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Working With Those Who Can

Antonio Lambino's picture

The video posted above is the fourth in a series we are featuring on this blog.  The interview was conducted in June, 2010, during a learning event jointly organized by the World Bank Institute’s Governance Practice and CommGAP entitled “The Political Economy of Reform: Moving from Analysis to Action.”  Featured in the video is Kapil Kapoor, World Bank Country Manager for Zambia.  From the informed vantage point of managing not only a country portfolio, but also webs of relationships among local and international stakeholders, Kapoor cogently argues that donors and development agencies must broaden their view of in-country engagement:

… I think we need to be paying much more attention to civil society groups.  Over the longer term, there is no substitute from the people of a particular country putting pressure on their own governments to improve service delivery, to improve accountability, to improve transparency.  Often, when such demands come from donors, it’s quite easy for governments to turn around and externalize the issue and say ‘But these are people who’ve got no stake in our economy… they’re outsiders…’

I believe the words “Over the longer term” deserve reflection and emphasis.  Kapoor is not just talking about success, but sustainability of reform.  As improving country systems in support of attaining development outcomes is a long-term process, citizens and local civil society groups, those who will actually still be there beyond any project timetable, must be complicit in any change process.  Simply put, they are the ones who can “keep it going” by spending their own political and social capital when aid money runs out.

This point dovetails with the second part of the quote above, which relates to the outsider status of international actors.  It’s well and good to say that there’s internal demand for external assistance on a sectoral or thematic issue.  But this demand has to be broad and strong enough, and should reflect a real sense of sustainable local ownership.  In other words, and while there may be reasonable exceptions to this, people should generally know who among their fellow citizens are leading on and advocating for change.  It definitely helps if these domestic reform champions are trusted and deemed legitimate by various constituencies.

Broadening local ownership and increasing local knowledge of reform may seem like pie in the sky for most development professionals.  In an operational sense, these objectives are probably beyond the reach and scope of most international organizations, save for a select few that have deftly -- and very quietly -- supported in-country talent and expertise.  I recall that a few years back, during an internal presentation of a successful real-world reform effort for which a well respected colleague immersed himself in a local context for several years to support a multiplicity of local actors, I overheard one person in the audience whisper to another: “This is scary stuff.” 


And although it’s certainly the case that not everyone should do it, it’s probably intellectually honest and politically savvy to admit that we need to work a lot more closely with those who can.

Other posts in this series:


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