Leadership and Development

Although widely used, and viewed as an important ingredient in successful philanthropy and development, there is no common understanding of what people mean by the term leadership or how its value is demonstrated in practice. In March 2018, when PSJP ran an exploratory webinar for civil society practitioners to identify hot topics they wanted to discuss, leadership was identified because people said that they were unclear about its role.

In considering how to develop a clearer understanding of what leadership means, PSJP approached the topic with as few preconceptions as possible. Initially, three methods were used to investigate the term. The main one was to hold four webinars with practitioners on the role of leadership in development. These were organized by PSJP on 21 May 2018 among people representing development and philanthropy organizations of various sizes from all over the world. The second method was to examine results from a study conducted by one funder interested in fostering community leadership development as part of a strategy to meet people’s basic needs in low-income communities. The third method was to examine the literature on leadership. Although this was not a fully-fledged review, we aimed to identify the key texts about leadership in non-profit contexts and to examine some of the ways that other people have thought about leadership in order to give some context to the discussion.

Through the literature review and webinar discussions a paper entitled Leadership and development (March 2019) was produced which looks at understandings and definitions of ‘leadership’ in the development sector. This paper was intended as a starting point. In July 2019 we organised further discussions of the original paper with a different cohort of participants to build on the ideas that emerged in the first paper. The second series of webinars also included a wide range of practitioners ranging from indigenous and community-based foundations to INGOs and international donors. Participants were asked to review the first paper produced as a result of the first series of discussions and to answer three open-ended questions:

  • Does the paper resonate with you? What would you add?
  • What challenges do you face in leadership development?
  • What would help you move forward and make leadership more effective in your situation?

The second paper based on these discussions and entitled Leadership and development 2.0 (February 2020) is therefore a sequel to the first one. It builds on many of the aspects of the first paper laying emphasis on transformative qualities of leadership and on understanding leadership as shared power.

This work is not definitive or comprehensive. PSJP’s aim is to gain greater understanding of these concepts within the field and to make them concrete and practical for practitioners. We therefore view these papers as work in progress, a starting point for discussion, and invite you to share your understanding and practice around leadership and help to develop the work further. We welcome your thoughts, which will be published as blogs or comments on the PSJP website.

Both papers are based on research by Barry Knight and Chandrika Sahai for PSJP and are part of PSJP’s Defining Key Concept series

To comment or to take part in discussion on this topic, please write to chandrika@psjp.org