Radical Development

We associate ‘radical’ with something new and crazy, but radical actually means getting back to the root, the original, rootedness. So, my radical notions of development is in fact old school. To learn, to listen, to have and show respect, to build friendship and trust… these are way older than interventions, outputs, and all sorts of technical project management jargon.

The rich has been doing development (outreach/ engagement/ mission/ involvement/ investment… call it what you want) in a perverted unauthentic way that cost them little and basically serve their own needs more than that of those they intend to help. I include myself, sadly. Fake Development vs Radical Development is perhaps an idealistic duality, perhaps the realistic choice, considering how Westerners engage these days, should be fake development vs no development. Again, you might think I am too harsh, too critical… but I am not alone!

Last night as I lay in bed at 2 a.m., not managing to sleep I started googling and discovered a speech by Ivan Illich (1926-2002). Illich speaks not about radical development, but rather fake development. His suggestions are radical, very radical:



I do not own a suit. I own three formal jackets, which I normally wear with jeans. It’s the closest to a compromise I get; playing with the big boys who earn big bucks, sitting in leather chairs driving big cars. Every time I meet them I wonder whether they got into their chairs through perseverance, luck, connections or actual brilliance. Anyway, my jacket and jeans protects me, underplays me.
To be clear, suits are silly, as are ties. But it is an evil that exist, a symbol that endures- and so every man has to at some stage square up to a suit. If you are not up to it, rather stay away from suits than exposing yourself. Its all a paradox and compromise- I hate it, I love it. One day I will probably buy a suit. But only after I complete a Doctorate or write a book, only after I produce stuff that people call brilliant. Suits are not for humility, but about power. And power should embody both intellect and integrity.
Most clowns wear suits to try and get to the top. Nothing as bad as a man that cannot wear a suit- the material and design outclasses them, they look silly and wannabe. The opposite is a too modern, too tailored suit that looks fashionable instead of classy. As for the suits worn by older men, they paint pictures of tragic men hiding flabby bellies under expensive clothes. They fail to inspire. Few men wears suits with class without giving the idea that they cheated their way to the top. Mostly I associate suits with theft, legal and subtle, but still theft- oblivious of the poor.
So, my time for wearing a suit might come. When I’m older and smarter. When it suits me.

Seeing Good

My life is not a rosy one of thank-you’s and celebration.
It is a struggle that continues; inside and out.
Daily I doubt humanity and I doubt myself.
Today I received two sentences in two emails that allows me time to reflect, time to be ok:

“… I appreciated it a lot. It made me really seeing things.” Said by a European middle-aged man who is blind. After spending an afternoon listening to me in Mamelodi.

“…Finally a dream came true!!! I can now die!!! We are half way there!!!” said by a 50 year old Mozambican man after seeing progress made on a construction site and football field.
These are two smart and special people. That I could be part of a positive sentence in a short email has weight. Maybe for them, but more so for me, for the way my mind works.

Feelback vs Feedback

Money, despite my naive dreams and desires are seldom free. The most common payback for development- or charitable money is the Report. Some come in the form of newsletters, some as websites or blogs, some as fridge magnets, some as text messages, some as an emotional emails or even a phone call or gift made by locals.

In general I think some people want feedback due to notions of stewardship, responsibility, accountability or most obvious control. Others don’t really want this type of feedback, they just want feelback and that is why beneficiaries start to ‘play’ them. Donors want to feel that sense of significance and legacy, they want to feel like they make a difference, they want to feel that their hard earned money makes them a hero. Often they think, because they had the skills and opportunity to access money, that they are smarter than those they give the money to. These beneficiaries will do well to keep the kind-hearted, unselfish donor in the loop. Neglect can have dire consequences, but these consequences will never be regognised as punishment, rather euphemistic ‘out of sight out of heart’ rhetoric. These days it seems like a fair demand to ‘be in touch’ and ‘be personally involved’ with those getting your cash. It sounds great and are indeed a similar shadow of the ideal relational philosophy, but don’t be fooled by these ‘connecting’ donors: they want feelback, not friendship. Feelback is a demand from people donating let’s say 10% of their income. However, true friendship will cost much more than 10% and that is way to risky a door for most ‘wealthy’ donors to open. They want feelback and transparency on their terms, at their time, in their format: friendships are more messy, more equal and more scary.

To summarise I recognise two types of feedback loops:

– Guillotine Reports: As in French Revolution, not office guillotine! The name says it all… give the report, the newsletter, the picture, or your funding will get the chop! Demand driven, with a myriad of manipulative tactics and games on both sides. Test: stop reporting for 6 months and see what happens… demands and subtle warnings or real concern and offers to assist with problems.

– Rainbow Reports: These are not even reports, maybe call them updates. Bottom line, they are unexpected, unique, a gift and sincere. This occurs when your money really made a difference and the recipient really appreciates you as a person or friend.

One of the above types of ‘feedback-loops’ are common and one is rare. One should be governed, critiqued and reduced; whilst the other should be encouraged, celebrated and desired.

Ubuntu Starts in the Mirror

Power is the ability to choose. The ability to choose to act and to influence. But before we reach the question of choosing what; there is the issue of simple choice and whether someone has the freedom to choose, whether they sense the freedom to choose.

This boils down to two things: hope and self-confidence. If I do not have an expectation of a better tomorrow and a confidence in my own worth and abilities, i will not be free to make great or even good choices.
I wrote this as a reflection on the obstacles to alleviate poverty, analyzing why people are stuck in destructive and stagnant patterns.

But as these principles are true as reasons why ‘the poor’ do not lift themselves out of material need, so they are equally pertinent as causal factors for the so called ‘rich’ to be stuck in lives of mediocre enslavement, addiction and fear.
The rich isolates themselves into clusters of gadget, style and security seeking robots and they lose hope in a life of meaning, dignity, sacrifice and learning. The chuck hope and settle for comfort. Why? The same reason as to why the youth living in a shack does not risk spectacular failure: the insecurity of self, the lack of really liking and loving yourself leaves you tied to the opinion of your ‘peers’ and you are to damn scared to be different.

Rich and poor… So close to each other, such identical struggles; yet we think we have nothing to share or talk about, besides the usual giggling about chicken feet, praising the rhythm of Africans, painting walls and daydreaming about fancy cars…Not sure if its sad or funny.