Learning, leadership and the case for strategic interns

December 16, 2011 4 By admin

Another good paper from the consistently excellent Developmental Leadership Program, this time on ‘Learning and Leadership: university graduationExploring the linkages between higher education and developmental leadership.’

Its basic argument is that there is ‘a symbiotic relationship between higher education and the broader political, social and economic environment, in which they both influence the development of each other over time.’ i.e. the MDG and aid focus on primary education is all very well, but it misses a crucial aspect – leaders are vital and tend to go to universities, not just primary school. And that applies not just to presidents and prime ministers: ‘there is a correlation between education, civic engagement and social participation.’
What’s more, what they study, and how they study it, is important. Governments everywhere are trying to build up science and tech departments to help their countries industrialize, but:

‘Research indicates that arts, humanities and social sciences provide a broader educational experience that contextualises learning and often provides more opportunities to develop leadership skills. In addition social sciences, economics and law are the most common fields of higher education study for African heads of states. These subjects tend to encourage collaboration [hang on, economics encourages collaboration? Not what I’ve read….] and provide opportunities for students to test and develop their leadership skills; they also encourage historical examination of leadership styles and exploration of ideas beyond students’ individual perspectives, as well as consideration of broader social issues.’

What should universities do to develop future leaders? Promote ‘interactive, student-focused pedagogy’, provide ‘opportunities for students to be involved with governance and other extra-curricular activities’ and remember that ‘The networks formed during higher education can influence the emergence of developmental coalitions, and also help to inform attitudes and behaviours of students, for example perceptions of the value of trust, collaboration and social responsibility.’

At which point, I realised I was reading the academic justification for [yet another] hobbyhorse of mine. Why do NGOs like Oxfam do so little with universities as part of their long-term influencing agenda? Sure, we recruit some great campaigners there, but supposed you took this paper as a starting point and said, how do we influence the next generation of leaders before they are old and set in their ways?

1. Target universities, by which time you have a pretty good idea of where the leaders of tomorrow can be found (if you’re a church, you can target the whole of primary education, but we don’t have that kind of money)

2. Limit your search to social sciences, economics and law, for the time being (sorry media studies and geography…..)

3. If you want to be thoroughly elitist, target the universities attended by future leaders, and not just (or even mainly) in the North – places like Uganda’s Makerere – has anyone got time to go through an African Who’s Who and come up with the list of universities attended by today’s leaders?

4. Within those departments run essay competitions, internships, research partnerships, guest lectures etc etc – build up a relationship

If it all works out, you will have a significant input to the formation of the leaders of tomorrow, and get some top interns into the bargain.

And I’ve actually seen this in operation – a few years ago Savio Carvalho, then Oxfam’s entrepreneurial country director in Uganda, had some of Makerere’s best and brightest (he seemed to target student union leaders) working for Oxfam and had previously done the same thing in India. Anyone doing it more systematically?