It is that question that ISEDT is researching and communicating.
There are plenty of signposts on the ‘how?’ ‘Practice not policy’ and ‘people not power’ are maxims that contain the answer. Dignity, choice, responsibility, respect, hope, and consequences are the guiding words.
Goonj in India is one exemplar of local enablement and empowerment and how it transforms communities. India is a place full of contradictions with the starkest examples of wealth and poverty; it is the largest democracy and yet it maintains the caste system. At Goonj they say: ‘No one should be a victim of charity’. The argument is that traditional charitable development leads to:
- the donor-recipient relationship cementing the status of the deprived,
- ‘gifts’ not being what people really need,
- And providing no pathway to sustained improvement: however well-intentioned.
The Goonj model respects peoples’ dignity and choice and enables them to hope on their terms and take responsibility for their futures and their eco-system. The fundamental principle is that people have the wisdom and creativity they need to thrive—what they lack so often is the belief in their own worthiness, and access to the most basic resources. This is applicable across the world – not just in India.
Just imagine what could be achieved if a reasonable part of the global aid and development budget could be channelled with respectful guidance and support to such communities and initiatives? The world has tacitly recognised this potential through ‘The Grand Bargain’ commitment to localisation – but it has woefully failed to deliver in the face of the contradictions and ‘co-dependencies’. Yet the academic literature is full of examples of how giving cash rather than ‘stuff’ to the poor in the developing world is better in terms of outcomes and stimulating the local economy.