Practice and experience has taught me that the best approach to development is the human rights based approach that places communities at the centre of the development agenda. A top down government initiated program has a tendency of saving face and pushing for programs that will make the government of the day look good. Communities are the right people to drive the agenda of development in the sense that they can be pioneers and sustainers of the same development. In my years as a development practitioner I have seen that a participatory rural approach has a higher likelihood of sustainability than a top down driven initiative.

A people driven approach does not just demand people participation but it requires “meaningful” participation. You see, developing a program in my office and then sending it down to the community for endorsement and approval doesn’t qualify as community participation. What we continue to see is a form of tokenism and or manipulation; where community consultation is disguised in two forms, the first being through a community elected “representative” who holds no real power and has no input except being present. The second is where incentives are given as a means to foster participation. The incentive approach usually involves tasks being assigned and outsiders have the power of decision and direction of processes. My opinion is, if there is no devolution of power and direction of processes given to the people then it is not development nor is it people driven.

An exploration of the HIV response, especially in Swaziland makes one realize that it is centered on top down driven interventions which most of the time are misunderstood by beneficiaries and don’t generate the outcomes expected by practitioners. There is a tendency to assume that the infected and affected are not in a position to drive their change, such that most decisions are made for them. It has become evident that non participation of people living with HIV in decisions that concern them is doing more harm than good, thus the slogan “nothing for us without us”. No matter the effort made by countries we continue to see new infections, question is, “are our interventions misunderstood or is it the approach used?” There is enough evidence to prove that where people are involved in their own change there are sustainable outcomes to interventions. The World Bank defines community driven development as “an approach that gives control over planning decisions and investment resources for local development projects to community groups”, however as development workers we seem to believe that we can have some form of control over people’s behavior and dictate some form of change to beneficiary communities. Change can never be change unless the beneficiaries of the change pioneer and drive the change.

Many have argued that communities do not have the expertise or the technical know-how to drive their own development. Be that as it may, communities possess social capital, that is, the extent to which members of a community can work together effectively to develop and sustain strong relationships; solve problems and make group decisions; and collaborate effectively to plan, set goals and get things done. Unlike other forms of community capital, social capital does not get used up, and in fact, the more it is used, the more of it is generated. That is the reason I believe communities whether dealing with HIV, poverty, unemployment or plain old marginalization, have the power to become what they have always dreamed of as long as they can be strategically guided. My argument has always been and still is, once development becomes an imported concept that is externally driven then it will never be sustainable since it will not be owned by the people neither will it be driven by the affected people.

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Comment by Kunchok Tsundue on November 29, 2012 at 10:00am

Would you help me understanding -what type of social capital that generally get used up and please highlight what are not? 

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 22, 2012 at 11:17am

A brief comment from Gerard, Singapore


Thanks Rituu I enjoyed it. The challenges and situations of Clement and many others are immense compared to ours. My heart is with them.




Comment by Clement N Dlamini on October 20, 2012 at 1:05pm

By the way Rituu I am not able to see the whole comment by Caroline Smalley can you help?

Comment by Clement N Dlamini on October 20, 2012 at 1:04pm

Thanks for the comments and observations on my post. One of the things that I have observed in our approach to development is the thinking that we as practitioners know the situation of the beneficiaries such that we are at liberty to design interventions without proper consultations. But what I have seen either because of time we do a piecemeal approach to this and use many short cuts to an extent that miss the essence of what development is and represents. I know there are tried and tested methodologies - but still we are not realizing sustainability - we still have to go back to the same communities and do the very thing we were doing yesterday. And I still insist, "we are the drivers of the interventions" we drive them so much that even in the very design we take the lead and communities take the back seat - and at the end we expect sustainability.

In my short history working with communities I realized that given an opportunity communities can drive their own change, its only that we have this tendency to believe we are the experts, where-else communities themselves are experts in their own change. Social capital dictates that communities be allowed space to excercise their "right to self determination". We can bring expertize and also assume the position of being the "brains" in the community. If they participate meaningfully in decisions that partain to their change then they are most likely to own the intervention and also push for its sustanance.

Comment by Kunchok Tsundue on October 20, 2012 at 9:26am

Yes it is one of the strongest assumptions and I even agree it does exist but what I was trying to question is still different which comes from the perspective of secondary stakeholder where we often need to facilitate many stakeholders including the primary. It is often than not when funds are available or not available but planning for it, we are faced with lack of participation and commitments. What could be the possible reasons? How can we neutralize all these factors before, during and after the consultations? Because things can turn sour, lack luster and uninteresting any time. When we talk of development, we talking in a difficult area or people where it has had a precedent of non-development. Simply applying AI or SALT can't bring that out of the situation. Because of all that I was trying play devils advocate to this fraternity where I feel I belong to question their assumptions -I did that for SALT, AI and Dreams and LOCAL SPACE themes. Wasn't it, Rituu?                 

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 19, 2012 at 11:03pm

Here is a response from Canada. Thanks to Caroline!

Caroline Smalley '...communities possess social capital, that is, the extent to which members of a community can work together effectively to develop and sustain strong relationships; solve problems and make group decisions; and collaborate effectively to plan, set goals and get things done.'
Comment by Kunchok Tsundue on October 19, 2012 at 3:22pm

The relevant question is how can we make a good number people feel CHALLENGED to INVOLVE and INVOLVE to CONCERN (not WORRY) and CONCERN to HOPE and HOPE to COMMIT ultimately.   

Comment by Kunchok Tsundue on October 19, 2012 at 3:15pm

I do not want to undermine your understanding but this has been said since over two decades late seventies and eighties mainly based on African experiences. Even then, the same mistakes has been committed again in Asia and elsewhere thereafter because donors and back donors have remained the same and linear world view and Washington consensus the main paradigm for this model of development but still a lot of water has been flowed since then. Meanwhile a lot many participatory tools and methods has been invented and practiced world over. It has evolved from RRA to LFA to PRA to AI to SALT etc. Fortunately many donors began to learn these methods also and some of them are forefront as "experts". The relevant question is how to bring people directly from their realm which has been systematically reduced by all sort of developments. A lot of traditional good practices were forgotten or not able to passed through to the younger generation in this cyber world. For instant - I have been complaining my parent about not telling me stories. I do not know how totell you good stories. We speak and talk and work in pieces. We are calling for CREATING SPACE FOR LOCAL RESPONSE. I think a lot of work needs to be done differently at different localities due to divers values and culture. Are you there with me?           


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