It is hardly a radical statement to point out that one would be hard put to point out a single example of a poor country that has clawed its way out of poverty after following the prescriptions of any of the programmes of the IMF or World Bank or the plethora of ‘development agencies” that abound.
Whatever may be the substantive weaknesses of their programmes, they all suffer from a fundamental procedural defect that dooms them from making a lasting contribution to the development of those that they target, the people at the bottom of the economic ladder.
This deficiency is the absence of meaningful participation by those very people that were supposed to be the beneficiaries, in the conceptualisation and execution of the development programmes.
In our country, the need for the people’s involvement was recognized years ago, after a period of persisting stagnation, by the major international financial institutions and they insisted that a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper be drafted by the government after intensive “consultations” with the people in the affected communities.
That Strategy Paper has in essence guided our national development efforts but unfortunately, the results remained stagnant despite annual reviews and consultations on the content and execution of the various projects. The private NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources have never modified their modus operandi and their results have not shown any significant results in reducing poverty.
This over time has led to a gradual disillusionment and detachment of the populace from the foreign-funded development programmes. They concluded that these programmes are actually a hindrance to their emancipation from poverty.
This is regrettable, since no matter what one’s ideological orientation may be, the provision of capital is a necessary requisite for any development success. Necessary, but obviously not sufficient.
Even if the targeted issues, overall vision, objectives and strategies are not determined solely by the donors, they are certainly in consonance with their ‘priorities’.
Fundamentally, the approach remains “top down” in its conceptualization and leaves the poor alienated from the subsequent projects which are never truly integrated with their actual needs.
What is needed is a thoroughgoing reversal of the top-down approach to the participatory development model advocated by innovators such as Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire. Their radical bottom-up orientation demands a rejection of any standardized formulae of what is “important” and an acceptance of local diversity in developmental needs and thus a shift from suggesting “blueprints” to a willingness to learn from the local community.
The development “experts”, whether local or foreign, must become facilitators and not implementers of the development process. Thus, instead of annual consultations as “participation”, the entire process should emanate from and be nurtured by the local communities that would evaluate it to judge its sustainability and ultimately to reap its benefits.
The development organisations, whether governmental or private, should merely be conduits to empower the people to embark on their self-development by filling in gaps, such as the need for coordination, knowledge of new techniques, building capacity, technical support, and network building.
Since the local community is the engine of the change advocated by the government and the foreign donors, there is an inevitable reevaluation of the knowledge, categories and values of the ordinary people vis-à-vis that of the “professionals from outside”.
Development workers have to insert themselves among the people and try to develop a thorough and holistic comprehension of the local community. This reverses the accepted order of knowledge transmission – from the local people to the development worker, the latter now gaining insight from the former’s indigenous technical and social knowledge.
This shift from the structured survey questionnaires that is the standard means of interacting with locals should go a far way in ensuring sustainable development.
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