Development Cooperation Handbook/Development assistance as social education
Development assistance as social education
Change" is a key term for those who work in international cooperation. A specific "change" is always the intended objective of a cooperation action. Development workers always ask themselves and the project stakeholders the question: how can we produce a change? What kind of "change" are they looking for? How can we change human relationships from a zero sum game to a positive sum game?
To build a school where earlier there was no school is relatively easy. But how can one bring in dialogue where earlier there was rhetoric and mistrust? How is it possible to induce a cooperative climate where earlier there was conflict and competition and exclusion? Is it possible to change human relationships from a zero sum game to a positive sum game?
Those who work in International cooperation say that the change they want to induce in the people they assist is not a transformation of their values; it is not a conversion. On the contrary, they want their project beneficiaries to be better able to choose in accordance with their values. For development workers, development assistance is empowerment. Like educators do for individuals, development workers do for communities.
Development workers help in "leading out" human potentialities. And using the famous words of Socrates, they act as midwifes in assisting women to deliver. Development actions are therefore a concrete form of social maieutics.
All cooperation projects run the risk of being implicit or explicit forms of coercive socialization aimed at making the counterparts abandon their values and adopt the values of their masters. But these cooperation projects also bring along with them new opportunities for education when they are authentic, i.e. a service given to the beneficiaries with the objective of enlarging the horizons of opportunities, possibilities and choices.
Whenever we have a "community" that is the intended target of "social change", we always run the risk of imposing values that are alien to these community. This risk is particularly high when the target community comprises of marginalized and voiceless persons; and the educator is acting on behalf of more powerful and richer communities, as is usually the case with development assistance projects.
Development experts take a number of mitigation measures against potential risks based on dialogue processes that enable people to participate in all steps of planning, implementing and evaluating development actions. These are risks that educators know they face in their job of trying to make others adapt to their pre-determined plans rather than as an education, enabling people to lead out their human potential in harmony with their own values.
Cooperation and dialogue
Since development requires “spontaneity” and a “preservation of identities”, it cannot be superimposed (neither with violence nor with seduction), but requires authentic cooperation and dialogue. Dialogue, understanding and solidarity among all development stakeholders are the key elements for success in development. Although a change in the behavior of the beneficiaries is a legitimate objective of international cooperation projects, we should remember that no person can be changed by others. Development will happen only if persons change themselves, in accordance with their value system, once they have the opportunity to do so. (see ⇒ The participatory approach)
In other sections of this handbook