Leadership and Development

This is the second paper in PSJP’s Defining Key Concepts series and it looks at the concept of ‘leadership’ in development and philanthropy. (The first paper, published in October 2018, looked at the concept of Dignity.) 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. 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. A total of 21 people took part in the discussions representing development and philanthropy organizations of various sizes from all over the world. The bulk of this paper is based on the webinars. 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 the paper looks at understandings and definitions of ‘leadership’ in the development sector. One section emerging from the webinars highlights the links between leadership and the effectiveness of development programmes and the sustainability of their impact. This notion that investment in building community leadership leads to better development outcomes is further buttressed by the data drawn from the grants programme study in another section. Also presented in the paper are some of the ways in which development organizations are supporting leadership development within their organizations and/or at the community level; how they are measuring the impact of leadership development; the challenges in this work; and finally ideas on what’s needed to enhance emphasis on leadership development in the sector.

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 this paper 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.

This paper is based on research by Barry Knight and Chandrika Sahai for PSJP.

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