Learning, leadership and the case for strategic interns

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?]]>

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4 Responses to “Learning, leadership and the case for strategic interns”
  1. James W

    This post makes me think of the work of Toynbee Hall founded in East London in 1873 where graduates, particularly from Oxford and Cambridge, would undertake social work in the deprived communities of East London and learn something of what it was like to experience poverty. In the words of its founder Samuel Barnett, ‘to learn as much as to teach; to receive as much to give’. The work they did ranged from community visiting, giving free legal advice and giving local people the opportunity to continue their education past school leaving age.

  2. Beth

    I’m not sure I totally agree with this idea. I understand where you’re coming from Duncan and think it’s great to build relationships with the leaders of the future. But who’s to say they don’t come from Liverpool or Birmingham University, rather than the Oxbridge PPE students this would target? Perhaps this opportunity given to someone who might not normally have it would lead them to become a future leader?
    We could put more resources into making sure more people join our internship schemes from outside of Oxford/London and the best universities too. The people you’re talking about already have every opportunity and door open to them, maybe we should open our doors to potential leaders of a different kind.
    Duncan: you hit the nail on the head Beth. If we were treating internship in an instrumental way of ‘shaping the opinions of the leaders of tomorrow’, you would indeed target the Oxbridge PPE crowd because, on average, they are more likely to become leaders. If you were doing it in terms of spotting and bringing on talent, you might well look elsewhere. All depends on your objective

  3. Sabira

    Dear Mr. Green,
    I found this article to be very interesting, given that I spent a while interning in NGOs (including Oxfam) as I felt it necessary to put some of the theories that I’d learnt to practice.
    What I learnt after being an intern in the global south was that not too much attention is paid to interns and they aren’t regarded as potential investments for the future, like I feel they should be. The unfortunate thing is that in countries like India, where ‘grooming’ interns into becoming prospective leaders can prove fruitful, very little encouragement is actually given to them. From this perspective, I would like to emphasize the necessity of NGOs in developing countries to start creating such projects that would encourage students by equipping them with necessary skills.
    With Oxfam, for example, I notice advertisements for internships by the northern Oxfams, but rarely by those in the south. If Oxfam does take the initiative in building relationships with universities(not just elite ones, as aforementioned and not just northern universities) and begins to recruit interns to work not only at Oxfam but in many of its partner NGOs in the south, I think it will have a significant effect on the future!

  4. Funnily enough Duncan Monash University is engaged with Oxfam Australia in a Partnership (http://www.odvce.monash.edu.au/oxfam/index.html) which is trying to do exactly what you suggest. Although the aim of the partnership is begins and ends with the goal of improving and extending good practice on the ground. We plan to achieve this by:
    1) providing ongoing support for effective community development initiatives that are focused on empowering people living in poverty to produce sustainable livelihoods and to share their stories about this process locally and globally
    2) collecting a better evidence base of Oxfam’s impact and approach to good practice on the ground, and sharing the findings and insights to:
    a) influence the practice of organisations in the sector (including Oxfam’s own practice)
    b) support the development of academic curriculum
    c) mobilise support from the Australian government and the public for high quality aid
    3) equipping the next generation of development workers and activists with the skills necessary to promote further positive changes in people’s lives from knowledge and practice that emerges from joint Oxfam-Monash action
    It is early days but this sort of collaboration is already bearing fruit, and provides an interesting example of what new forms of hybrid institution might llok like which bring together the best of NGOs and academia rather than the worst!
    Louise McCall, Director – ODVCE; Oxfam-Monash Partnership Governance Committee Member
    & Thu-Trang Tran, Oxfam-Monash Partnership Program Manager