Does Leadership Really Matter for Development?

DLP Event

On 21 October 2013 the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence hosted academics and top officials for a rich exchange of views and experience with the Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) – one of the world’s leading research programmes looking into governance challenges in international development.

As an independent international research initiative, funded by the Australian international development agency, AusAID, the DLP has years of research experience exploring a key question in development “Does Leadership Really Matter?” The DLP investigates the critical role played by leaders, elites and coalitions in the politics of development.  It works closely with UNDP, the World Bank and other leading development organisations. 

At the meeting, the DLP Director of Research, Dr Heather Marquette, and Deputy Director of Research, Dr David Hudson outlined their research on the role of leadership in development. They stressed how progress depended on political will forged by political elites, coalitions and the importance of power relations and legitimacy. “The currency of politics is power,” remarked Dr Hudson, “(and) legitimacy emerges between conduct and context – institutions are not legitimate without the people that exist within them, and people lack legitimacy without the institutions they inhabit.”

“Most of the states in the Pacific were not born through local processes of social or politically contestation”, explained Steve Hogg, Programme Director and Lead Governance Specialist at AusAID, who led the DLP delegation. Highlighting the importance of context, he noted that the governance structures of many states were bequeathed from colonial rule. “Now 40-50 years later, we’re seeing is a deeply contested process of government within these states. And it is the nature and quality of leadership that is fundamental to the security, stability, economic growth, social inclusion, development trajectories of these countries.”

Mr Hogg outlined the considerable impact of DLP’s research so far and the challenges for international donors and others working in complex political and social contexts. He illustrated the implication of DLP’s research for external organisations by citing the formal structures of state versus informal institutions in Melanesia as an example of the gap between the illusion and actual politics of leadership and governance.

The DLP is developing a 'political analysis' tool for development agencies seeking to understand the politics of a country, sector, or issue.  Some other topics currently being researched include “Higher Education and Effective Leaders”, “Political Settlements in Somaliland”, “Coalitions for Change in Philippines, Corruption and Collective Action”, and “Political versus Bureaucratic Leaders”. DLP is also working on its State of the Art research series.

The DLP research is revealing the critical role of developmental leadership for transformational outcomes, the transparency of international actors’ interests, the political economy of aid, and transformational versus transactional international development.

Max Everest-Phillips, the Director of the UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence said that the Centre will be working closely with the DLP to research women’s administrative leadership, and the importance for development results of effective relationships between political and administrative leadership, looking in detail at the Pacific.

A slide show capture of the event can be found at: