leadership in the Pacific matters.

What factors cause war to break out?

In his new book Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace, Christopher Blattman argues that groups would much prefer to ‘loathe one another in peace’ than fight. This only changes when at least some of five conditions exist: 1) A leader who has more to gain from war than their people do; 2) intangible incentives like honour or vengeance being seen as overwhelmingly important; 3) one side is overconfident in their material or moral advantages; 4) one group believes it must use violence now before it grows too weak or its opponent too strong; and 5) one side misjudges its own strength, allies, people or other factors. The book isn’t open access, but The Washington Post has a useful summary and review. You can also explore interviews and reviews and teaching/learning resources.

Understand bureaucrats and their relationships and you’ll better understand governance

Using Buka Town – the capital of the autonomous region of Bougainville – as an example, Gordon Peake and Miranda Forsyth argue for the importance of the ‘relational state’. This understanding looks beyond bureaucratic structures to see how people working within them develop and leverage their connections to get things done. It means working with longer-term timeframes, and requires greater recognition of the importance of relationships and what makes them thrive.

Effective leadership for strong and resilient communities

Amy Tong reports new research on strengthening Australian civil society. In the chapter on leadership, she highlights the need to reframe leadership as a practice, rather than an inherited or bestowed position and identifies three key focus areas for civil society to grow strong leadership: 1) Collectively adapting to change; 2) building relationships with people of different backgrounds and views; and 3) fostering leadership in others. If you’d like to know more, watch this video about what makes a good community leader from Communities in Control. (You might even spot DLP’s own Chris Roche!).

How to challenge narrative polarisation in deeply divided societies

A new open-access IFIT discussion paper examines how to understand and address harmful ‘us-against-them’ thinking and the leaders who promote it. It draws on experiences in Zimbabwe, Colombia and Libya to propose four approaches to tackle narrative polarisation: mapping and strategic planning; enabling narrative transformation from within; amplifying diverse and complex narratives; and promoting institutional and policy reform.

Donors should drop the programming blueprint and work creatively to support organising for women’s rights

In her new IDS paper, Sohela Nazneen discusses research on women-led protests in Egypt, Mozambique, Nigeria and Pakistan, and suggests that donor support can be fraught and politicized due to ‘sticky’ gender norms. Women-led protests take a variety of forms, and can include tactics highlighting their traditional roles and utilising their perceived lack of threat compared with male protestors. Overcoming barriers to women’s rights organising and women-led protests requires donors to be agile, imaginative, and take on a role of ally to women’s rights organisations.

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