Development Assistance and Sustainable Development: A Critical Assessment
Sustainable development is currently said to be an overriding development goal, also for development assistance. It requires new approaches that challenge not only economic rationality but also bureaucracies in ways that encourage political pluralism and the participation by civil society. As the gap between rich and poor increases and as the pressures on already strained systems constantly increase, the legitimacy of the development industry has increasingly been called into question. Development processes are nonlinear `open' systems that are extremely fluid, in which continuous learning is the sine qua non of being able to respond and intervene effectively. But superficial learning is common within the development industry, because real learning implies change and challenge, and many development failures are due to institutional rather than technical problems. Somehow, agencies and managers have largely allowed the indications of new and better approaches or opportunities go undetected. They seem not to understand that building people's capacity to learn and make connections becomes more important than accumulating information about lessons learned in the past, and that it is more important to target interesting (positive or negative) experiences for learning instead of `averaging' experience across the board. A revamping of policies is urgently needed. This paper tries to provoke a more productive discussion about development assistance which goes beyond pervasive blind faith and thoughtless mantras and discusses some ideological and structural foundations that have prevented the development industry from making progress towards sustainable development. It analyzes what can be done and asserts that it is clear that, if sustainable development is to be supported and realized, it has to be built on the consent and support of those whose lives are affected. Promoting sustainability and understanding and tackling the roots of poverty is a challenge that requires unlocking material resources and allowing people to take part in social, economic and environmental decision making. There is a need to draw on more diverse perspectives and to cut across sectoral boundaries to counter the monovalent approaches that have dominated mainstream development assistance practice. To that end, there is a dire need develop frameworks that can help actors understand the real meaning of sustainable development.
Sustainable Development, Poverty, Rhetoric, Organizational Learning, Social Learning, Development Assistance, Complexity, Uncertainty, Dogma, Paradigms
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