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Let People Lead The Development Agenda

By Moin Qazi

07 October, 2015

Through my four decade association with the development sector in the country I found that one of the key deficiencies in the development model is the absence of participation of the people whose development is being sought to be achieved .They are the primary stakeholders in the project and unless they are unloved in the entire process right from planning to the final execution we will not be able build their ownership. Their involvement is equally important for the future sustainability of the project because the ownership of the project generates in them the sense of a long term commit commitment .Why most projects fail is that in absence of people’s participation the project plans are many a times flawed and do not address the actual needs of the beneficiaries .
During my mentorship of rural development projects I was a ‘catalyst’, the ‘agent for change’, and the one who ‘intervened for change’. In other words, the perception was that of myself as the leader, in so much as the action that followed was ultimately traced back to a set of actions for which I was responsible. It may have been an idea or a set of ideas. Gradually, I began to understand that the perceptions and ideas exist in different forms in people’s minds already. What is really needed is the time and space and opportunity for putting them into action

All around me, I saw development programmes failing because they did not take the geo politics of the ground reality into account. An effort for deep-rooted social change would have to derive its strength from the people it intended to benefit. I worked in rural projects for close to tour decades, and throughout this time I was disappointed by the way government, commercial and cooperative banks and development agencies approached rural development. Their traditional approach failed to build the capacity of the people. They undertook projects that kept funds flowing, but failed to consult the people for whom the projects were intended to be. The projects weren't collaborations with the people and the result was a lack of sustainability. Most importantly, the people were not empowered and valued enough to learn and think for themselves in finding solutions. Instead, they were simply instructed and subsequently followed direction like servants.

Tackling poverty requires a fundamentally different approach: one that starts with people themselves and encourages the initiative, creativity and drive from below that must be at the core of any transformation of their lives if it is to be lasting .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. We have to promote participatory approaches that address the specific needs of each community, as well as increased education. Though recognizing that the escape from poverty is a slow and arduous process, it is one of empowerment. Those determined to improve their lives will seize opportunities to improve their lives – we therefore, should take on a supporting role in the development process rather than try to provide all the answers.

The “bottom up” approach 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. In short, we need to nurture and nourish financial democracy. There may be an ideological debate over whether popular participation is a good in itself (representing the goal of empowerment of the poor and, in the larger political sense, the goal of democracy) or a means to an end – project sustainability. The poor are often inconspicuous, inarticulate and unorganized. Their voices may not be heard at public meetings in communities where it is customary for only the big men to put their views. It is rare to find a body or institution that adequately represents the poor in a certain community or area. Outsiders and government officials invariably find it more profitable and congenial to converse with local influentials than with the uncommunicative poor. When a minister visits a village there is such a heavy cordon of police around the minister that the villagers can hardly see the dignitary, let alone speak to him.

In a small project everyone can participate in decision-making. That's the only real way to improve a community. The community gets employment and has a feeling of ownership and control. But the practical advantages of participation for project effectiveness and sustainability weigh heavily in favor: participation can refuse waste of project resources and lead to recurrent cost recovery; most important, it gives people a stake in the project resources and thus makes them willing to support it. There are also the negatives of participation: it is difficult, time-consuming, and tricky; it can permit elites or free riders to get more than their share; it can stir up conflicts that traditionally society and culture have been able to keep under wraps; it can alienate governments; and so on. We can always have a basket of recipes to suit every group from which to choose an appropriate one. The success will finally depend on the charisma and the personal commitment of the project leader who inspires the team and lets the creative aquifers charge back to life.

Financial development through public participation enables individuals to make the most of their potential and represents a tool for expanding financial democracy. We have made historic strides toward the consolida¬tion of political democracy, revolutionizing governance in India's rural hinterland but they have not been accompanied by the democratization of means and opportunities. Financial democracy is fundamental for achieving greater inclusiveness, improving social cohesion, and generating broad-based growth. It is therefore crucial for economic dynamism and political stability. It is crucial because the lack of financial democracy prevents people from gaining access to resources that would enable them to make the most of!

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 protected]



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