Dependency and Modernisation – Where Do I Stand?

Fortunately this week, the readings were more at my ‘level’ of comprehension and they only needed to be read a couple of times instead of the 4-5 of unit 1!  However it’s still difficult trying to find the time for the studying– my home seems to be the inside of a plane at the moment; but I know that the travelling will soon stop just in time for the first assignment!

What did I learn?

I found out that both modernisation and dependency theories both have their place in history and have also influenced how I, myself perceive the world today.  When I think about what most people want in life today, people will often say financial security, having friends and family close by, being healthy, getting a quality education.  Most of these (except maybe having the friends and family close by) can be related to improving the livelihoods of individuals which can be related to improved economic growth of a town, district and at the larger scale, a country – this links back to the theories of modernisation and dependency.

I was amazed to read about the Bretton Woods Agreement and how four very powerful institutions in the world came about and continue to influence much of what happens economically in the world today.  What I was not so happy about was to learn that the agreement was made mostly between powerful countries  who would subsequently make decisions for other countries who were considered ‘less well off’ and these more affluent countries thinking that they knew what was best for the others – never a good recipe.  I’d like to think that this type of thinking has been obliterated in more recent times as lessons have been learned but unfortunately I would be wrong with many countries still exerting a considerable influence over others.

An example of this is the relationship between Timor Leste and the donor community – Timor Leste has a huge number of donors and very close relationships with the Portuguese, Australians and Brazilians.  Timor Leste is relatively financially secure due to it’s oil reserves but it is still being somewhat pummelled by the various donors on what prioritisation needs to occur now and in the future to improve the lives of its people.  Many donors forget that few countries especially ones which need to be built from scratch (including the development of laws and policies) do not have the capacity to assimilate multiple projects and programmes and that the result can be that the impact is limited in many instances.  This became very topical in 2009 when it became public knowledge that over eight billion US dollars had been spent in improving the lives of the Timorese in the last 10 years (and there are only one million Timorese) – the question that was subsequently asked was “What change has there been for the normal man on the street?” and the answer was somewhat worrying; very little.    This is an example where donors are well meaning but are not appreciating that the capacity of the Government to assimilate all these programmes is limited.  In addition, the donor may have influence over the development of the country’s policies and programmes due to the amount of money it is pouring in e.g. one donor from 2012 will be providing funds of what amounts to 33% of the Government’s annual education budget.   An example of the dependency theory in all its glory.

One benefit of the modernisation theory that I had not considered before was that in some manner the industrialised countries have done a lot of work for other less industrialised countries.  The development and implementation of numerous technologies are something which all can benefit – less industrialised countries do not need to spend time and money on developing technologies as others have already done this for them.  All that the less industrialised countries need to do is to  have the skills to manage these technologies in an appropriate manner for their country.  An example is in Indonesia where in 2003, hand phones were few and far between, signal coverage was very patchy or non existent, phones were expensive and texting and phoning was also pricey.  Many people especially out of the main urban areas lived in isolation with poor communications and infrastructure.  The establishment of various hand phone companies over the coming years  introduced healthy competition and a price war which continues but now even in remote areas of Indonesia there will be people with hand phones.  The lives of people in these remote areas has changed somewhat due to the introduction of this technology;  These villagers can now communicate immediately  with the ‘outside’ world instead of having to wait for the weekly bus or other transport to go past in which they would send a letter.  These communities now have a voice and an entry into the world around them and the Government are now very much aware that these communities exist.  One result from this increased communication is that there is increased lobbying by these communities for basic services and road infrastructure which is slowly starting to happen which results in improved trade links between communities.  A win win situation for nearly everyone. 

How Do I Feel?

Feelings are difficult to explain as I can appreciate the necessity of modernisation and how when we look at things globally, there has been an overall increase in the economic wellbeing of many countries.    Supporting the economic growth of countries on a global level has supported progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals even though progress has been slower than was initially envisaged with many countries not being able to meet the 2015 target.  Without modernisation and improved technology, much of what has been achieved for the MDGs would not have been possible e.g. improved water and irrigation systems, improved farming methods.  What is more difficult to stomach is the ‘one size fits all’ thinking which can not work once we start looking at specific countries or regions within countries and that  as a result of modernisation there is increasing inequality in many areas of the world.   So overall, even though I feel that the objective of increasing economic growth is good and that there have been benefits in many instances, there may still be other ways which could be explored which would support increased reduction in inequality rather than increasing the gap. 

How relevant is this?

I’m learning that it’s so important to have a good understanding of the different theories of development so that this can support the development of any aid project or programme.  3 weeks ago I wasn’t feeling this!  Although my development work has been in the areas of education, child rights and child protection, it’s become increasingly apparent that having stand alone projects is insufficient and that there needs to be  a more holistic approach to programming both at the local and national level.  The crux has to be that for many aid projects to succeed there needs to be links to how livelihoods or the economics of a family, community or country can be increased.  Supporting improved livelihoods should lead to increased health and education outcomes which will lead to increased awareness and hopefully implementation of rights and protection issues.

This makes me think of when I was conducting an evaluation of Save the Children Norway’s whole education programme in Cambodia in 2010.  Save the Children had initiated an innovative approach to support children’s attendance at school.  Previously many children would drop out of school or have to repeat grades as they would miss school for up to 3 months every year as they needed to help their parents during the fishing season or planting/harvesting period – the main source of income for many families.  The INGO worked with the provincial, district education offices and individual communities to come up with a school calendar which was linked to the farming or fishing seasons (very similar to what England had  quite a while ago e.g. October half term for harvesting).  As a result, children are now able to attend school throughout the year and repetition and drop out rates are beginning to decrease.  Advocacy was made at the National level jointly between the target provincial education offices and Save the Children and as a result, changes have been made to the policy regarding the scheduling of the school year.   An example of how supporting livelihoods can increase educational opportunities.

How can I apply what I have learnt from the unit?

When I think about this, it has to be about the benefits of using a holistic approach and considering how economics and livelihoods have such an impact at all levels of our lives.  A holistic approach does not need to be done by one NGO, one donor or Government but can be through a combination of different agencies working together so that individual programmes interlink with one another.

For example in West Timor, a small weaving company noticed that many of the young girls who were in the weaving communities were frequently dropping out of Junior High School due to early pregnancy or early marriage; additionally there were very few of the young girls who could weave.  The issue of early marriage is primarily due to economics as the girl’s family will receive financial or in kind compensation for their daughter getting married.  The weaving company decided to initiate a small pilot project in 2 communities which would provide young girls who were still at school or in danger of dropping out with training in weaving in the afternoons after school  The junior high schools have incorporated the training into extra curricula activities with the training being conducted by older women in the village.  The girls have now produced their first pieces of cloth to sell through the weaving company – just selling one cloth will provide the girls with enough money to cover school fees for 4 months, a huge contribution to the economics of the families.  This is an example of where increasing livelihoods is supporting girls’ education and how the weaving company and the school are working together.

It makes me think of how coordination and harmonisation between all agencies can be increased and how important it is for regular meetings to occur which do not only talk about individual successes and challenges but how the agencies can work together in a more effective and efficient manner – something which is not that common from my experience.  I’ve been on many ‘coordination meetings’ at the regional and national level and am aware of how difficult this can be with competing agendas  of donors, NGOs and Governments, however I would like to try and make this one of my priorities in the future of how I could support the achievement of improved harmonisation and coordination; one way of which of course has to be how donors and NGOs actually develop country strategic plans which are in line and support implementation of the Government’s strategic plan.  This is not an easy task and it’s something which the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008) is aiming to do at the national level  – something which many countries are still struggling to achieve.

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~ by xtalkpg on October 23, 2011.

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