In India, most development programmes for poor have been designed on the assumption that the poor need charities and they cannot afford to pay for the services .This is erroneous and we have witnessed how dollops of free money have stifled their initiatives .Several studies have revealed that the poor are keen to have access to proper healthcare , education, sanitation and housing .They are willing to pay for the services if they are genuinely useful and are available through hassle free systems. Today the poor are investing their precious savings in private hospitals and private schools. They are also borrowing at heavy rates of interest from private microfinanciers because bank loans, despite being cheaper, are mired in red tapism. The poor are fed up with the bureaucratic procedures that consume their mandays and may not yield any benefits in the end. In fact they are now wise enough t understand that loss of several mandays in chasing government departments for official largesse neutralizes the net benefits.
What the poor insist is that the development programs must deliver what they actually need. This ethos underpins the new development paradigm. The mantra is: “Tell us what the poor want, don’t tell us what you think is good for them.” There’s arrogance to the attitude that we’re going to come in and fix something for them, and they should remain beholden to us. The only way for these programmes to really build trust is by starting from what people really feel what change their ivies for the better.
Tackling poverty requires a fundamentally different approach: one that starts with people themselves and encourages the initiative, creativity and drive from below .This principle must be at the core of any programme aiming at transformation of their lives it is only then that if it can be lasting and meaningful.. If people can be given the support they need to make important decisions in their own communities, to build their own democracies in their own ways, they can do the rest themselves. In doing so, they will not only move their own communities out of poverty, they will take the world with them. Change must come from within: communities must make their own decisions regarding their future .
Development interventions are most successful if decisions are made close to the people. This requires effective national and local government working in partnership with the people.
It requires a new kind of leadership: not top-down, authority-based leadership, but leadership that awakens people to their own power — leadership “with” people rather than leadership “over” people.
There are too many impediments to real development: corruption, political influence in the allocation of land and/or credit, diffused focus and priorities, poor execution, social inequality and a shortage of rural infrastructure, among other factors.
Economic development and social change cannot be imposed from without. It must begin from within even though the initial nudges may have to come from outside. Lasting change comes about so slowly that you may not notice it until people resist being taken care of—they need to be given a chance to fulfill their own potential. When we design solutions that recognize the poor as clients or customers and not as passive recipients of charity, we have a real chance to end poverty. Importing unworkable ideas, equipment and consultants destroys the capacity of communities to help themselves.
The “bottom up” approach, which is being repeatedly emphasized in the development discourse, is about living and working with the poor, listening to them with humility to gain their confidence and trust. It cannot be bought and manipulated with money, or by grafting urban assumptions of development which in fact may destroy existing workable low cost structures. It is about respecting and implementing the ideas of the poor, encouraging them to use their skills and knowledge for their own development. It is about taking a back seat and providing the space for them to develop themselves .Approaches to rural development that respect the inherent capabilities, intelligence and responsibility of rural people and systematically build on their experience have a reasonable chance of making significant advances in improving those people’s lives.
The most powerful weapons for reducing poverty are policy instruments that benefit poverty reduction without in any way harming the dominant coalition of political power . If a set of instruments harms the interests of the dominant coalition, it will not be implemented, even if it is known to reduce poverty. Advocacy for poverty reduction must mean not only advocacy for instruments that we know will lead to this outcome, but also for a realignment of the dominant coalition in a way that will orient it to the interests of the poor. We should alternately advocate for empowerment of the poor so that they can indeed challenge the dominant interests, and reengineer alliances in a way that will make possible policies and interventions for poverty reduction.
During the last several decades, Third World governments, backed by international aid organizations, have poured billions of dollars into cheap-credit programmes for the poor, particularly in the wake of the World Bank’s 1990 initiative to put poverty reduction at the head of its development priorities. And yet those responsible for such transfers had, and in many cases continue to have, only the haziest of ideas of what they achieved, and how their intervention could be redesigned to improve matters.
Although imported programmes have the benefit of supplying ‘pre-tested’ models, they are inherently risky because they may not take root in the local culture when transplanted. Home-grown models have greater chances of success. The hundreds of millions of households who constitute the rural poor are a potential source of great creativity who, under present institutional, cultural and policy conditions, must seek first and foremost their own survival. Their poverty deprives not only them but also the rest of us of the greater value they could produce if only they were empowered and equipped with the right tools.
The people who pioneered the world’s most successful development programmes recognized this potential and always sought to evoke it. They are the ones who enabled the poor to take the right step on the right ladder at the right time. The results have been miraculous.
If we see and analyze societies which have grown and prospered we will observe that several development successes have occurred in less than optimal settings. A lot of good programs got their start when one individual looked at a familiar landscape in a fresh way .In each case, creative individuals saw possibilities where others saw only hopelessness, and imagined a way forward that took into account local realities and built on local strengths. . We increasingly have the tools. But we lack the necessary political will .If we have the courage to use them, the course of history will be truly different.
Panchayat Raj is just one of the ways of involving and empowering the grassroots to participate in the development agenda .The poor don’t want handout ,they want hand up.
It is time we heed the wisdom of the great 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 the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org