Connecting local responses around the world
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.