Thursday, 12 February 2015

Lessons from Mr. David and Issues of Development

Development (Vikas in Hindi) is the rhetoric that resonate every sphere of life including political speech and Social work. The more you deal with the core of the topic, the more you get into the labyrinthine arena of its uncertainty that would lead you far from any definite conclusion of its means and ways. Like any other person involved in development I too was indulged in the multifarious tasks of project activities with fusion of confidence, skepticism, satisfaction, disillusionment and of course optimism that emerges out of lessons leant from everyday experience while working with people and environment. Such was the experience bestowed upon me and my colleagues while working with Mr. David Syme, a veteran development consultant from Australia. He came to Gorakhpur as the team leader of the Mid Term Review of a project that is implemented for the mainstreaming of Persons with Disabilities. In the introductory session of the review he termed the process of evaluation as ‘an appreciative enquiry’ which would be participatory and looking at the positive side of whole affairs.

I do not wish to write about the evaluation and its outcome but about the process and an important lesson that I could absorb as a splendid principle of development and of course life. During the process he was very particular to ensure that diverse voices were heard during the field visit to interact with community members especially persons with disabilities. He interacted with them without discrimination in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. Thus all the participants could express their view and experience freely and generously. 

I was amazed to find how he facilitated the discussion with patience and great sense of understanding. He was not in a hurry to get the participants to reply immediately after a question ( it was not a question, but an enquiry into their realities) but allowed them to take time and express themselves. During the conversation he reminded the team members “we should even appreciate their silence because we should not expect the community members to respond immediately after a question placed in front of them. They need to understand and reflect in their own pace and manner.” He also reminded us we should not be in a hurry to define change but rather we should allow people to express what they consider as change or development. What you define as change may not be so for a community in a different context.

Now about the splendid principle of development that I could absorb from Mr. David was his comment during a conversation which I consider the ‘manthra’ of development or even as a core value of human life. He said “My duty as the leader of evaluation team is not just to throw ideas into various stakeholders but to facilitate them to move towards the desired direction and support them to attain it in diverse means.” This statement really touched me as I find the absence of this core value in various spheres of life including development activities, where we sometime even go to the extent of coercion. The best example in development is the way Government conceive the whole idea of eliminating open defecation from rural and urban areas. Wide range of programmes including Total Sanitation Programm, to Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and now Swatch Bhrart Abhiyan were Government centric and the Government expecting the people to change towards adopting safe disposal of human waste after constructing the toilets at subsidized rate without even creating demand. Millions of rupees from the exchequer were invested to construct toilets and vast majority of them are used by the people for various purposes such as a store room and they remain dysfunctional. 

As Government deal with development issues, teachers at school, parents at home, priests at temples, churches, mosques etc., leaders of organizations, managers of the firms, the intellectuals in seminars and workshops play the role of reservoir of ‘progressive ideas’ and agents of change that are more enthusiastic to make others feel inferior and make them aware of their drawbacks. Thus blaming, paying  focus on weakness along with possible solutions becomes the central areas in the above mentioned fields of life. In development sector one can find two groups, one the providers (knowledge, ideas, resources) and the other at the receiving end. The providers always believe they are infallible and its their duty to provide others solutions that they believe the right thing to adopt. I found a bold departure in David’s approach towards people in enabling them to become agents of change themselves. The whole approach was not to dominate the other with his wisdom and experience but to assist people towards the desired changes or progress. He interacted with various stake holders especially who are key people in the project implementation side at various occasions with the keen intention of a better project cycle management. He was not just pointing out the errors or weakness but facilitating all of us towards the change.

Finding faults, drawbacks, sharing solutions and bunch of advices are a common man’s cup of tea but without a judgmental attitude, respecting diverse views, and facilitating people towards change without imposing an inferior feeling into the minds of others is possible only for persons like David who are blessed with decorum, insight, and true wisdom.

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