Systems Leadership in the Humanitarian Sector: Findings from Field Leadership Labs

Publication language
Date published
10 Nov 2022
Conference, training & meeting documents
Leadership and Decisionmaking

Mobilizing progress towards major development and humanitarian challenges requires an understanding of complexity, of coalition building and advocacy, and a collaborative approach to leadership. Recognizing this, GELI contracted an international development consultancy, Dalberg, and their leadership partners, KONU, to design and implement Field Leadership Labs over the next few years across several countries to support humanitarian leadership teams to work more effectively together. This report details the program’s purpose, methodology and approach, the impact to date1 from the pilot Labs in Pakistan and the Philippines, and findings around common leadership challenges faced by humanitarian leaders in the field as well as ways to address them.

To date, the pilot Labs in Pakistan and the Philippines have surfaced that UNCTs/HCTs face significant challenges to true collaboration. These include, but are not limited to, mandate-driven responses at the expense of people- and problem-centered responses; tension and distrust within teams and across levels of the system; and structural disincentives to collaborate across agencies and organizations.

So far, the Labs have supported RCs/HCs and their teams to lead more effectively within this system both by building their long-term capacity to diagnose and collaborate on a complex challenge using a systems leadership framework, as well as achieve meaningful progress on their goals through leadership interventions with critical stakeholders within and beyond the UN. 96% of Philippines workshop participants agreed or strongly agreed that the Lab achieved its primary learning objectives, and 95% reported greater individual agency to exercise leadership in their work and roles. Overall, participants across both two pilot Labs appreciated the space to reflect and hold honest conversations about their work, as well as the support in designing and testing different leadership interventions to mobilize crosssectoral change on major humanitarian challenges.