First Attempt at blogging Unit 1

Well, it was with anticipation that I started the International Development course as I had been thinking for a couple of years that it would be nice to get the brain into gear and to actually be challenged academically by something rather than having to appear to know everything which is the life of a consultant these days.

However after starting to read the first article, I did start to think maybe I have bitten of more than I can chew and thought I don’t have a clue as to what is going on and why can’t people just write in plain English, after all when you are out in the field working in development, the stakeholders/dutybearers and others are wanting things in plain language.  Anyway I persevered thinking I can’t give up without even trying to make head or tail out of things and am now posting my blog albeit a little later than anyone else.  So here goes:

Objective level:  What is it that I actually learnt from Unit 1 (other than I need to expand my vocabulary which has suffered for the last 12 years of being in Eastern Indonesia and speaking Indonesian every day!)

First of all I learnt that it is impossible for everyone to agree on what development  means, and that everyone will have a different take on it whether it be providing a village with a water supply, supporting the economic development of an area, providing opportunities for people to have an education, formulating policy which will support everyone or a particular vulnerable group of people.  But that this is only a small part of development and that it is necessary to look at ‘theories which are more universal in application and are based on an understanding of  a long term development process’ (Sumner & Tribe, 2008, p84).  It’s not enough to look at for example the smaller picture of grass roots development or local governance strengthening but that we need to look at the relationship between capitalism and development and how these are difficult to separate.  It’s interesting to note as Thomas (2000) ‘Meanings and Views of Development’ points out how the different theories have evolved since the Second World War with it starting with neoliberalism with development being immanent, the theories of structuralism and interventionism coming about and how today more and more development practioners would be favoring the people centered development approach.  This people centered approach which is probably what I have been most involved in rejects or questions the benefits that large scale industrialisation  can bring to many people and focusses more on how people themselves are the development of change and have the responsibility and ownership of any intervention rather than development being placed in the hands of a trustee.

Thinking of an example of where there have been huge issues between economic growth and development is the massive Freeport gold mine in West Papua.  This mine is run by a foreign mining company with the majority of the profits either going back to the company or to central Government based in Jakarta, a 7-8 hour flight away.  Imagine the dissent amongst the locals when they learnt that their district and province would not undergo decentralisation in the same way that the rest of the country would back in 2000/2001.  Papua was to have a special status where the majority of the proceeds would return to central Government coffers as opposed to the district or provincial treaury.  Dissent and violence erupted with the result that people were killed and security around the mine became even stricter with min workers now not being allowed to leave the compound.  This is an example where industry has come to a very remote area where life expectancy and quality of life is well below other areas of Indonesia and where locals could not be employed as they did not have the requisite skills.  It is only in more recent years that an increasing emphasis has been placed on upskilling local ethnic Papuans and providing significant support to improving the health, education and livelihood opportunities for the locals.  This example shows how Governments and companies can get it wrong but how the power of the people (in this case the Papuans living around the mine) can end up changing things so that their lives are impacted upon in a more positive way.

Regarding what I have learnt about GNP and the use of other instruments for example HDI to measure how a country is progressing economically and on a social welfare level, it just highlighted to me that none of these instruments can be used individually but that a combined approach should be used and that there needs to be additional evidence to support any conclusions which are made.  For example, in Indonesia where I live, many of the NGOs and donors over the past 2-3 years have pulled out of the country or reduced the numbers of programmes that they implement; this anecdotally is a result of Indonesia being labelled a middle income country which is now becoming a force to be reckoned with economically in South East Asia, thus many people are assuming that Indonesia is ‘developed’ and no longer requires the same level of support (additionally there ahve been no major natural disasters and ethnic conflict occurs in only isolated instances).  What the instruments seldom show  for Indonesia  is that the majority of the wealth and population is centered around the island of Java and that there are huge inequities on other islands especially in the Eastern region where I live and where HDIs are similar to sub-saharan Africa.  Additionally where % are used – for example 96% of primary school aged children are now enrolled at primary school in Indonesia but this does not show that there are still an estimated 2-3 million who are not accessing school.  So in conclusion these instruments (GNP/HDI) do have a place but they should used with caution and understanding of the situation on the ground.

Emotional Level – what did I feel about Unit 1

As I mentioned earlier, at first I was not that happy and was struggling with the language used and was thinking why do we need to look at the different theories of development which are no longer in line with current thinking; how will that help me with my career or in the future.  But after sitting down and actually beginning to digest the material, I started to feel that there is a need to get an historical overview of what is happening, to question why this theory may have been in vogue at one particular time and that maybe it was right at that time but not in this day and age.  It makes me again think that these theories of development are like anything else; a learning process that begins, the successes and challenges are recognised and the necessary reworking or the development of a new theory which fits the current situation occurs.  

Intrepretation level – relevance of what I have learnt

As I mentioned before I live in Indonesia and the part I live in is remote, with limited services and infrastructure and I’ve been working with donors and NGOs in this region for 12 years.  Unit 1 has made me think of how I viewed development when I first arrived and how it has evolved since from the initial I am going to save the world to a how can I or the agency I work for provide the best available support without dictating what we feel is necessary.  The issue of trusteeship really had me thinking and made me very uncomfortable as I realised how much agencies, donors and NGOs can be pushing their agenda of what they feel necessary and sometimes with a one size fits all model, not only at the national level but all the way down to the community as opposed to ‘people centered development’ with the people themselves deciding what they need and determining what support is necessary from a ‘trustee’.

Decision level

With regards to trusteeship (yep I keep coming back to it), it’s made me think that this is such an issue especially in countries or areas where governance or ‘capacity’ (a lovely fuzzword, one of may which I must say I have been fond of using when writing reports, proposals etc) is perceived by the trustee to be weak.  It makes me remember working in the Ministry of Education for Timor Leste and how the Inspector General for Education was complaining about some of the advisors who work in the Ministry.  The Inspector General’s take was that although advisors are a necessary evil (his words!), they should be prepared to listen, discuss, take on board what is required instead of the advisor deciding what is necessary with no consultation.  Or even the advisor or donor deciding that what works in Australia must be transferred verbatim to Timor Leste forgetting that Australia has had years to get things ‘right’ in education and Timor Leste has only had since 2002 when it finally became a country in it’s own right.  This has made me think that it’s necessary for me to be even more vocal with donors and some NGOs about the need for a truly participatory approach to be occurring with  there being where possible equal partners as opposed to the trustee and the ward.

Fortunately I am involved in a signifcant amout of monitoring and evaluation work with one thing that we use to inform our findings being that of various indicators whether it be HDI, GNP or individual project/programme/NGO/Donor ones.  In the past 2 years I have been a lot mroe conscientous in finding additional data/evidence to support or not these indicators and I think that Unit 1 has again reinforced the importance of this rather than just relying on these.

OK I think that is me for now, hopefully Tom or Fiona will be able to read this through and provide me with some more input on areas for improvement.

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~ by xtalkpg on October 14, 2011.

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