Adi Walker

  • Adi WalkerAdi Walker was born in the UK but now lives and works in Pakistan, South Asia. Adi joined the School of Architecture as a research student in 2012 and his thesis title is 'Successful Leadership: A Study of Humanitarian and Development Organisations in South Asia.'

    How did you hear about Oxford Brookes University?

    Professor Roger Zetter, from the Oxford Refugee Centre, advised I apply to CENDEP given my research interest and background.

    What attracted you to Oxford Brookes University to conduct your research?

    CENDEP is relevant from my background and sector of work in international development.  The team have the right kind of experience and knowledge to provide me with specific insights and backing in relation to my research in the aid sector.  Equally, I love Oxford! I have lived here before on a longboat and feel the air to be filled with a 'yearning for learning'.  All around are people inspired by, actively seeking and contributing to knowledge.  On the occasions I am able to visit, this provides a really stimulating atmosphere.

    What were you doing before?

    Prior to my research degree, I was working for a German International Development Corporation in Pakistan.  I have been working in international humanitarian and development aid for the past 15 years, in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Romania and Haiti. 

    How easy did you find it to settle into the research environment?

    Initially, given my distance from the University, things took some time.  However, after a couple of visits, support from the administration, research directors and supervisors, and from my fellow students, I am now well settled into the process. From the outset, there is a very pronounced difference in depth and quality expected of PhD-level research as compared to Masters.

    Tell us about your research project.

    My research will explore the factors for, influences on, and aspects of leadership in international humanitarian and development organisations (IHDOs). The locus of the study will be the South Asian countries of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Here numerous reasons such as, natural disasters, political machinations and conflict, as well as a limited local capacity to address them, demand the presence of IHDO's. IHDO leaders working in these complex environments face diverse challenges, not least of which is working often within multi-cultural contexts.

    However, the successfulness of leadership in IHDO's has been challenged both in practice and in the literature over the past 15 years. Yet many of the leadership theories, developed outside the aid sector, lack relevance. My research aims to develop sector-specific and sector-relevant leadership theory. This includes presenting a set of core competencies required for successful IHDO leadership, and identifying which factors, including professionalism, could be influential.

    Research strategies will use mixed methods, based on the researcher pragmatist epistemological perspectives and ontology. The study includes a literature review (online databases and articles, purchased key works, university library, sector and agency documents) with a database established using EndNote. The fieldwork commences with an online quantitative survey (piloted first) of IHDOs operational in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, as well as IHDO headquarters, using Survey Monkey. The survey will be sent to key representatives of the organisations, including Programme and Country Directors, as well as to donor and host government agents, and placed on online aid sector platforms. 

    Following analysis of the results using SPSS, key themes will be extrapolated to form the basis of qualitative semi-structured interviews that will be carried out within three case study IHDOs operational in these three countries. They are representative of the spectrum of organisations working along the humanitarian/emergency – development continuum of the aid sector. These interviews will be carried out with leaders and professionals, and focus group discussions with selected programme staff will add another dimension and perspective to the qualitative aspects of the research. 
    Interviews will also be held with IHDO representatives in their headquarters; with donor representatives, and with host government agents in each country. These discussions will provide more detailed information, triangulating, and either validating or questioning responses from the survey. Results will be analysed using NVIVO, and conclusions drawn to provide recommendations to the participant IHDOs, other stakeholders in the sector, academic institutions etc.

    The following research question and sub-questions focus on the research problem:

    How could leadership be more successful in IHDOs in South Asia? 
    o Which characteristics and competences are required for the leadership of IHDOs?
    o What other factors influence IHDO leadership?
    o How could professionalism be applied to result in more successful leadership in IHDOs?

    Contribution to the literature

    New sector-specific and sector-relevant theory and concepts for successful leadership will be developed. These will incorporate the factors of working with teams, in complex international contexts, and in multi-cultural environments. They will also feature the aspects of individual or collective leadership.
    A new model framework of core sector-relevant competences, incorporating the application of intuition and versatility for successful IHDO leadership, will be elaborated.
    Key influencing factors including the shift towards corporate leadership strategies, and an aid sector-specific version of professionalism, that contribute to more successful IHDO leadership, will be defined. Approaches and measures for optimising these will be proposed. 
    A new system for the satisfaction-based performance measurement of IHDO leaders, incorporating the perspectives of key stakeholders outside their IHDOs, will be presented.

    What do you enjoy about being a research student?

    The pleasure of discovery, exploration, and the challenge to find my niche in contributing to a sector that needs this academic input. Additionally, adding to the literature that may affect and generate thinking and change among the type of people and organisations I work with is highly stimulating.

    What do you think about the research training offered at Oxford Brookes?

    I have only experienced a few sessions, but they have been wisely identified as the priority ones, and I have found them thought-provoking and well-intended, in that it is clear they directly contribute to the necessary level of depth and areas of learning I require.

    What are your future plans?

    A couple more years living in Pakistan during which I intend to carry out all my field research required in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Then, when my project is over, and my research completed, I will take a few months out in my converted barn in the South of France, with my family, to write up my Thesis. Then it’s back on the job market as Dr. Adi Walker.