Reform is almost always about developing the capacity of government to manage, deliver and renew public services. The capacity deficit is pronounced in developing countries, where basic services are just beyond reach. Is it realistic to expect leaders to run with notions like “doing more with less” when the capacity to innovate and lead change is a precondition of public sector reform?
The international development community is poised at an “event horizon” calling for material investment in leadership development. Will the community rally around an elusive return-on-investment proposition, take a leap of faith, and invest without certainty of value for money and impact? Is prima facie evidence enough to convince decision makers of the business case?
Five years and many hiccups after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s announcement of the Caribbean Leadership Program, this seven-year, $20 million, CIDA-funded project is ready to launch. It aims to strengthen the next generation of Caribbean leaders for regional integration and growth, featuring:
• Canada School of Public Service as the executing agency, with CARICAD hosting the Regional Project Office in Barbados.
• 12 participating countries — Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago.
• 5 program pillars — leadership development, enabling environment, research, continuous learning networks, communities of practice.
• Canada-Caribbean shared governance — project steering committee, technical working group.
Meanwhile, Sylvester Odhiambo Obong’o of the Prime Minister’s Office in Kenya is doing doctoral research on the role of leadership in reform. He asks: “Are public servants adequately trained to meet the demands of their position? While experts agree that leadership is critical and can demonstrate why, it is less clear that leaders are getting the right training.”
“What is not in dispute is that senior public servants are well educated, with 95% having post-graduate degrees. In developing countries, the public sector environment is so unstable that the role of leaders in steering service delivery is crucial for good governance. Policies and plans need to be reviewed constantly to respond to change and complexity. This requires practical leadership competencies.”
There is a greater chance of sustainable reforms being made in the public interest by developing public service reformers as “new age leaders” rather than importing “hired guns.” In this way, governments and their professional public service share the benefits of the newfound leadership edge.
John Wilkins was a Commonwealth diplomat and a career public servant in Canada. He is Executive in Residence with the Public Management Program in the Schulich School of Business at York University (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).