Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Zulfi Haider
Development Cooperation Expert
New Delhi, 13th April 2010
Zulfiquar Haider is the National Programme Coordinator for the Planning Commission (GoI) - UN, Joint Programme on Convergence. He was interviewed in Delhi on the 13th of April 2010 by Fausto Aarya De Santis
Can you till us about a good practice which you know of in development cooperation?
In Afghanistan there was a project called NSP (national solidarity project). The interesting things i found was that (1) it was something in the agenda of the government itself, (2) donors without wanting their flags and identity is publicized were ready to back it up and (3) unlike many other projects, this project was a lot more flexible in design, it allowed a degree of flexibility for the project to evolve.
The government saw all the local and international organizations as partners so there was a lot of space for dialogue which was created; so realities from the ground as implementation happened were feeding in the design aspect of the program... which changed, in many significant ways. Instead of saying what will happen in the name of development, this project was building on creating local government councils and these councils would then make plans in a participatory way. Their development plans would determine what happens. Yes there was technical support given on budget, questioning who the beneficiary were and help people prioritize... but it was the people's plans and inspirations which were finding space.
Can you tell us about a bad practice which you know of in development cooperation?
In a project in Afghanistan, at some point in time, the worldbank or the project management brought in a gender consultant from outside... who probably would have spent a few weeks traveling in a country like Afghanistan and came up with suggestions on what should be done to address gender concerns and empower women.
When some of us read that report we were shocked... for it was obvious! But if we tried to implemented those suggestion in a clear-cut way both the women and us would be thrown out if.
The idea of a foreign consultant coming to a complex society, specially to a post-complict society like Afghanistan, and making suggestions from a partly feminist and western idea of women empowerment and wanting this to be imposed; it fundamentally a wrong way to go about it.
What was the different kind of solution which you adapted to the above problem?
There were valleys in Afghanistan where people said that we will not allow are women to vote. Which was not acceptable for many of us... but at some point we realized that you either leave the area or work with these conditions.
Year one, no women voted. But once a new leadership came up in 40 councils, the very next year the same people said that "oh, by the way i think it was a bad idea and next year we will be with you in ensuring that in the remaining communities women should exercise their vote". In just a matter of one year!
The theory of change can be very different on the way you do it. A lot of trust building, you earn the confidence of people and they must see you as partners and that you are adventuring on this together.
The problem which arises when the Governments starts implementing NGO success process on a large scale without proper planning
The self-help group concept came from the NGO world. But at one point the government took over the idea to will promote it. What happens is that when the state decides to implement something which is facilitation oriented and a process driven approach... is that government system and structures are not organized to reward intensive process oriented approach. Measurements of performance is based largely on numbers game. In one of our project in Madhya Pradesh the principal secretary of the concerned department felt "you are doing only 3000 self-help groups in 3 years". The government has 3000 supervisors with 15 Day-care centers each. So each supervisor will set-up a self-help group and the next year each supervisor will train the 15 day-care workers and you will have 10s of thousands of self help groups created in a year. We saw disaster coming! These are intensive relational process where you have to build trust with communities, you need to know them, become an insider. He goes on to give an example of successful government stories on this also, but then the principle changed from the numbers game to merit.
What is the importance of involving local communities in project design and implementation. Can you also tell us about your project?
In India right from the time of Mahatma Gandhi the idea of a village republic, power to the people has been there. Over a period of time in the practice of development both in academia and practice, it has been apparent that once you have planning done locally then people have a better idea of their needs, aspiration and they will have ownership of ideas; and whatever therefore gets done will be much more efficient and effective.
There is now a very strong commitment from the Government to get local communities more involved in development activities. There is space being given and if somebody can properly demonstrate how it can happen, it will be honored. This is what the program we are doing is trying to achieve. We want to demonstrate how the bottom up planning will actually function. How there can be convergent action around the people's own plans, how to give information to the communities as to what is happening to their plans and trying to identify the bottle necks of large government schemes at district levels - there is a lot of unspent money at district levels in India which is very sad.
Why should we be identified so much with anything. One can have a fluid idea of identity. The danger is when we are so strongly identified that implicitly we are saying that our is the right way and the other is way is either lesser or wrong... and this is one of the fundamental reason of conflict and violence in the world.
Honestly i don't think it takes too much intelligence to just observe life around to realize that what we hold on to are nothing more than conditioning. If a person is identified with a religion, it is just an accident of birth. Which would easily reaviel that there is nothing fundamental about it. So whatever perspective we carry are just conditioning based on socialization and the upbringing we had, so there isn't necessary a grand ultimate truth about it. Therefore there is no reason to hold on to it and say this is the only way. You can be flexible and curious about life.
How to address this? I think we need to create spaces and platforms where dialogue can happen, where people can get relaxed about their identity.... and as child that curiosity which is innate needs to be foster.
What is your opinion on aid coming from an other culture and an other country
Given the kind of disparity that exists in the world, the rise in consciousness globally and if we recognize that humanity is one... it is not really a choice to respond to a situation which is not acceptable to us. Owing up to this responsibility has to be a case, it is not the case of making a choice. Yes, there is a need of aid and the mechanism of international aid has its place in the world.
The challenge with international aid is accepting a plural world, where we accept that others may have a different take on what is desirable and what is development for them. Or are we going to continue to say that development is catching up with the West and making them like 'Us'.
This is not only a western problem it is a problem all over the world. Even in India, every group thinks that there way is the right way and somebody else' way is the distorted way. And is the worst situation it is not just different, it becomes the wrong way.
There is now quite a degree of understanding that aid should not come with too much riders. But I would not say that this has stopped, the prevalent practice continues top be the same.
What is your opinion on the MDGs
As part of the role of the UN as a kind of global governance arena, this is a wonderful thing which has happened in consensus building between such a large number of countries.
But i have certain concerns with how the MDGs are being pushed. You say there must be universal right of education, so every country should have an X number of schools and teachers. Now you have countries which don't have sufficient internal revenue to do that. So what does the international community say: "We will take care of that through aid". But, would you like a country to be completely depended on aid to actually cater to something which is so fundamental? Aid has not always been benign; it has come with riders.
Now, the teacher's lobby is one of the biggest unions which exists in every country. And once you have teachers you cannot fire them easily, you have to sustain them. But ,until there is an internal revenue mechanism which can support that, to except a country to say "yes, we will ensure this, even if it means taking aid" is Bad Idea! Rightly countries are now setting their own targets.
At the same time it is unforgivable that in today's age when globally the kind of resources and wealth that the world has generated; to accept hunger as a reality of life is unacceptable, there is no reason why one can go hungry today! And if it requires aid transfer then those aid riders should not come there.
Do you think you as an individual can make a difference to the condition of the poorest in this world?
It is about...are we willing to recognize the humanity in others? Are we willing to recognize that instead of all the time just thinking about ourselves can we can think of others, can we see pain around us... can we say "whatever means i have let me respond to it!".
Even if something good is being done, how many of us have the real ability to celebrate that; rather than think "if good is happening from somebody else, I don't really care. If it happens through me and it boosts my image, ego, my stature, then it is worthy". I think we are caught in that trap. I think it is fundamentally about, just offering ourselves to life and just responding to it... and recognizing the sense of responsibility and interconnectedness of life around us.