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We are an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development
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Leadership Observatory: Issue 17

08 October 2021

In this month’s Leadership Observatory, DLP provide five key takeaways directly to policymakers, practitioners and researchers based on new evidence. Developmental leadership is instrumental to driving successful change, but how can local players with the knowledge and expertise needed become developmental leaders? And how do development actors from wealthy countries avoid ‘getting in the way’?

Most parliamentary leaders do not receive the training needed to successfully campaign for or implement inclusive change, particularly in terms of being collaborative.

Gordon and Hasson interviewed leaders involved in successfully enacting inclusive gender, LGBTQ+ and disability-related legislative change across the globe, and discovered five key skills and qualities these leaders used: being a collaborator, strategic thinker, focused, a relationship builder and being open to learning. Less frequently mentioned but still important were being trustworthy, creative and self-aware and reflective. However, most MPs receive little or no training in developing or using these abilities, something the researchers argue needs to change. Training in political soft skills, peer to peer mentoring and action learning are particularly recommended.

Supporting local leadership is instrumental to international peace building, but there is still too much confusion in the development sector about what this entails.

Ljungkvist and Jarstad set out many of the issues in how the development sector has interpreted local leadership. They outline a new strategy to place urban living at the centre of understanding the role of local leadership in international peace efforts. City spaces are both the mode of living of the future and the location of much conflict. A must read for conflict advisors and those interested in the role of spatial data.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the pandemic has produced encouraging signs for the future of effective local leadership in health, but it remains important to support this moving forwards.

Waiswa and Wanduru argue that the rapid issuing of reproductive and child health policies in sub-Saharan Africa which has taken place during the pandemic could represent a new era in effective localised policymaking. This is as Human Rights Watch criticises Kenya’s failure to provide health care to survivors of gender-based violence, including providing reproductive health care. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen an increase in effective collaborations between policymakers and local academics, and in health leaders supporting communities to manage their own care. To help such effective community leadership continue, WHO, policy makers and local academics must fully and productively collaborate together in the future, and be informed by accurate local data.

Grassroots and development-sector women can make excellent developmental leaders, but there are significant barriers to their entry into formal politics which require more attention from development actors.

Vijeyarasa et al. discuss in a recent video presentation for DLP what some of the challenges are to grassroots and development-sector women in Sri Lanka and Indonesia entering politics. Religious organisations can both support and hold back these women, family responsibilities pose challenges and it can be difficult for potential female leaders to collaborate with each other due to differing views on feminist ideologies. Gender-based violence is also a factor; Westminster Foundation for Democracy has recently produced a report on how to address this issue globally through policymaking. Their recommendations include such things as locating responses within the health sector and community, and creating programmes to improve the public sector response.

Genuinely transformative development requires strengthening what local leaders are already doing, and supporting them to retain their established networks and coalition-building.

Gibert recently spotlighted how development work must avoid western tendencies to equate confidence, dominance and performance charisma with good leadership, and consider the importance of other leadership qualities such as humility, sensitivity, altruism and collaboration. This is critical in a world that has been forced to embrace the localisation agenda and must now figure out how to do it better.

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