Alaa Murabit

Ethics of Effective Leadership

Watch Alaa Murabit, Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, speak about ethics and effective leadership in this #KAPTalks hosted by the University of Bucharest.

Thursday 30.05.2019

Dr. Alaa Murabit discussed the importance of ethical behavior by leaders and people in all contexts, arguing that ethical principles and sustainability should be at the forefront when debating major issues at global level such as development and development cooperation. She raised the issue of human rights violations, many of which are only possible because a significant number of leaders are not held accountable and even those who publicly uphold moral principles do little to deter rogue behavior and ensure fairness for all.

According to Murabit, it is important to acknowledge the global progress on development issues but also to understand why certain actions work while others do not, as well as the type of leadership we currently promote, and the effects of this leadership. In global politics, she argued using a medical analogy saying we currently have a “bandaid” solution to problems – we clean and patch at the surface while often ignoring the structural, long-term, wider impact of our decisions, thus creating more complex problems that foster inequality in human rights protection for different people. She particularly noted how political leaders prioritize short-term solutions for electoral gains, while education, healthcare or other long-term investments in development are often neglected or addressed without a long-run view.

She also argued that micro-discrimination is present even in contexts/environments of supposed diversity, progression, and inclusiveness, and that such attitudes ultimately undermine the effectiveness of responsible leadership and sustainable development. At micro-level,s most of these attitudes usually derive from prejudice about social roles, including gender and age roles. The first step towards changing these attitudes should be by acknowledging ones own prejudice towards diversity of opinions and social roles, followed by constant inquiry on prejudices about cultural differences.

However,  Dr Murabit believes effective leadership exists as she has experienced it in different contexts. Leadership, she says, has historically been represented in terms of one strong, male, energetic and charismatic personality. This distorted perspective makes us neglect that truly effective leadership has been always collective, often a sum of smaller, incremental steps, local initiatives that converge towards building communities of real, not essentialized, people. Effective leadership also means systems of governance that proportionally represent the reality and include the intended beneficiaries of the actions.

The first consequence of representing leadership as collective and inclusive is that we need to invest globally more in people, therefore education is the number one priority. However, a mere quantitative approach (such as simply increasing the number of children in schools) is not appropriate. We need to invest in critical thinking and an education that is sensitive to cultural and social differences, while providing the tools for respecting and enforcing the rights of everybody. We need to challenge ourselves to ask uncomfortable questions, including about our values and our knowledge. In order to be able to provide effective leadership, one must also admit when s/he does not have enough knowledge on the topic and ask for expert advice, not being afraid to admit this lack of knowledge publicly. Such attitudes build the trust that allow for genuine sustainable development of communities as she says, “effective leadership is the ability to ask and to provide accountability for your community.”

Before the lecture, there were interventions from the organizing institutions who presented the context of the discussion in the global UN agenda for sustainable development, an introduction to who Ryszard Kapuscinski was, and the Romanian priorities in the topic. After the lecture, questions from the audience (both online and at the venue) addressed several issues related to how people, especially youth, can build effective leadership and current most important threats to having effective leadership and genuine sustainable development. In her answers, Dr. Murabit argued that hate speech and the promotion of essentialized differences are probably the most significant threats we face and we should all hold our political leaders and ourselves accountable for our roles in spreading or tolerating such attitudes.

The local respondents (Dragos Bucurenci and Luciana Alexandra Ghica) also argued that effective leadership means ability to understand and act consistently for the protection of human rights for everyone (not just for ones own cause), becoming allies for similar cases. They further argued that systematic assessments on the various dimensions of effective leadership need to be produced and made public in meaningful ways so that people become more aware of the alternative to the myth of the saving male leader.

After the Q&A, partners from FOND and the business environment emphasized the role of their larger communities to act upon this message and develop actions, activities and processes that take the principles of inclusive, accountable, effective leadership and sustainable development into genuine account.

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In January 2016 Dr. Alaa Murabit became the youngest appointee of 17 UN Global Sustainable Development Goal Advocates and in March 2016 she was named a UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth. Murabit is an advisor to many international security boards, think tanks and organizations, including the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group and Harvard’s Everywoman Everywhere Coalition. An Ashoka Fellow, Murabit was a Trust Women Hero Award Winner in 2013. At the age only of 21 she founded the Voice of Libyan Women, an organization promoting human rights and gender equality and fighting for full participation of women in conflict resolution and peace processes. Embracing window of opportunity after revolution in 2011, Voice of Libyan Women was able to launch the largest ever campaign in Libya, the Noor campaign. The campaign heavily challenged misinterpretation of the role of women in religion and pushed for change how women are viewed in faith. Based on communities it brought together over 600 local leaders. This approach was replicated in more than 24 countries since then.

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