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Doing Development Differently - A Chimera?

Maya Brahmam's picture

A lot has recently been written about “doing development differently” from crowdsourcing the next Millennium Development Goals (a la ONE’s Jamie Drummond) to the Copenhagen Consensus and their 16 investments with the biggest payoffs for development (listed here).

Enter Ha-Joon Chang, a noted Cambridge economist, who sees development as a different game altogether –the analogy he uses is that current development thinking is like “Hamlet without the prince.” According to Duncan Green’s recent blog post, Chang believes that with all the focus on health, education, poverty reduction, we are missing the elephant in the room (the prince): We are missing what poor countries really need, which is “productive capabilities” and an important focus on upgrading skills and industry, which has largely been set aside since the 1980s by donors and international organizations.

In his book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Chang states, “It is not mainly because of some unalterable structural factors…that poor countries are poor. Human decisions, especially by those in power to set the rules, make things happen in the way they happen…” He goes on to note that, “Given this, we need to ask whether the decisions that the rich and the powerful take are based on sound reasoning and robust evidence. Only when we do that can we demand right actions from corporations, governments and international organizations.”

With this in mind, the Bank’s recent Localizing Development report is a promising step to inject some rigor into the decision-making process in the area of community-driven development. The report draws on more than 500 studies and shares evidence-based lessons on the challenges donor agencies face in inducing civic engagement in development. The report challenges the common belief that poor communities have ample social capital and can be mobilized quickly to act collectively in their own interest. According to Vijayendra Rao, a co-author of the study along with Ghazala Mansuri, “Rarely is much thought given to how difficult it is to effectively organize groups of people to act in a way that solves market and government failures.” As a result, participatory projects sometimes struggle to build cohesive and sustainable organizations.  Mansuri adds, “Genuine efforts at inducing civic engagement require a sustained long-term commitment and a clear understanding of the social and political forces at all levels of society.”

They conclude that by thinking through local development policy with civil society in mind, practitioners and policy makers can better understand when civic participation is likely to solve a development challenge, as well as what may be needed to successfully organize the disadvantaged to act in their own interest. In the final analysis, participatory development is critical to ending poverty, and involving communities is the key to bring lasting change and ensure that development is truly inclusive.

Photo Credit: Visual News Associates / World Bank

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