Dartmouth, East Kimberley
Reconceptualising development is an ongoing debate. One that should take place in a relational space – as a conversation between people – unencumbered by concepts and labels. The international development discourse needs to be where answers are never taken as seriously as questions.
My working journey in development over the years has never been about taking on a role. Quite early on, I realised that I should not avoid bringing my whole person to any role or job, to every conversation, to every encounter I experienced. Why? Because to do less would be to create a bureaucratic protection, for myself and the organisation. An artificial protection against the daily struggle of those communities who were offering their hospitality and openness to joint work. To be involved in development is to ‘live, work and learn’ about one’s daily practice, one’s place and impact within the world.
A narrow managerial or transactional relationship within a developing context is not useful. Hiding behind third person statements and theories that objectify the process is not developing a new paradigm but reaffirming the current state.
What is the context within which development and developing takes place? It is the day-to-day lived, embodied experience of people in relationship, in community across the globe. It is not the sum total of the multi-sectoral approach of much current development practice. Deciding that development responses must be ‘joined up’ or ‘place managed’ is more of the same, and not the answer. Who disaggregated the issues in the first place? As it has been said, the ‘map is not the territory’.
Lived experience is integrated. Development thinking that does not model, reflect and agonise over this reality is flawed. A more transformative approach lies waiting and can be found if one is willing to set aside the urgency – indeed artificiality and at times lack of respect – in the current bureaucratic call to arms.
Development is not necessarily an upward trajectory. It offers a place for sitting alongside, for people to connect and share in the commonality of their struggles, the joys and pains of daily life in vulnerable and complex environments. It provides a space for working that involves deep listening and shared exploration. It is an approach of ‘being-with’ as well as ‘doing’. It acknowledges what everyone brings to the table. Action takes place within emergent relationship and the mutual sharing of skills and experience. The word development need never be spoken, and impact becomes a shared journey.
Too often I see leadership discussed and taught as a noun rather than a verb.
Knowing leadership as only a noun focuses on a model, a set of steps, a framework that forgets to breath and to grow.
Knowing leadership as the present participle ‘leading’ means being in the present – building and layering the ways and means of your style, how you are known and how you are being experienced as a leader in each moment in time.
Leading is the day by day, moment by moment work of reflecting, creating, listening, moving, understanding, speaking, advising, facilitating, adjudicating, concluding, opening.
To see leadership as co-creation is to lead by navigating the dynamics of psychology within place; is to learn in each moment how it is that you express every value, every principle you have ever known.
Leadership as a verb is brave and courageous.
Sometimes to find new oceans one must lose sight of the shore – Gide
You ask me why I dwell in the green mountains / I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care / as the peach blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown.
Conversation in the mountain by Li Bai (AD 701-762): Poem spotted in the National Gallery of Victoria.
Photos of my version of dwelling in the Australian green, taken while lingering in the grass in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne looking up and looking along; at Narara Ecovillage, Central Coast NSW and an Impressionist favourite from the Art Gallery of NSW.