Category Archives: Propositional

ideas of how things can change

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:

READ IT HERE!

The CSI of CSI

When you go to a rural area, a township, a squatter camp; and you’re faced with poverty; the correct response is not to say “ah shame” and do some hand-outs, paint some walls, take pictures, put it in a newsletter… When you do CSI as in Corporate Social Investment, you should also do CSI as in Crime Scene Investigation. When you get to a ‘poor’ situation you should immediately say “a crime has been committed”. By who? Against who? What societal and social crimes have been committed in this place to leave young children so vulnerable? Who is the culprit? The rich. Did they do direct harm or is their crime perhaps that of apathy, neglect? Using the labour of the parents, but not paying them enough so they can school their kids?

The other day I thought, anyone driving a car worth more than R500 000 is somehow stealing from the poor. You can earn a lot, but if you use those earnings to splash exuberant luxury on yourself then you should be wondering if you are being humane, human or an animal. But I regress….

The cost of living is high, if you’re living a lie. If you need such expensive toys to make yourself feel better, you may be on the wrong track, your moral compass might be broken.

Maybe you and I are the criminals that the crime scene speaks of… And lets not get stuck on a figure. If we absorb luxury while others have unmet needs, we are criminals. Social criminals and that is not an easy truth to face. Just say Schalk is getting extreme again. Will that help? Mirrors can be scary.

Now, going to a poor area, seeing kids suffer, not getting their basic needs and rights met, that can surely make you feel sorry for them and you might be tempted to say “shame” “poor them”, it is very good to feel this, and you should feel pity, you should feel sad, even a bit guilty. Yet, you are allowed to feel that, but not say that! If you say it, you come across as patronizing and condescending. So feel it, just don’t say it! :-) Feel the pity, but act out of respect, act smart, act long-term. Do crime scene investigation, what is the cause of the poverty? What is the root of the problem? How is the wealthy implicated in this tragedy?

So to be the master of CSI, be a double CSI agent. For Corporate Social Investment you need to do Crime Scene Investigation…

That is the CSI of CSI.

Game On

It’s game on. The battle is on, a battle that will affect millions of lives. The issue is not the What? Where? or the Why? of Development, but the How?

Two paradigms are opposed. The dominant paradigm is so mainstream and it’s power lies in its inarticulate nature. It is assumed. This way of doing development aims to mimic corporate companies and employ business models and corporate managerialism.  The alternative paradigm is so hidden that most people do not even realise that it is a valid alternative: it is the way of doing development as family and friends.

The corporate model for example relies on paper, laws, rules, contracts, punishment and power. The relational model relies on trust, good times and friendship.

In my development work I am engaged in the battle between these paradigms every waking hour. The Corporate paradigm reveals itself in the way that M&E expresses power. The Relational paradigm is not realised far beyond that gut feel in practitioner’s hearts that something is not right. When a person turns into a Human resource and lives become projects, we can know we are slaves to the dominant paradigm.

The World Bank, USAID, and corporate CSI divisions maintain the managerialist approach. It makes them feel in control, it creates and illusion of predictability. But this way of doing projects, doing things, doing life has not made a dent in poverty. The design indicators and plans, they evaluate return on investment and outputs in time frames.

Yet, since people are not bricks, has it ever occurred to us that we should not act like engineers? Trying to run people like an engineer runs a construction project is not smart or professional, it is naive and stupid.

Once we remove the humanity from development, we are wasting our time and money and we are losing our dignity.

Will anyone fight back?

Power Plays

When I think of development I don’t think about money and poverty as much as I do about equality, fairness, hope and fun. Why? In short, when my wealthy white friends travel to manica to go ‘reach out’ or ‘develop’ the youth of Manica in Mozambique, they very quickly realise that despite material lack, the people in Manica are richer than them in many ways. It is not about money.

“Wealth is the ability to be generous” I think the first person to coin the phrase was Cicero. By this definition, few rich people are rich, if you get what I mean. Sometimes poverty is very ugly and cruel and requires drastic material intervention. Yet, in ‘poor’ communities I always find much life, generosity, humanity and good. Rich people, like myself need to figure out how to turn our things into tools, things like money, blankets, skills can become small bridges that allows friendship and mutuality.

If you give, say you throw things over the river to the poor and suffering but you are not willing to build a bridge and walk there yourself, then your handout will do more harm than healing. Giving without going is part of the problem. And if we go, we have to go in fear and trembling as if walking on holy ground, because our cleverness and cash can destroy the beauty in the community and individuals we think we want to help.

We often ask, how can I help… how often do you ask, how can I be helped by those I intend to help?  That is the start of addressing the power venom we carry in our charitable footsteps.