Developing PNG leaders

New centre will help show the way, says Dr Jonathan Ritchie.

Dr Jonathan Ritchie
Dr Jonathan Ritchie

Leadership tensions among politicians in Papua New Guinea have made media headlines but a Deakin University initiative to develop a "leadership bank" for the young country hopes to put this behaviour into the past.

“There is a broad consensus in Papua New Guinea that leadership is a critical issue requiring urgent attention,” Dr Jonathan Ritchie said.  

“Papua New Guineans recognise that their nation is in need of leaders across all spheres who model ethical and effective behaviour however they need to be drawn from the PNG environment if they are to have any relevance in the Papua New Guinean community.

“And here we have a problem because unlike Australia and other developed nations Papua New Guinea is largely an oral culture and leadership stories aren’t being formally recorded, studied nor shared widely.

“Leadership mentoring and education is also new.

“What we are hoping to do through the Alfred Deakin Research Institute, the University of PNG, the PNG National Research Institute, Leadership PNG and other partners is set up a National Centre for Leadership (NCL).

“Through the centre we will be creating in effect a leadership repository - full oral history interviews with significant Papua New Guinean leaders – who can give aspiring leaders Papua New Guinean examples to refer to.”

Dr Ritchie said the lessons that could be learned from past Papua New Guinean leaders – those whose contribution to the creation of the Papua New Guinean nation were profoundly important.

“One example is the late Sir Ebia Olewale, who in the late 1960s with other young Papua New Guineans like Sir Michael Somare, Sir Reuben Taureka, and Sir Maori Kiki helped form the first nationalist political party, the Pangu Pati,” Dr Ritchie said.  

“My biography of Olewale, which has recently been published by the University of PNG Press, shows his qualities of vision and humbleness,“ a peculiarly Papua New Guinean combination.

“Unfortunately there is too little study of the lessons to be drawn from the lives of people like Sir Ebia.

“As this generation which lived through the creation of the independent Papua New Guinea ages or dies, a crucial opportunity to record their experiences is being lost.”

Dr Ritchie said one of the first projects of the centre, which would start in 2013 would be the production of a book on the women and men who have helped shape the Papua New Guinean nation since independence.

“The material from the book will be able to be used across all three levels of schooling - primary, secondary and tertiary by Papua New Guinean students,” Dr Ritchie said.

“We also hope to develop and conduct a leadership program involving aspiring leaders from PNG’s public, private, and civil society sectors.

“Can you imagine how much more interesting study will be if you are looking to the activities of one of your own countrymen?

“You need look no further than PNG’s history for examples of leadership behaviour that is suited to the country’s unique challenges: a resources-driven boom among some of the world’s worst human development indicators and the most culturally diverse society on the planet’.  

“Sadly, as PNG’s own leadership organisation laments, PNG’s “education system and other civil society expectations emphasise heavily competency development and relegate character  - morality, ethics and good habits - development to the homes, churches and society”.
Dr Ritchie said the National Centre for Leadership is expected to help address this situation.

“The many young Papua New Guineans who are taking up positions in the country’s burgeoning resource sector need look no further than their own country’s recent past for examples of visionary and inclusive leadership”, Dr Ritchie said.

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