Highlights of Plenary 1
Transformative Leadership in the 21st Century


A Framework for Transforming Politics and Leadership
by Dr. Rounaq Jahan
Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

This is an edited version of the paper.
The complete version can be downloaded either as a Microsoft Word file or an Adobe Acrobat (PDF) file.

There is a need to change the predominant style of leadership in order to address the major challenges of the 21st century. Globalization processes have created unprecedented wealth and new opportunities but it has also increased inequalities between the rich and the poor, and the North and South. It has also contributed to the rising incidence of conflict and violence. We need a new kind of leadership and politics to reverse these inequities and injustice and to negotiate the interests of the local with the global.

A transformative leader is someone who can guide, direct and influence others to bring about a fundamental change not only of the external world but also of internal processes. Drawing from the visions and practices of different women's movements and organizations, the qualities of transformative leadership are listed in the following table:

A. Vision and Commitment

B. Institutional Behavior







       Human Rights






       Shared power, responsibility, well-being

         Consensus oriented


Some examples of transfromative leaders from South Asia include:

  Four successful strategies for transforming politics are:

  1. Transform the political agenda to include issues that are high on women's priorities.
  2. Build a constituency and network with various groups on different levels (i.e. locally, nationally, internationally).
  3. Strengthen the movement for transformation - i.e., women's organizations are able to create their own coherent set of agenda, to recruit women's support behind their agenda, and to successfully negotiate with other organizations.
  4. Affirmative action to increase women's numbers to a critical mass thus enabling women to push for their vision of politics and policies.

How is Transformative Politics different from Traditional Politics?

Traditional Politics

Transformative Politics


Power as domination
Win - Loss
Conflict and war
Authoritative control
Power as liberation
Peace and co-existence
Stewardship and service


Top - down

C. Institutions


Some of the major obstacles to transformation are:

  1. Vested interest of dominant groups who have used the traditional political system to make money and buy influence. They can use coercive power of the state or armed mercenaries to intimidate those seeking change. They can also spread mis-information and undercut the support of prospective transformation seekers through their control of media.
  2. Problem of co-optation i.e., groups seeking transformation can be co-opted by dominant groups in the name of consultation, participation and dialogue. How much one party gives or takes is problematic in a dialogue between unequal parties.
  3. Fragmentation of pro-transformation forces - Many of the women's organizations are small and work in isolation. Their coalition building efforts are often episodic thus it is difficult to put up a strong common front against vested interests.
  4. Organizational weakness

What actions can women parliamentarians take to promote transformation?

  1. Champion issues critical to transformation.
  2. Support policies and budget for the social sector.
  3. Initiate debate on campaign finance reforms.
  4. Promote targeted policies and legislation to empower women.
  5. Network with the women's movement.
  6. Nurture constituencies based on records of performance and service.
  7. Collaborate with women leaders elected to local governments.

In conclusion, to transform politics and governance we need:

  1. Long term commitments;
  2. Partnership between leaders and citizens; and,
  3. Promotion of public interest and common good as opposed to promotion of special interests and profit for a few.

Experiences in Transformative Politics
by Women Legislators in the Asia-Pacific Region

Accidental Politician by Hon. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Member of Parliament - Malaysia

Secret Weapons by Hon. Akiko Yamanaka, Member of the House of Representatives - Japan

Transforming Politics in Nepal by Hon. Chitralekha Yadav, Deputy Speaker of the Pratinidhi Sabha (House of Representatives) - Nepal

Transforming Politics: a personal experience from Fiji by Hon. 'Atu 'o Hakautapu Margaret Emberson-Bain, Senator - Fiji


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Dated: 20Sep2000