Donor-funded programmes in areas such as leadership development take place in every continent. In the Western Pacific, Melanesia has been host to such programmes based on non-Melanesian thought and practice over the years. However, a review of donor-funded leadership programmes in the region reveals a history of concern regarding effectiveness but no significant change in programme orientation.
This article provides a counter-story of a donor-funded leadership programme which utilizes a readily available cultural model of thought and practice of Indigenous origin: tok stori. Tok stori is a form of discursive group communication which is an everyday occurrence in Melanesia. The experiences of leadership mentors operating in a tok stori-centred leadership development programme located in the Solomon Islands provide an opportunity to explore and evaluate what cultural wisdom can contribute as the core of a leadership development programme. The benefits are many: leaders benefit when complex contextual matters can be introduced into leadership development by the openness of tok stori; depth of engagement is supported by the development of mentor-leader relationality as an integral part of the tok stori process; and mentors gain increased expertise in using a cultural form with which they are already familiar in new pedagogical contexts. Ultimately, this is a story of the value of honouring important aspects of culture for those who inhabit the ontology which gives them significance. Re-negotiating the way the cultures of donors and recipients are regarded by programme developers is an important factor in the centring of Indigenous thinking and practices such as tok stori in leadership and other person-centred programmes. The lesson of this article is that there are gains available to all where this occurs.