I often wondered why was it that when there were so many social programmes for the poor that poverty was yet so endemic and stubborn. Despite such vast investments there were regions in which we could just nibble at the frozen layers of poverty. This is not to discount the enormous progress we have made in improving the social indicators, but it is when we benchmark our societies with those of other we realize that our achievement pales away.
Either the nets were not cast sufficiently wide or too many holes were blown in them. But money, as a senior programme officer told me, is irrelevant. “What is the point of putting more water into a bucket already leaking badly? The problem is not lack of money. It is lack of accountability of those who spend it.”Even the government feels that 85% of development spending does not reach the poor, being either sponged up by the ‘delivery mechanism’—the consultants, advisers, their equipment or studies—or simply pocketed outright. This has become a touchstone for all government programmes and is now parroted in all Indian development literature.
According to Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, “In far too many countries, the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. This is not a recipe for stability and sustainability.” She says, “Let me be frank: in the past, economists have underestimated the importance of inequality. They have focused on economic growth, on the size of the pie rather than its distribution. Today, we are more keenly aware of the damage done by inequality. Put simply, a severely skewed income distribution harms the pace and sustainability of growth over the longer term. It leads to an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential.”
She compares rising inequality in the US and India. “In the US, inequality is back to where it was before the Great Depression, and the richest 1% captured 95% of all income gains since 2009, while the bottom 90% got poorer. In India, the net worth of the billionaire community increased twelvefold in 15 years, enough to eliminate absolute poverty in this country twice over.”
In the village, each successive generation is born into the rigidity of caste; each generation must bear, at some stage in his life, the rapacity of the moneylender and the merchant and the random cruelty of nature: famines, floods, and pestilence. And yet the majority survives and adapts relying on their grit and their raw native wisdom. These are individuals who are repositories of both knowledge and wisdom and their survival in adverse situations is accomplished by their own ingenious methods of social and economic engineering. , There is thus in the villages some collective wisdom for which the professional’s knowledge is not a substitute. This is why the divide between the professionals and the villages is so serious. Successful development practitioners have always recognized the richness of this local wisdom and have used both it and its bearers in both designing solutions and implementing them. they have used their expertise to fashion out programme from inside out so that their strategies can gel with the local matrix .these are the programmes that have enjoyed local acceptability and ownership and have given the h most sustainable results. Thus the mantra for development professionals must be: if we go to the villages, it is to study them, to learn from and to do good for them.
Their trust cannot be bought outright or manipulated with money, or by grafting urban assumptions of development onto existing rural practices, which in fact may destroy existing workable structures. We must first understand their economy at a granular level and, most important, thoroughly understand their local culture. That approach is a welcome contrast to the grandiose foreign-aid schemes that do more harm than good. Experiences show that governments too often derail the money intended to help the poor to pad the pockets of civil servants instead
A critical success factor is creating organizational capabilities at the local level that can mobilize and manage resources effectively to benefit the many intended recipients. We need plans, systems, mutual accountability and financing mechanisms. And even before we have all of that apparatus in place—what I call the economic plumbing—we must first understand more concretely what such a strategy means to the people who can be helped. Capacity building at the village level is crucial to making them aware of the entire development process, including the aid structure, so that they are in a position to monitor it effectively.
For rural communities, participation is a way of engaging with development agencies to ensure better use of resources and planning for objectives that can have real benefits for them. To do this, communities need to analyze constraints as well as available resources, identify and agree on the nature of priorities , develop action plans to address the various constraints, take charge of implementation, and use collective pressure for making sure that the service providers do their job. Communities also identify what incremental resources are needed and organize themselves for mobilizing these resources. Through their empowered organizations, villagers can more strongly voice their approval or disapproval with the services received, and indicates how service delivery can be improved.
This, however, is not to diminish the role of professional outsiders who have successfully entered into the conditions and outlooks of rural people in order to fashion programmes from the inside out, so to speak, by showing deep respect for the capabilities of the people whose lives they hope to improve and being persistent as well as patient (being impatiently patient, one might say) in their goals and mission.. We must try to relate to our clients as people and not as some mathematical abstraction, some algebraic alphabets. What is now needed is that development manager’s work with people at the lowest level of the economic ladder rather than dealing them as statistics in a file.
Tackling poverty requires an approach that must start with the people themselves and encourages the initiative, creativity and drive from below. The strategy must be at the core of any transformatory exercise if the results are to be lasting and enduring. I had the privilege of watching the village women acquire a sense of dignity once they were given tools for self-sufficiency. And I learned, maybe most importantly, to listen with my heart and not just my head. Are poor clients last in the long list of our objectives?
I was once associated with the setting up of a village centre which I supervised delegated the villagers the entire job. It showed me the potential for collective action that lay beneath the villagers’ apparently passive exterior and paved the way for the building of the village centre. Villagers worked together, stitching banners, painting posters, erecting flagstaffs on the roofs, and stringing wires across the street for the reception of government officials who came to visit. They marvelled at this voluntary initiative of the local community. It was a major lesson even for them.
I saw villages that enjoyed a dramatic increase in crop yield and incomes after agricultural scientists advised farmers on watershed techniques—a fancy term for digging ditches so good that soil is not washed away. While it will not solve India’s deep-rooted agriculture problems, better information can significantly boost food production and rural incomes.
Although there is much discussion in public forums of involving stakeholders for appropriate development of the society in which the poor live, poor people rarely get the opportunity to develop their own agenda and vision or set terms for the involvement of outsiders.
The right way ahead to let the poor lead the development agenda .We need to heed the wisdom of the legendary philosopher Lao Tzu:
“Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.”
Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher .He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He was Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He has authored several books on religion, rural finance, culture and handicrafts. He is author of the bestselling book Village Diary of a Development Banker. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at email@example.com