The private sector spends billions of dollars to develop skilled leaders because they know the significant return on investment is powerful. In the development space, cultivating leadership is even more vital: leaders operate in environments where resources are scarce, stakeholder complexity is high, goals are multi-dimensional, impact is hard to define and incentives are often misaligned. However, social sector spending on leadership development remains extremely low – 75 percent less than the private sector.

At Dalberg, we believe investment into leaders can be a force multiplier. With solutions that are integrated, strategy-linked, results-driven, and engaging, it is possible to create powerful teams, promote collaboration, improve talent pools, and enable high performance.


  What we do:

  • Assess and develop high potential and senior leaders. We work to understand organizational aspirations and strategy, translate this into demands on leaders, and assess if the existing talent pool is “fit-for-future.” Based on in depth interviews, and 360 verbal referencing and benchmarking, we create a roadmap to develop high-potential senior leaders, feed into succession planning, and shift top team behaviors. 
  • Manage the talent cycle – from manpower planning, culture, organization design and talent governance. We design and implement systems to develop talent through training, incentive schemes, and recruitment. We design workshops and regular evaluations to ensure leaders are steadily improving in line with client needs.
  • Change leadership and change management. We create customized trainings and assessments to help leaders respond quickly and effectively to rapid changes, such as the need for external partnership and sudden fluctuations in funding.
  • Knowledge management and learning organizations.  We develop systems and processes to harvest and organize knowledge and inform decision-making through double-loop learning. We help our clients become learning organizations that are able to identify, harvest, store, and reuse knowledge effectively.

Client Success:

A leading UN agency found it needed new skill sets in its country representatives. The demands of the roles were changing and representatives faced: a need for greater inter-agency collaboration, lack of continued funding, changes in social and political ideology, and a need for stronger integration of new technology, among other challenges. The agency called on Dalberg to design and run leadership assessment centers to find suitable candidates in a transparent, independent, and objective evaluation process.

Our Approach

We took a “strategy-first” approach. This involved conducting stakeholder interviews, workshops, and focus group discussions to understand how the external landscape is likely to change, and what role the agency wants to take in that environment. The interviewees included 38 respondents from the Deputy High Commissioner down to the field level, as well as external partners. We studied existing competency frameworks and collated best practices from other relevant organizations to create a framework to assess Country Representative applicants.


Based on our research and interviews, we designed an assessment center for aspirants of the Country Representative role. The assessment center is a holistic way of judging on-the-job capabilities to ensure that the agency could find the right candidates to fill each role. Those aspiring to leadership positions in the agency found our assessments to be fair and independent – even those who did not perform particularly well rated the assessment highly.

Having carried out the pilot, the UN agency has decided to run another batch of leaders through it. The outcomes will be used to inform the decision-making process for the appointment of one of the most crucial and empowered positions in the UN – part of the foundation for future development planning.

To learn more about our Leadership and Talent work, see our insights or contact:

Wijnand DeWit 

Photo Credit: Flickr, ITU Pictures