Development by Empowerment

Continuing on from my previous posts (Greed and AI for Human Happiness), this is the third (and final) post inspired by the recent New Yorker article (Imagination Could Save the World).

A large part of the article is devoted to Mr. Ledgard’s attempts to use drones to solve community problems in Eastern Africa. The article doesn’t really mention if he was successful in this or not, but the sense I got was that the project didn’t really tale off.

And the reason for this, I believe, is that the solution was developed and presented in an outside-in process. Here is a foreigner, with funds, trying a novel approach to solve a problem for the not so well off in an African country. I am sure Mr. Ledgard has the best of intentions and genuinely wants to help. But this is not the first time I have come across a group of relatively privileged, funded and well-intentioned people trying to solve problems for a totally different audience to whom they might barely be able to relate.

I was recently invited to a Focused Group Discussion to brainstorm ways to increase participation / entrepreneurship in the social development sector. This is a field I am interested in. But I was a bit disappointed to find that there was no one in the group representing the audience whose problems were being aimed to be solved. As such, I am afraid I found the exercise rather pointless.

I strongly believe that without active involvement of the population whose problems are being tried to be solved at all steps of the process, including problem definition and solution design, most interventions, however well-intentioned they might be, might not sustain themselves once the initial enthusiasm wanes. Let me immediately add that I have no research to back this, hence this is purely my personal opinion.

I believe that, for sustainable development interventions, the policy has to be one of empowerment. We need to enable the marginalised / needy to understand how resources could be utilised best to solve their problems in a sustainable manner, rather than pitching up with a solution and hoping / coercing people to adopt it. There is no doubt which approach I would prefer, and I assume most people might prefer the same.

As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”

 

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