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This paper is part of a series collating literature, resources, and actions that have focused on efforts to create change in the aid sector, developed in support of systems change initiative, theRINGO Project(Reimagining the INGO). This paper considers the topic of ‘leadership and diversity’ with the intent to help keep practitioners up to date with the evolving discussions in this area and promote awareness of initiatives among aid and development actors. It seeks to contribute to fostering a collaborative and reflective space, as a useful resource to invite discussion and contemplation, a ‘conversation starter’ as to what is defined as ‘disruptive’ transformational change and how the sector can work to meaningfully achieve this paradigm shift. 

When disasters strike, or a country is recovering from effects of crisis, “local people spring into action to save lives, perform search-and-rescue operations and first aid, and make sure there is food and shelter for their neighbours”. Local and national responders are well versed and can communicate in the local language, and understand the cultures, history, and geography of the disaster or crisis-affected areas. Further, pooled funds “locally designed and managed” can “reduce bureaucratic delays and strengthen local leadership”. In the era of COVID-19, there are continuing calls for humanitarian response to be led by local actors whenever possible, and the response to the 2020 Tropical Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu further highlights the role of local leadership.

Research indicates that “women remain underrepresented in leadership positions” in the workplace across the globe and across sectors at all levels. This lack of women in leadership has impacts around the world, not only on productivity and performance within the workplace, but also “national health, education, political and socioeconomic effects”. This disparity rings particularly true for women in the aid and development sector, where “women are increasingly underrepresented, at leadership levels and even on boards”.

Nonetheless, this section presents several examples, approaches and networks that are beginning to shift the needle, as well as several initiatives that are promoting and enhancing local leadership and influence.

‘Transformation in the aid and development sector?’ is proudly presented by Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and Rights CoLab as part of the RINGO project, with the generous support of the IKEA Foundation.
Learn more about the series and read the other papers here.


  • Leadership and Diversity