Academic journal article Global Governance

Searching for an Executive Head? Leadership and UNAIDS

Academic journal article Global Governance

Searching for an Executive Head? Leadership and UNAIDS

Article excerpt

Leadership is one of the central explanatory factors for change within international organizations yet is often sidelined as a part of wider social processes or understood in the context of domestic and managerial political agency. This article adopts one of the few understandings of leadership within international organization--Robert Cox's 1969 essay on the executive head--as an analytical model for understanding leadership within global HIVIAIDS governance. It does so by applying Cox's framework of analyzing the role of the executive head in relation to the international bureaucracy member states, and the international system to the position of the former executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIVIAIDS (UNAIDS), Peter Piot The article argues that the role of leadership transcends the agency of simply opening up the black box of international organizations and is a realm of political knowledge and agenda-setting that is integral to the formation and subsequent longevity of international institutions, alliances, and the global issues that justify their existence. Keywords: leadership, UNAIDS, Robert Cox, HIVIAIDS.

TRENDS OF INSTITUTIONAL PROMINENCE AND RELEVANCE WITHIN GLOBAL HEALTH governance have often relied on the individual leadership of specific health organizations. New leadership can introduce vigor, direction, inertia, and division among organizations. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) welcomes its new executive director, Michel Sidibe, at a time when leadership and direction have never been so important: the international community is concerned about a decline in funding. Attention to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the number of actors involved in the global response to the epidemic, is at a confusing and contradictory height. Leadership is one of the central explanatory factors for change within international organizations, yet it is often sidelined as a part of wider social processes or undertheorized as a form of political agency. In this article I argue that in order to understand the politics of global health, and specifically the politics of HIV/AIDS governance, one has to understand leadership. To do so it is vital to transcend descriptive analysis of institutional bickering and rivalry and to adopt an analytical framework for the challenges of managing and sustaining an issue-specific international organization. As such, I adopt one of the few understandings of leadership within international organizations--Robert Cox's essay on the executive head--and apply it to the role of Peter Piot as executive director of UNAIDS from 1995 to 2008.

I begin by reviewing how political leadership is conceptualized and how this conceptualization pertains to understanding leadership within international organization, before considering the context of leadership within the governance of HIV/AIDS. I then assess the role of leadership within UNATDS in regard to the international bureaucracy, the international system, and member states. Finally, I draw together the main issues associated with leadership and UNAIDS and how they relate to global governance more broadly.

Leadership, Cox, and the Executive Head

Writing in 1969, Cox's basic premise is that "the quality of leadership may prove to be the most critical single determinant of the growth in scope and authority of international organization." (1) While there have been allusions to this being the case in regard to executive heads such as Kofi Annan while Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997-2006) and James Wolfensohn as president of the World Bank (1995-2005), there has been little direct engagement with leadership as a form of agency independent of a specific international organization within the study of global governance. Leadership has long been one of the central concerns of processes and understandings of power, from Plato, to Max Weber's notion of legitimate authority and charismatic leadership, (2) to the presence of "big man" or "alpha male" leadership popular in psychological analysis. …

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