Social Development Insight ~ The pretence of ending poverty

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Last Friday I was on my way to downtown Kingston for a meeting and noticed a black dog running at the side of the road. It was carrying a prize in its mouth. As I drew nearer I realized the prize was the carcass of a rat. The dog in its hunger was tearing it apart rapidly.

Something in me sank. I remember looking around at some of the inner-city communities I was passing through and feeling a sense of helplessness. Days earlier just close by there had been a shooting at the entrance of the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH). http://rjrnewsonline.com/local/man-shot-at-entrance-to-kph, Fast forward another 10 minutes and I’m looking at an elderly woman, unwashed, uncared for – sitting at the side of East Street staring intently at her skin and digging away at her flesh. One can only attempt to guess what is haunting her mind.

Shortly afterwards I am sitting in a cool trendy boardroom preparing to start a meeting. I am numb and haunted. Those images are re-playing in my head. I am not the only one. For another 45 minutes the four of us sat earnestly reflecting on development challenges facing Jamaica. Like development, some of these issues are deep-seated, complex, multi-faceted. They require original, out of the box critique and action. They require resolve. These are problems that have been years in the making, a melange of culture, history, politics, leadership – or lack thereof – etc etc etc. They require political will, not politicking.

A few things about our approach to social development in this country (and the rest of the Caribbean!) must change:-

  1. Social development is not a competition. It is not a competition for media attention. It is not about trumpeting the glory of one over the other. It is a battle to the death for the lives of innocent children, young people, women & men in our communities. For a child to reach the age of 5, live in depressed circumstances, experience trauma, be hampered in attending school etc – then it is almost too late. NGOs, CBOs, Private sector, church bodies, Government agencies – this is not a competition. Let us co-ordinate/ link our efforts!
  2. Social development is not a business. The only business we should be running is the business of running ourselves out of a job. This would mean that the challenges we have thrown our money and efforts at, are improving. Not regressing. This is not about setting up an NGO, agency etc for the purpose of receiving funding to pay ourselves to “eat a food”, “pay a bill”, “live a little”. With that attitude we’ve already lost.
  3. Social development is not an opportunity for “slave master” tactics or political advantage. With all due respect constituency leaders, MPs, Ministers, Parish coordinators etc this is not about gaining a little mileage through “handout leadership”. I want “hand-up leadership”. This is not about ensuring our friends in high places receive the funding & the projects etc. It is a about the people. The children, the young girls & boys, the women & men in our communities.
  4. Social development is not about a quick fix. Problems that have been years in the making, will not suddenly go away by a 6 month or 2 year project. In the pages of reports that cite the numbers of beneficiaries reached, trained, served etc this does not mean that their lives have improved one iota. We need to start thinking more long-term with our interventions. Aid agencies, it is time you recognize this. Stop baiting the development sector with your carrot money and sending people scampering to meet your rules. Are you sure you know the full face of the problems? Development is not top down. We speak participation, but it seems we are really referring to tokenism.

I want to know your thoughts. Send me your opinion, let’s talk. Nothing changes when we sit silent.

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Thanks a bunch for stopping by!

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