Greg Snell, “Developing Good Development: 10 Principles to guide your… next mission project,” Christianity Today, November, 2007,p.52.
Is help helpful, band-aid, or counterproductive? Why are many giving up on aid to Africa and other parts of the world? What does partnership have to do with this, and how can it be made to work? This writer speaks from his experience in Kenya.
There’s never been such a time in the world for development strategy as now (Greg Snell begins). Recently I read an article by a professor who essentially declared to the development world: “Give up.” And this professor is not alone. Many analysts have noticed that when Westerners try to help developing nations, we often waste large amounts of money, undermine local economy, or make locals dependent on us for generations.
It’s important to stop and ponder the above—even to discuss it with others. One youth minister in Nairobi decried the “cancer of dependency,” the begging for money amid widespread corruption and nepotism. He was pondering years of paternalistic colonialism and similar paternalistic attitudes of Western governments that followed independence, and streams of relief organizations. He was considering churches whose romantic notions of helping and doing good often brought more satisfaction to donors than practical and long-lasting help to recipients. This American youth leader was dealing with a continuous line at his door asking for help (mostly money). It’s important to take this all in and to realize the writer of this article (Greg Snell) faced all these realities in his helping over the past decade or so. He goes on:
But I cannot give up, because I’ve seen development succeed time and again…. I know firsthand that helping people help themselves is one of the toughest businesses you can be in. But it can be done successfully….
This controversy may stimulate our minds, but won’t do anyone much good if we get lost in theory. Snell goes on to describe his own experiences to offer ten principles capable of turning good intentions into viable realities:
- Know More than your Mission Statement. In other words, know the vision and value behind your mission statement (and editing I would emphasize that individuals, organizations, and churches all need clear mission statements.) Continue to lift up your vision and values (Snell continues) to ensure they are owned from the grassroots to the “grasstops” of your organization.
- Avoid Deficit Auditing. Don’t look at what a community lacks—so-called “deficit auditing.” Instead use… “asset auditing” in which all resources (human, economic, cultural and spiritual) are acknowledged and harnessed.
- Seed the Project with Local Seeds. (Don’t fund an entire project; begin with money from the situation itself, local funding. External donations should be complementary to local initiatives proven to grow and diminish need for aid.)
- Make the Rounds Early and Often. God has leaders in every nation. It is important to meet with them early on and to be sensitive to local political (and cultural) realities. What can we do to help you accomplish your objectives?
- Build Values before Buildings. When leaders were about to close a project, a local pastor asked me (Snell) to help him raise $3,000 to fund the primary school, now that the organization was pulling out. I asked him, “What percentage of the school budget are the local people going to provide?” “None,” he said, “Pastoralists—they don’t believe in education.” I replied, “then, close the school and first work on building the values that stress the need for education. You can reopen the school when people see the need and are willing to get behind it.”
He was speechless. That school had been propped up artificially. Development is more about building values first, then methods, projects and buildings. Beliefs and values guide behavior. We will do what we value.
- Practice cost-sharing. Projects will succeed when those controlling them have incentives for projects to succeed. Cost-sharing does not always mean money. There are other forms of sacrifice like labor, time, and materials. (The writer gives two examples: one a good windmill project fully funded from abroad; when the windmills broke, locals did not repair. When the American donor was later asked to fund a grinding mill for the women of the village, he said he would respond after they had raised $2,500. That mill is still working.)
- Use the Eyes and Ears of Locals. (You need impartial, local informants, with whom you have a trusted relationship, to let you know what’s really going on.)
- Don’t patronize. (A president of an American ministry told African church leaders) “Now keep in mind that what I bring you, you don’t have to accept. Please feel free to use only what you need and want.” … a wise and courageous African leader reprimanded him. “Don’t treat us as children. We are adults and know what our people need and what they do not need,… we can decide what is good.”
9. Answer Questions Slowly. (We Westerners from what we call, the “Developed World,” tend to be quick on analysis and impatient regarding complexities. Our solutions often smother local initiative.) A wise African church leader once told a missionary, “If you see a spark of a flame of leadership in an African leader, be careful not to blow it out.” (Good advice; could even this border on paternalism?)
10. Plan Exit Strategy. For every successful long-term development project, there needs to be a plan for the transition of power, energy, and momentum. Physical separation is often required for that transition to become a reality. One axiom of development is that the people with the resources are ultimately the ones in control. The goal should be resource transition…. My pastor used to preach about the “ministry of presence”—and about the “ministry of absence.”
Snell’s advice and principles have to do with one of our world’s most pressing issues. If both humanitarian documents and the Gospel speak of liberation from the oppressive constraints of poverty, the poor need to experience empowerment and opportunities to sustain their families and serve their communities—to achieve dignity for themselves and their families in an economic world.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. With what here do you strongly agree or disagree? What comments or questions do you have?
2. Do you understand the words paternalism, dependency, counterproductive? If not, how can you best and most quickly clarify these? Do you find this article itself paternalistic? If so, how can these issues be dealt with in a fairer way?
3. What experience do you have in helping disadvantaged people to help themselves? What problems have you (or others you’ve watched) faced in doing so?
4. Consider and discuss blind spots and problems in donors and recipients. Some African church leaders have told Americans: “Just give us the money; we know best what to do with it.” Is this problematic in any way?
1. The increasing gap between rich and poor nations and individuals with all the injustices that such a gap perpetuates should be of concern to all—especially people of faith.
2. The dysfunctional gap between rich and poor is costly to the world in what gets lost, in terms of human and labor potential, as well as in the cost of dealing with the trouble it causes (crime, drug addiction, riots, wars).
3. The reduction of poverty is a major intention of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, an effort and development strategy joined by many churches and people/organizations of good will.
4. For people of faith, rectifying the indignities and destruction of poverty is a part of the Gospel (see Leviticus 25 and Luke 4, etc.).
Dean Borgman c. CYS