CRITICAL OUTLOOKS OF THE COMMUNITY APPROACH TO GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

Yossef Ben-Meir, Marrakech September 16, 2020

CRITICAL OUTLOOKS OF THE COMMUNITY APPROACH TO GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT

(Continued from 3 September edition.)

Challenge 3: Local-level successes might not translate into widespread, systemic change. Community engagement in identifying and implementing projects - growing trees, waste management, and women’s cooperatives - are all instances of positive development. Yet, we do not always see these actions result in structural change, in the reform of laws, property rights, societal institutions, or the political power structure. These micro-level movements need to create national and global structural transformation to truly unleash the potential of humanity.  Intrinsic public-private partnerships at the different tiers of society are intended to support the priorities of local people. These lead to community development and growth, which is a difficult, evolutionary, potentially-radical process, and not a sudden one. Rather, it occurs over time and with concerted will.

We can point to individual programs and national policies that have emerged or been informed by community-level experiences. In Morocco, an example of how successful local pilot initiatives have gained national traction for reform is the free lending of public lands that are under the jurisdictions of different ministries, as well as those belonging to the Moroccan Jewish community, in order for farming communities to grow fruit tree nurseries that they desperately need. Globally, national governments’ economic stimulus in the face of the pervasive dislocation wrought by the pandemic would do exceedingly well if it were directed at small and medium-sized, community-level projects that can rebuild people’s lives. The aggregate impact of fulfilling the self-determined development will of the people (through diverse partnership) will encourage intersectorial solidarity, decentralize decision-making power, and alter the social structure in favor of promoting local inclusion for growth mobilization. Profound change takes time and serious depth of energy to broaden applications across larger spaces, and the sum of its parts forges its own resonance with leaders and macro, social forces to accept its arrival. Our challenge is to achieve a sustained pervasive scale, with self-generating revenue to propel and deepen expansion across localities.

Challenge 4: Communities are seen as having unlimited capacities, while often ignoring their constraints. The notion of communities as harmonious, united, and consensual is an ideal. It overlooks their conflicts, stratifications, and power struggles. The idea that they possess adequate resources and that all members are equally empowered or equally motivated downplays the existing, inherent social inequities. All of the forms of division we see in the world - gender, age, class, ethnicity, where you live, what you wear, what you grow, your family members, your clan, and more - are manifested within a community. Practitioners of PD have come through everyday trials to see communities realistically as places where planning can be difficult, getting everyone together can be hard, and communication can be strained, sometimes impacted by generational grudges and recalcitrance that can hold down the many by the few. Attempting to engage community members can be a strenuous, emotional, and often loud and angry affair.

Still, PD justifiably assumes that people are capable of driving change and managing growth if given sufficient support, which most often involves third-party facilitation or mediation to assist in coordination and inclusive interaction. Broad participation in a physical or virtual setting to identify the most important change that is needed is not a spontaneous event, but requires the perseverance of its arbiters. However, let’s also be clear: it is not the everlasting search for resolution and consensus among members of communities that primarily accounts for anemic growth in a locality. Instead, it is typically the overwhelming lack of funding and knowledge and capacities as to how it can be acquired that prevent the people’s ideas from being realized. Well-intentioned public and private entities at national and international levels, for the sake of urgent needs of the people in our time, must find and make use of all worthy channels that deliver funding directly to the local groups with shovel-ready community enterprises.

Challenge 5: Participatory facilitators’ authority can unduly influence community decisions. The facilitator has an inherently influential or even authoritative position. If not properly trained to ask, listen, and mirror back the people’s own information, then they are abusing their entrusted positions. The more this occurs, the less accurately reflective of local desires and lasting impact the projects will have. For PD facilitators, inclusion in a community meeting is not automatic, nor is there any guarantee that every voice will be heard - that those who are landless or marginalized will be part of the dialogue. Initially, this takes a lot of work even though later meetings become more self-sustaining and external facilitation is less needed. When facilitators use their socio-political capital to shape projects and skew dialogue, it undermines a community’s own process. Yet, most effective facilitators do not allow that capital garnered to be left unspent, but rather they advocate for greater benefits for the widowers, the orphans, and those who endure the harshest of life’s trials. They are also sure that any goodwill generated will be reflected back upon partners and donors, to inspire their further contribution.Critical evaluation can help shed light upon how we may best improve our work of service to others. Promoters of beneficiary-driven social change should take heart that our challenges do not at all suggest that our approach is doomed to make sustainability undeliverable. Rather, they hearken that we must be more true in our measurements, more flexible in our procedures, more ambitious in extending over increasing areas, more urgent and innovative in securing finance, and more selfless in favor of those who are hurting most.Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and president of the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco.

 

 

  

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