Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What holds communities back?

Dear Colleagues

What is it that holds communities back? People like Dr. Muhammad Yunus argue that the reason that communities remain in poverty is not because the people are not working hard, but because the economic environment is an incomplete system that gives them no opportunity.

My own experience has been that communities can make rapid progress when the conditions are right ... and usually this means that some modest amount of external resources is deployed in a way that removes a critical constraint.

The sad thing is that these critical constraints are very hard to address using the development paradigm favored by the donors such as the World Bank, USAID and others.

Community centric development holds good promise ... but most organizations do not have the Yunus mindset, and do not see people in the community as one of the biggest assets on the planet, but rather the constraint.

With much better understanding of the dynamic of the community, it should be possible to be of much greater help, and facilitate development progress at much less cost than any alternative approach.

My favorite UN funded project with an FAO Fisheries Community Project in Shenge, Sierra Leone. Rather small resources in the project were able to make a huge difference in the quality of life in the village.

This is something of the driver of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) except that it would appear that the MVP initiative is driven more by a research agenda than a development agenda, and I don't see any way that the MVP can be economically replicated. Maybe I am wrong ... but it seems that much of what is being discovered is already quite well known, but never applied. Maybe the research question should be why well known knowledge is rarely used to the best possible effect in development situations ... is it perhaps the "silo" effect where people are very expert in their own area, but know little of anything else.

Community development requires many different dimensions of knowledge and understanding ... why ... why is it so difficult to make progess?


Peter Burgess

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