Turning Development Upside Down
A book about reforming relief and development

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Way Forward

The way forward must avoid the problems that constrained success in the past. There needs to be new approaches and ways of doing things rather differently. There needs to be a respect that development is a process, with a lot of linkages with the elements interrelated in very complex ways.

I have chosen to think of the elements of development grouped as follows. This works for me, but may not be the best way for other people.

  • People
  • Resources
  • Process
  • Information

And I think of process as having the following steps:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Implementing
  • Measuring
  • Feedback

This way of looking at development sets the stage for practical solutions to the global development crisis. This way forward is a coherent whole, and can be the foundation for successful economic and social progress in the SOUTH. The way forward explicitly addresses some issues about the enabling environment for success that people in the NORTH now take for granted.

Nothing in the way forward requires difficult reform. Everything in this way forward can be done, and in a modest way is already being done.

But there has to be a deep appreciation of the problems, and an understanding and respect for people of different backgrounds and experience and capabilities.

Goals of development

Development in the context of this book is about socio-economic progress, and a process that improves people's quality of life and standard of living.

The goal of development is very clear. It is not just getting the maximum economic activity to benefit a relative few. It is much more than that. It is to give a lot more people an opportunity to live a life that has a lot more dignity and be a lot more secure and further away from death than is the present situation for almost half of the world's population. There are a lot of fancy ways to describe the goals of development, but the simple one is that poor people should have a better chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But this is a great shorthand for what should be being done.

At the individual person level, and at the family level, development is easy to understand. I wrote the following almost 20 years ago. I had been working in an area affected by civil war and with refugees. A situation that has been all too common in the past few decades all over the world.

  • Families do not want to be killed because there is war and insecurity all around them.
  • Families do not want to die because there is no food and water for the family members.
  • Families do not want to suffer and possibly die because there is not enough clothing and inadequate shelter from the elements
  • And when the issue of todays survival is taken care of, the next priority is the survival of the family and procreation into the next generation. The survival of the children. The feeding and the nutrition and health of the children.
  • And then the education of the children
  • A taking care of the elderly and sick in the family
  • And jobs for the family members
  • And social responsibility for the community
  • And a role in the spiritual life of the community

Why has development failed?

We really need to know why development has failed. If we do not know why development has failed, then we do not know what to fix. So there is an enormous need to get an answer to this question.

Few in the official relief and development assistance (ORDA) community understand or accept that development has failed. In the broadest sense the development paradigm that has prevailed for the past three or four decades just does not work. Bits of it are functional, but most of it consumes resources and destroys economic value.

Though development has failed, nobody in the ORDA community is willing to answer the question as to why it has failed. The culture of relief and development has evolved in a way that makes it impossible to get a straight answer from ORDA organizations themselves. This is not a failure of people as much as it is a failure of organizations. The system is just not structured to allow this question to get answered because maybe it puts into focus too many issues that people need to leave undisturbed. There are people who know the answers, but they would be at risk of job loss or worse as soon as the question of failed development is answered.

Development performance cannot get answered within the ORDA organizations. The phrase “conspiracy of silence” is a good way to sound bite the issue. There is a culture that avoids transparency, and a culture that has no accountability.

Over and over again in my experience with development there were cases of complete ineptness. There were cases of outright fraud. But the system protects its own. And the system does not force these incidents of failure to be addressed. The system makes it difficult to be efficient while allowing incompetence and fraud to survive, and indeed, flourish.

Until the question of why relief and development has failed is answered, there is going to be a continuation of relief and development practices that produce “failed” results. The upsurge of criticism of development is not coming from the experts and the leadership of ORDA organizations but is coming from outsiders who see what is going on, and do not like what they see.

Getting to the root of the problem

The following was written to the "End Terrorism" list serve about two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001. Most of the ideas that I tried to express at that time still apply. My hope is that by trying to organize the thoughts in a “book”, my arguments will be better prepared and my hopes for implementing effective change will be more practical.

Subj: Getting to the root of the problem
From: Peter Burgess Date: 11/13/01
Dear Participants

I have not been able to follow recent discussion as much as I would like, and I might be repeating some of what has already been said.

Might does not have the power to end terrorism. History seems to show that terrorism happens when there is a high degree of hopelessness and it is quite clear that the power structure has no intention whatsoever of a meaningful change in the status quo.

These were arguments expressed over a century ago. Dickens did not like what he saw in the "justice" of the capitalist society of the day. Nor did Karl Marx who argued that the capitalist system could only be reformed by revolution. Most of the terrorist situations we are looking at today have this element.

The good news is that Karl Marx was wrong. The modern United States has demonstrated that it is possible to have an economic revolution without a physical revolution, and from the US perspective (and the NORTH as a whole) modern capitalism is a pretty efficient system and one that has made opportunity and work deliver great results for a very large community of people.

But NOT all people. The present wealth of the global NORTH and the present poverty of the global SOUTH is essentially an unstable situation. The challenge is to make it possible in this century for the economic success that has resulted from opportunity and innovation and hard work in the NORTH to be facilitated also in the SOUTH.

Clearly a lot of people like the American version of capitalism. The backlog of people who would like to come to the United States is vivid testament to that. But people are not so pleased that the NORTH has backed away over and over again from giving value adding development support to the SOUTH. The NORTH has not invested in the SOUTH in the post independence years with anything like the same commitment as the US invested in post World War II reconstruction in Europe and Japan. There has not been the private development investment flows to the SOUTH in the 20th century as there were to the United States and its Wild West in the 19th century when Britain and Holland made enormous financial investments in developing America .... and more than a century later still have major investment holdings.

Terrorism has root causes. Economics and a lack of economic equity and fairness and justness is one key root cause. Religion is not as much a root cause as an excuse and a rallying cry to mobilize the masses ..... and in the present context to motivate the terror operatives to commit their atrocities.

Yes we should attack the perpetrators of terror and eliminate them to the extent that it can be done.

But more important, we need to help remove the economic disparities that are ongoing, and mostly getting worse.

There are a number of major institutions that could make an enormous difference. These include the World Bank, USAID and the US Government, the other major donor governments, the UN and its specialized agencies ...... but most importantly the leaders of the global capital markets and the corporate community.

For the past 30 or 40 years the official relief and development assistance (ORDA) community has engaged in support for development that has resulted in "value destruction" rather than "value or wealth creation". This is mainly because most of the investment has flowed into the public sector where it has been "consumed" by the government rather than being a resource to facilitate wealth growth by the private sector and people. The private sector has not been able to flourish in most developing countries (nor in the Soviet Union) the way it has flourished in the United States (and the NORTH).

The private sector in developing countries as the engine of economic wealth creation has never had much fuel, yet the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and with some nourishment can be again the driver of wealth creation and economic success.

The prevailing foreign direct investment (FDI) paradigm is, however, not a good solution. Yes, wealth is created but it mostly flows out of the host country, and the economic distortion caused by these projects are value destroying in the host community. And FDI often brings other social consequences that are undesirable. But investment in financing the entrepreneurial sector in the host country is a key, and must be done and done right.

The leaders of the global capital markets have the intellectual capacity to address the relief and development problem and the imbalance between the rich and the poor and do it well. These are the leaders that should become engaged because this thinking should not be done with an entrepreneurial mindset rather than in a socialist or communistic mode.

The use of global capital to fund socially responsible and highly profitable investment in developing countries is absolutely critical. The use of global capital resources to refinance the public sector in developing countries is critical. If a bankrupt New York City in the early 1980s can be saved, then a bankrupt developing world can be saved. The ability exists. Is there the will?

The need is more than debt reduction. The need is for refinancing and figuring out how socioeconomic progress can succeed ...... using the world's best knowledge ..... using the world's best technology ...... using human resources ...... using natural resources ...... and organizing and managing to make them create world wealth.

This is setting the stage for win-win, and global value creation or wealth creation. It goes a stage beyond just pipeline politics. It is about people and their quality of life. Make the pie get bigger, then ALL the slices can be bigger.

Our organization has much of the understanding needed to start making these things happen. We have been listening for many years to the needs of remote communities around the world ...... and we now know what they think would improve their quality of life. We know a lot about modern technology. We know a lot about organization and management and performance in development. We understand the concept of accountability.

Nobody needs terrorism. But sadly, we have got it and it will not go away until there is some positive and creative new thinking along the lines described

Peter Burgess

As a result of academic economic training I used to think that development performance could be best expressed in macro-economic terms. But as soon as I started to work practically with people in very poor communities in developing countries and even more so with refugees who had been uprooted from their homes it became apparent that this approach was ridiculous. It would be much better to start looking at development goals from the family perspective and perhaps the local community and working up, rather than looking at the macroeconomic elements and working down.

In a poor developing country the macroeconomic information badly reflects the socio-economic situation for almost all the population, but family focus information is extremely useful. There is a case for expressing development goals in terms of community matters. Communities usually know what it is that they need and want most, and it is not necessarily what people from the NORTH, or even another region in their country would think is the most important.

If we focus on people, and giving people opportunity, then we should find out what people need and want and what they can do best. Opportunity should not be constrained to what we in the NORTH think is the priority.

There is a case for thinking about development at the national level. But already the specific activities that are going to get the most added value is starting to be averaged out. By thinking at the national level, development success is already going to be less than it can be with thinking at the family level and the community level.

In my work experience from Myanmar to Mozambique, from Kazakhstan to Costa Rica, there are some community elements that seem to be common, and some that always seem to be different. The only way forward that will get the best economic value adding is one that has skilled listening at every step of the process.

Time to make changes

Changes should have been made long ago. Development was already in a failure mode two decades ago, but the changes made and the solutions chosen aggravated the failure.

It is time to try again. This book aims to help make changes. This book is about people and resources and process and information. This book is about planning and organization and implementation and measurement and feedback. These are all very basic concepts of organization and management, and all have value in the development context.

It is time that the ODA community and the financial and economic and political leaders of the NORTH are challenged about the failure of development in the SOUTH. Every year millions of people are dieing prematurely because of failed development. It is time to do an accounting and start to reengineer development.

I am at a great advantage. At my age I do not have to reflect my employer's views and I do not have to safeguard a pension, or be careful about my next career step. I have the unusual freedom to write what I believe.

In the first section of this book the problems of development are set out briefly and broadly as well as an outline the main elements of a logical solution. In later sections, the main issues of development performance and a framework of possible solutions are explored in more detail.


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