Let's start turning the oceanliner of development to dignified sustainability – today!
No time like the present, our participants are waiting for dignified development to fully arrive. Dignity is the "quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect." When we design projects with communities with long-term self-sustainability as the core value, we are respecting them.
And we must start local. As Acumen Fellow Natalie Grillon says from Uganda: "Ask more questions, listen and learn. I’m always trying to get better at listening to learn before I act so that my actions can lead to productive results based on consensus and conversations rather than assumptions. Don’t believe that you know the full story. The farmers for whom I work know their crop, know their land and know what they want."
She goes on to tell us how she stopped doing things for the project staff: " I could offer more in working alongside my colleagues to learn how to do new things together, like using a new database or thinking about ways to motivate teams… I could feel the sense of empowerment and excitement that could come from learning even a simple new thing and which only required a few minutes of our time" rather than just doing it herself for them.
This is what Valuing Voices is all about — seeing our participants as our true clients, as listening to what they want rather than designing development requests for proposal and even project proposals themselves in capital cities far from input by these very clients. Would any corporation in their right mind design without asking potential clients, without pre-testing and tweaking interventions before a full launch? Imagine how products would fare without marketing campaigns touting their benefits over other products? This doesn't happen often in development because participants are most often seen as 'price takers', grateful for what we offer, not matter if the fit is not perfect. Such an approach is not only inefficient, it is deeply disrespectful.
On the other hand, there are successes to be seen along the lines of localizing development. In addition to successes found in my other blogs (see Plan, Mercy Corps, LWR and even PACT – forthcoming), Devex recently posted an article praising Nuru and Millenium Villages for "working to develop local leaders who will fully take over the various programs they’ve begun after the foreigners leave in two years… [using] the opportunity to build up local leaders and engage them in developing their own communities." Hallelujah! Devex says Munk's critique of Millenium Villages is that "Millennium violates two basic principles of good development: It’s not scalable and it’s not sustainable". Nuru believes "poor people hold the keys to their own development."
Absolutely! Not only should design and implementation center around community wants and capacities, there are all sorts of project activities that communities can help sustain themselves:
* Agriculture and livelihoods (income generation, micro-credit, marketing),
* Natural resource management (climate-smart agriculture, reforestation),
* Literacy and numeracy.
While there are other things larger than communities that need ongoing external support for, how often are there referendums on what they would prioritize? The UN recently named 2014-2024 the sustainable energy decade and infrastructure such as roads, water systems as well as trade including the World Trade Organization's Doha Trade talks for improve the trading prospects of developing countries are vital, how often have citizens been asked? Ashoka's Changemakers supports projects that create feedback loops (like our own in East Africa: http://www.changemakers.com/
Communities are deeply grateful for assistance yet they want to to have a voice, to steer the ship more themselves. The Listening Project found that "agencies should slow down and take more time to understand people’s capabilities, priorities, preferences, and ideas… [participants] don’t want to have aid agencies to be more extractive in how they gather information. They want to be part of the decision making process of aid efforts. This goes beyond two-way communication and requires rethinking many of our assumptions and processes to find ways to truly collaborate and support those who are affected."
Among the project's 6,000 interviewees, some wondered "why no one seems to check on whether the assistance provided has made a positive difference in recipients’ lives. It is important for aid agencies to have processes and mechanisms to receive and provide feedback to communities and to be accountable for their actions—and particularly for any harm that has been done."
Yes! We need to help those projects such as Nuru whose farmers are supported in self-sufficiency, countries that support communities evaluating our projects, for a start. That is the dignified life path to take as a development professional – as their peers.