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What Does Good International Development Look Like?
Transcript of What Does Good International Development Look Like?
An effective worker understands that patience is not only a useful tool in international development, but also a necessity. Relationships to time can be very different in Global South countries than in Global North countries: refusal to accept these differences will only lead to frustration. Change always takes time, and sometimes it takes more time than we could possibly imagine. Patience keeps our heads and hearts clear during difficult processes that can be riddled with mistakes, misunderstandings, and misapprehensions. Understanding Context Individuals from the Global North sometimes fail to understand that familiar ideas and notions make take on a different shape in a new community. For example, religion in public life in India is very different from religion in public life in Saudi Arabia, which is in turn different from the United States.
In order to be an effective development worker, each person must examine their potential actions within the culture of the new community. Careful observation and cultivation of knowledge of the cultural context in each community are necessary to build key relationships, understand potential barriers to the success of projects, and avoid potentially crippling missteps. Understanding Your Community In addition to understanding the cultural context in which you are operating, understanding the major players in your new community is key. If effective, sustainable, positive change is to happen in a community, these are your best allies in the process.
On the other hand, it is good to keep in mind that having an "agenda" in these situations can be tricky. As an outsider, you probably don't have a good understanding of how day-to-day life works, so who are you to come in with grand plans and paternalistic suggestions? Instead, identify and talk with these central players. Find out what the most pressing issues in the community are. They may reveal a road to a "solution" that you would not have encountered otherwise.
As demonstrated in the Orangi Pilot Project, citizens in a new community are more likely to trust established contacts within the community when dealing with major changes. Striving to make these individuals partners in your efforts will not only help guide your project toward success, but will also help create an "organic" structure that all members in the community can feel like they own. Good Development at the Organizational Level Once individual-level attributes and attitudes are addressed, the next step is understanding the organizational attributes that are most desirable in creating successful development projects Have an Open Mind In any situation where we are developing ideas and putting them into motion, we can get unreasonably attached to certain plans, strategies or "ways of doing things." This attitude prevents an individual from seeing new, innovative, and creative ways of approaching issues in the community.
Especially in the Global North, there is a tendency to assume that what worked or works in the Global North will automatically work in the Global South. This attitude can lead to resentment from community members and potentially disastrous project results. Which isn't to say that individuals should cast aside any strategies or skills they have acquired already (community organizing, networking project management, etc), but rather they should use them in tandem with new mechanisms developed within the environment or community. Strategy So you've got some great people working well together. What's next? Basic "best practices" of International development to guide your next steps! Motivation Individuals working on a particular development project should be intrinsically motivated, meaning they are inspired to do the work they are doing because they are passionate and interested in the work itself. Extrinsic motivators such as "glory," admiration, recognition, etc. should not be part of the equation. Gaining motivation from the approval of others, or for the satisfaction of one's own ego, can severely compromise the likelihood of enacting positive change
One example of a development project that has suffered due to the external motivations of those involved (among other things) is the Invisible Children "Kony 2012" campaign. The "awareness-raising" project was intensely centered on Jason Russell and prominently featured his son, leading critics and native Ugandans to assert that the validity of his mission and project were self-serving. Russell also suffered an apparent mental breakdown in the wake of the Kony backlash. Good Communication In order to create and implement successful development projects, an organization must have superb communication skills. While running development projects, there is not only the responsibility of communicating between organization members, but also with local governments, other non-governmental or nonprofit organizations, the government of the country you are working in as well as your own, and the citizens of the community in which you are working. An effective organization will be prepared for all of these scenarios and possess the flexibility to adapt and create new strategies when familiar communication structures break down.
A single development project can often have multiple components. Depending on how your organization is tackling the problem, there could be multiple people "in charge" of different tasks. If these people are not regularly checking in with each other, or tackling major problems and developing solutions together, the whole thing could fall apart. Smart Finances Development organizations often the the form of a non-governmental or nonprofit organization. These organizations are structured differently from those who are seeking to make a profit (corporations) or are government-affiliated, which can lead to struggles with how to keep the organization functional and sustainable while often lacking in a "steady" or dependable income. These groups are often funded by grants and donations rather than a regular stream of income.
This structure can cause problems when organizations fail to properly account for their expenses. Ineffective budgeting, (unnecessarily high overhead costs, for example), can lead to not only a lack of sufficient funding for necessary initiatives, supplies, or personnel in the middle of a project, but can also subject the organization to intense criticism. Loss of further grant and donation income often follows, dooming the organization and future projects to failure. The aforementioned Invisible Children had this problem, as well as VietNow, which was spending only 3% of income on programming. A certain amount of overhead is necessary to run a well-organized, committed, and connected organization, but balance is key, especially when it comes to public perception. Shared Goals and Sense of Purpose Any development organization should have some idea of what they want to accomplish, even if its only as broad as "reducing poverty in x area." Once the organization is able to do community-based research and understand the unique situation and problems of that particular community, strategies can be developed that divide up the main goal into parts, or tweak it as necessary in order to best serve the citizens.
The Hippocratic Oath is valuable here: "First, do no harm." Everyone who is present and working with the organization should feel as if they want to be a force for positive change, even if that means devising new approaches to seemingly "small" or "unrelated" problems. Potential Outcomes Sometimes it can be hard to know if one has been "successful" in development work. These are some examples of characteristics of a "successful" development project. Recognition of Commonalities and Shared Principles between Development Workers and Community Members "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."
- Gustavo Petro (Mayor of Bogota) Development Exchange One of the dangers in embarking on a new development project is going in with the assumption that you are there to "save" the individuals participating in your project. Not only is this attitude disrespectful, it prevents potential benefit to everyone that is participating in the project. Your efforts should instead be conceived of as a partnership. As an outsider, whatever "expertise" you think you have will be at the very least matched in other areas by insiders, if not outright useless in the context of your new community. After taking time for careful observation and engaging members of the community in discussion, ask yourself, what does development mean to them? Do we have the same definition? Who are the community leaders, and how do they feel about our ideas? And finally, what could be "developed" within yourself or within your organization? Making a community "developed" should not be a one way street.
For example, when I was visiting India, I was volunteering at a women's group, supposedly contributing to the "development effort" related to women's rights. While I was there, however, I was learning traditional classical Indian music (Carnatic music) from one of the most respected instructors in the country. That opportunity was incredibly valuable to me. I felt I was being "developed" as both a musician and an individual. My ideas of what were possible in music, as well as my technique and musicianship, were expanded immensely. Also, the fact that as an outsider and beginner I was learning from such an esteemed teacher was incredibly humbling. I consider the experience to be one of the most influential in my "development" as a person. Questioning It is important to recognize that many of the concepts described here could be used to take advantage of and manipulate people, organizations, governments, and institutions in Global South countries. Critical examination of intentions and outcomes are essential. Constantly be asking, am I doing this for the gain of outsiders, to the detriment of community members? Who is benefiting? The answers might not always be clear, but the constant questioning is essential. If an individual or organization finds themselves in the position to wield power and influence in a particular community, using that power and influence for personal/external benefit is the absolute antithesis of good development. Mutual Appreciation This veers into idealism, but good development will facilitate understanding of what each human on the planet has to offer another.
An example from my personal experience is the work of the Michigan Arab Orchestra. The orchestra includes members of various ethnic backgrounds who are all united by an affinity for classical Arabic music. In the video below, western classical instruments and sensibilities are also integrated into a performance of a well-known traditional piece. This, to me, is an artistic expression of a vision of "good development." When one is able to recognize herself in others, or in the work of others, powerful bonds are formed. Relationships are deepened. Trust is built. In the example below, the other musicians I studied with in India and I perform a traditional Carnatic piece for Gungadar, one of the farmhands at the farm we volunteered with. As we were playing, he began to whistle along. All of us playing together was enjoyable and powerful; here were people from very different environments who did not speak the same language, yet were able to bond over this shared experience. Afterward, through a translator, we learned that he recognized the song from temple and was delighted that "the visitors" were able to learn and perform a traditional piece.