Cambodia - Addressing the Past, Creating the Future: Innovative approaches to leadership development in a post-conflict context
Primary thematic focus: Capacity challenges in post-crisis and transitional situations
In a Nutshell:
Ultimately, we have to acknowledge that it is not our methods, strategies, tools or techniques which define the core and quality of our development practice, but ourselves—our past, our present and our future, and the will we can find to face these.
“You can never change society if you have not changed yourself.” - Nelson Mandela
What development practitioners “see” and do in their work depends on their worldview, values, attitudes and beliefs. In Cambodia, a combination of hierarchical culture, patronage, past trauma, and a rote-learning approach to education has resulted in many Cambodians expecting that those who have knowledge, resources and power should provide solutions, give advice, manage and control. Further, research shows that contradictions exist between traditional cultural values and norms and “modern” values espoused in development practice, for example, hierarchical decision-making versus democratic participation, or seeking and giving open and honest feedback versus maintaining harmony and face.
Unfortunately, many NGOs and donors reproduce hierarchy and power relations in their work, for example through log-frame-driven processes and pre-determined outcomes. This works against the handing-over of control and decision-making to less powerful persons, thereby constraining their participation and voice. Additionally, many local development practitioners struggle to accommodate what is culturally and socially acceptable with the demands of their work. Much of this tension is not at a conscious level or is perceived to be the norm.
Addressing this issue, VBNK has over the past few years developed a “Whole Person Learning” approach that enables development workers to become more conscious of their practice. Key to the approach is the understanding that development workers need to see their own personal growth as being linked to what they are attempting in their practice. If development workers ignore the need to change at a personal level and to internalize the values they promote, it is unlikely that they will be able to stimulate change in others. VBNK’s approach came about when we set out in 2003 to address cultural blocks to an empowering leadership practice in a field practitioners’ action-learning course. The “Whole Person Learning” methodology that emerged helps participants to become more self-aware and reflective about their relationships with the communities they serve; to create and own their own theory of change; and to develop learning habits and skills that promote relationship development.
In 2006, the lessons learned were incorporated in VBNK’s Leadership Development Programme (LDP) for mid-level and senior NGO staff to address the need for an enabling leadership practice within social development organisations. The LDP has evolved and deepened the “Whole Person Learning” methodology. During the nine months modular programme participants learn to strike a balance between their traditional values and development values; identify cultural helps and hindrances to learning; and understand how power, patronage and trauma impinge on their development practice. Building on these understandings they then seek out and apply new approaches to their work in ways that build relationships, empower others, and facilitate learning.
Results and Critical Factors:
In late 2008, an external impact assessment was conducted of both programmes. In summary, the findings were that by the end of the programmes “participants have a deepened awareness of self along with increased confidence (self esteem); have sharpened their critical thinking skills and the ability to analyse and work with different types of power; have an increased ability to recognise and engage with others around issues of conflict and change; and have increased confidence in stepping out and challenging social norms that block learning and development.”
Quotes from former programme participants illustrate this:
“One issue is that the people give us power because we are NGO staff. Through encouragement and relationship we can share this power back with them and they can work from their own ideas and values.”
“When we know who were are, what kind of person we are and what we want, we can also understand better what the other person wants and needs.”
VBNK has since used “Whole Person Learning” in a number of capacity building initiatives, including a women’s leadership programme first delivered to national and provincial level women government officials. A comment made in the final evaluation reads:
“They [the women] now trust themselves and their judgments, which gives them the confidence to advocate for what they believe in. They have strength of purpose and a new commitment to change for themselves, for other women in the civil service and for the community. Whereas in the past they have been frustrated and passive, they now feel empowered and are prepared to organise, to be advocates and to take action.”
Since 2006, VBNK has also been conducting its own impact assessment studies. Increasingly we are seeing patterns between what our programme participants have learned and what they are applying in their workplace. We are also seeing how participants’ personal growth and change has supported organisational change. In some cases this is leading to new approaches to social development that challenge and redress hierarchy and power, thereby opening up a space for a sustainable and empowering development practice.
Name of Primary Contact Person: Graeme Storer
Title of Primary Contact Person: Director
City: Phnom Penh