People are the key to everything. They are the latent force and the
limiting constraint. People are human, with all the problems that go
along with that. What is the human potential? What is needed so that
people can do the maximum that they are capable of? An increase in
population should be a positive for development success rather than
being a negative that reduces wealth. Recent development thinking has
people as liabilities and users of scarce resources rather than being
human assets that help produce and create wealth. The chapter
challenges some of the issues about people that are used to explain
development failure but which are more about the way organizations
and societies fail people. It raises the question about people's wasted
potential, lack of opportunity and disorganized organizations. It takes
up the issue of how organizations with ineffective systems and processes
destroy the potential of good people to do great work.The focus of
development is about people who are both beneficiaries and the
instruments of development, either individually or through some form
of organization. There is a need to envision development from the
perspective of the people who are failing and hopeless under the
prevailing development paradigm and optimize development from that
Make the very best use of people
How can people be put at the at the center of development. How to get people to
be more important than institutions. How to get people in every corner of the
development process? When people have opportunity they can make better use
their abilities for good benefit. But people have more power as a team so that
leads to the question of how teams should be established and how people can
organize to get things done. What are the incentives that motivate people? What
way to organize for success at every level, while keeping the priorities of people,
and the enthusiasm of people so often lost in the humdrum of a typical large
organization. How to keep people informed so that they are able to participate
in priority setting and decision making and making accountability a factor in
People - too many not doing much
The logic of the economic thinking used by most in the ORDA world is that a
human being is a liability. This is a fundamental problem that pervades
Many of the problems of development are blamed on increase in population,
and population pressures. But that begs the question of people as having value
and their role as a resource. This treats people as liabilities and users or
consumers rather than as assets and producers. The chapter challenges some of
the issues about people that are used to explain development failure but which
are more about the way organizations and societies fail people. It raises the
question about people's wasted potential, lack of opportunity and disorganized
organizations. It takes up the issue of how organizations with ineffective
systems and processes destroy the potential of good people to do great work.
Development should not be about monetary measures, but about all the other
quality of life measure that are important to people as they live from day to day.
How are the members of my family doing? That is the number one question for
the majority of the world's people. Most have no idea about any of the alphabet
soup of economic indicators, but they do know how the family is doing. And
sadly, for most of the world's people the members of the family are not doing
Everything about development has to be brought back to people. Development
is ONLY about people. And looked at from the perspective of people, the
present paradigm for development does not work. The challenge is to determine
what will work.
Some say “all politics is local”. I want to go a lot further and say “all life is local”
When development gets a new focus, and starts to do what makes success at a
local level, there will be success. And what will make success at a local level is
development activity around the priorities of the people and the community.
And this is quite easy.
Every single community knows what it has as priority.
And it is impossible to come up with a formula that has universal applicability.
The only thing that is going to be common, is that local people should be central
to the processes that determine what are priority.
The human resource dimension of development has probably been more
successful than any other dimension of development. In the 1960s and 1970s
there were relatively few people in the South with education. During the past
thirty years, education has become far more widely available, and parents in the
South have embraced education whenever they have had the opportunity.
But while education has become significantly more available, the jobs have not
Most poor countries have far too few jobs in the formal sector
for those with education, and for the world as a whole, basic education is not
enough to do the work that is more and more needed. The result is huge
frustration and a level of unemployed and literate youth that is very very high.
The SOUTH has people. Almost an unlimited supply. The people of the
world are numerous. More numerous than at any time in history, and
in fact better educated than ever.
The single biggest opportunity in the SOUTH is to make productive use of
people. The labor pool in developing countries is enormous, but far too many people are unemployed or underemployed.
And in some ways many from this enormous pool are “unemployable”. This is something of a systemic problem because many are unprepared for work because of the lack of education and training as they have been growing up. It is more a question of opportunity that has been missing than anything else, but it is a critical challenge. Though there has been more education in the last three decades than in prior periods, education is not particularly good and there is not enough
of it. To add insult to injury, sometimes, where it is available, the poor cannot afford the money needed to
be enrolled and to participate
In order for everyone to get opportunities there has to be a range of work
opportunities. Work opportunities are required to suit the capacities of the
The typical corporate mindset is to design the best possible
configuration of manufacturing and staffing, and then recruit the type
of people needed to implement the corporate plan. In order to make best
use of the SOUTH's labor resources for community economic value
adding, the need is to design jobs on top of the available labor.
The best way for people to be helped is to make it possible for people to help
themselves. This cannot be done simply be wishing it so. There has to be specific
action to make it happen. The way people will help themselves is by having the
opportunity to do productive value adding work.
Another theme of this book is that success is achieved when a lot of small
things happen, rather than a single large thing. Everywhere in the
SOUTH there are needs, and there are people to satisfy the needs, but no
financial means to bring the two together. Nobody works. No needs are
satisfied. So financial means need to be available to make it possible for
jobs to be created and work done, and for market demand to be
stimulated. This is the Sears credit initiative of the early 1900s being
repeated again a hundred years later.
People need to be trained. But people should not be trained in a vacuum. They
should be trained in ways that are immediately useful so that they can do a
better job, create more value and get paid more. The work opportunity should
include include training within the workplace or in the community so that
people have a chance to do something more productive and be more valuable
and earn more.
And people's opportunities to learn more and do better should never be
constrained. Because someone was born poor and missed out on early education
should not preclude them from doing well and being part of tomorrow's success.
I was helped in one assignment by a Somali. By the time I was working
with him, he had a US university PhD and knew his subject very well.
But as a child he only got a very rudimentary education and spent most
of his time looking after animals. A responsible job, but part of the
traditional unpaid family labor system. Then there was war .... and
drought and famine. He eventually got his advanced education through
the UNHCR refugee support program.
As efforts are made to improve people's education and training, care must be
given to be assured of economic value adding. Education and training and
unemployment is economic value destruction. Education and training only
becomes value adding if the person can get to do something productive with the
incremental education and training.
Value destruction in connection with the people resource gets to be very high
when people are disabled or die prematurely. The economic value profile of a
human being changes over time.
Let us take the case of a NORTH individual. Health and education and
training for one child is an investment of (for the sake of the example)
$200,000. It is unlikely to be less, and may be very much more. But over
a working life of 40 years, this investment will be paid back many times.
A good education opens earning opportunities that are not available
without a good education, so the initial investment in education and
health has an economic payout, and there is a life that earns more, and
has an economic value adding characteristic. But if the person dies
young. Then the return has not been earned, and it is an economic value
This is an important idea. Africa and the SOUTH already had economic value
adding problems, but with the health and HIV-AIDS crisis the problem is now
getting far worse.
Well trained teachers are dying in their twenties and thirties rather than
their sixties and seventies. Instead of getting 40 years to add value, they
have just a few short years. It is of course a human tragedy. But it is
also an economic value adding crisis.
There is a lot of work that has value that is not monetized in most modern
society. Mothers looking after their children is not usually “paid”, and yet it is of
immense importance and value to society. In the NORTH “day-care” for
children is paid for, is expensive, and may well be far less valuable than the
unpaid care from a parent. Value adding activities are not just about money and
what is paid for and what is not. Value is created when something that people
need and want is created. Unpaid parents are creating value in the family and in
the society or the community.
In the SOUTH, the health and HIV-AIDS crisis is creating all sorts of needs for
care and help for those unable to care for themselves. A lot of the care is being
given by family and friends and community. There is not much funding for this.
But there is enormous value.
Because there are now perhaps 30 million people living with HIV or
AIDS, and maybe as many as 10 million orphans, maybe as many as
100 million people are in the community of people directly affected by
the crisis. These people are doing much of value, without it being
reflected anywhere in the system of “keeping accounts”. Helping these
people to do their valuable caring by “paying” something for the work
that they are doing would seem to be fair, and needs to be arranged.
There is a big global movement in place that is mobilizing financial resources for
microcredit. A subsection of the global microcredit industry might be in the best
position to address this problem
The potential of people to create value is often constrained by their access to
land and other means of production. There are initiatives to give people access
to credit so that they can engage in small entrepreneurial activity. And this
should be encouraged. It is unlikely that more than a tiny proportion of the
people who could use microcredit have the opportunity at the present time.
But there is a need also for people to work together in larger groups. The small
or medium sized business has the potential to be a very much more effective
way to have economic value adding that will make a difference at the
community level, rather than just at the personal level. Business needs to get
organized so that people can be organized, and so that the human resource of
the business can be combined with other business resources to be productive.
An SME contractor in the SOUTH can easily have a well trained owner
or manager, and ten or twenty or a hundred workers, and some
equipment and some working capital, and do excellent work for the
community at costs that are tiny compared to international contractors.
Financing these works creates long term jobs for the workers and
enormous value adding for the community.
People are both the reason for development and one of the primary resources
People add “something” that goes beyond science and engineering, and makes it
possible for some of the limitations that one would expect to constrain success to
be overcome. People bring intellect and ingenuity into play. Instead of always
being in a zero sum situation, people can help make things become win-win
But that is not what has happened in development. The world has got into a
vicious spiral of failure rather than the virtuous spiral of success. People are
thought of as liabilities and not as assets. Overpopulation is seen as a problem.
People are engaged in the economic game of winning. But it is the game of my
side winning, and “to heck” with the losers. And this game can be more vicious
today than at any time in history. The power of peoples' intellect has been used
to create the most productive and powerful military machinery in all of history,
and the winnings in the game of military economics are enhanced enormously
when military machinery and the related military supplies are consumed. But all
sorts of “good things” get sidetracked and lost when the global economy gets
dominated by the military economics component.
While people have emerged as winners in the modern economies of the
NORTH. People are losers in the SOUTH. Poverty and hunger are widespread.
In simple terms, about half the worlds population, some 3 billion people fall into
the poor and hungry category. This is ridiculous and makes no sense. Something
But in the main development planning has been based on giving the poor and
hungry something. A welfare model of development. Under this model, with
half the world needing gifts, and the NORTH not feeling very generous,
development has to fail. And it is no surprise that it has failed. What is
surprising is that the “experts” in the field are not seeing this failure for what it
is. A stupid concept, bound to fail.
John Kennedy had the right idea when he said “Do not ask what the country can
do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”. The development
equivalent should be to ask what people can do for themselves, and not what
the NORTH needs to do for them.
While the poor and hungry and busy, very busy, trying to make ends meet and
stay alive, they are also terribly unproductive. Having a job is only part of the
answer. Getting paid for doing nothing is not a solution. What needs to be going
on is that people should be doing things that need to be done and have value in
the community. And people should be paid something that is related to the
incremental value that they are creating.
When people do work, get paid and create value there is the foundation for a
sustainable and successful economy.
But not many people working in development in the SOUTH fit into a favorable
profile of work, pay and value. Too many people are engaged in work without
adequate pay. Or too many people are paid to create results that have little or no
value. The whole issue of economic value adding must be integrated into the
issues of how people become a resource for development
The world's population is now considered to be a “development” problem.
Overpopulation has become a justification for poverty and failed development.
Analysts of development form the NORTH think of people as a liability in the
poor countries of the world, in the SOUTH. Yet classical economic analysis in
the NORTH used to complain of lack of population growth as slowing down
economic growth and the potential for market driven profitability. There is a
disconnect. What is it?
Clearly there has been a very rapid growth of population in the SOUTH. And
this growth has stressed local resources, especially the local natural resources
including land. But the problem is not so much the number of people, but the
lack of a full set of resources to make it possible for them to engage in “economic
value adding” activities.
It is more than twenty years ago that the World Bank started to put a
focus on encouraging “subsistence agriculture” in Africa. The idea that
development investment funds would be allocated to encouraging
“subsistence” anything seemed to me then, and still seems to me now,
be ridiculous. But it does have the advantage of tremendously lowering
expectations from development investment.
In order for people to be a valuable resource for development, people have got
to have an opportunity to so something valuable. People with no formal
education cannot do some of the things that the NORTH might see to be
valuable, but that is not the view that should be being used. Can people do
something that has value in the local community? And then the next question is,
what is it that will enable them to do something many times more valuable for
the local community?
The local value of a woman walking several kilometers to collect firewood every
day, or to collect water every day, is enormous. It can be the difference between
life and death for the family. But it is something that the NORTH does not think
about very much. Water is instantly accessible in the kitchen, in two and a half
bathrooms and at several faucets in the garden. Hot and cold on demand, and
safe to drink. And energy likewise is instantly accessible. Heating is all electric,
gas, oil ..... and easily and always working. For quite small payments, the
NORTH gets its water and its energy essentially instantaneously. But the
SOUTH must spend hours every day to get water and fuelwood that is so much
lower quality. What a waste of the SOUTH's people resource.
And if someone from the SOUTH gets an education, what does one actually do
with the education. Where are the jobs? Getting educated does not create a job.
The investment in education has a cost, but it only has a value when there is
opportunity to make use of that education in some gainful way.
And if someone from the SOUTH is healthier, that is good, but is it valuable. The
person lives longer, but what good is that if there is nothing gainful for the
person to do. Another person to feed. Another person to share in the very
limited economic pie.
What is needed is healthy, educated, motivated people who have opportunities
to make use of their talents to do economic value adding activities in their
The spiraling growth of the world's population is a dangerous fact. There are
now more than 6 billion people alive, up from around 3 billion ____ years ago,
The way the world is presently organized and the way the global economy
operates, population growth is a reality with very bad consequences.
In broad terms the population of the NORTH is stable or even declining. And
the population of the SOUTH is growing dramatically.
Ironically it is success with health interventions such as universal immunization
against childhood diseases that is a root cause of the population explosion. There
has been a big reduction in infant mortality over the past fifty years and as a
result more children able to survive and add to the population. Over the past
century there has been a big drop in the birthrate in the NORTH, but so far there
has not been a similar big drop in birthrate in the SOUTH.
The health and HIV-AIDS pandemic is changing population dynamics
enormously. In highly affected areas, and change the population dynamic may
result in depopulation rather than just a reduced population. But sadly it will
also serve to reduce even more the already low level of economic productivity.
And what about population growth. Better health increased longevity and
increased population. All the initiatives to reduce family size are going to
achieve limited results until there is education and understanding of its benefit.
Its important to note that the impact of HIV/AIDS will not help family planning
in the short run. A simple solution with limited impact will have to be
addressed; unemployment has to be addressed through business investment
and jobs. And there has been little done within the current system (ODA or
otherwise) to get business investment increased and jobs created.
Building human capital
The importance of training is paramount. The strategy for training includes the
idea that the accountancy professional as a whole is the key to strong
accounting, accountability and transparency. Accordingly the plan is to engage
the national accountancy profession as a whole in the goal of excellence in
accounting in both the private and the public sector.
The opportunity will then exist for training to be an ongoing process from
education and professional qualification at the start of an accounting career to
later experience based learning and continuing professional education.
The staff of government will undergo training that is aimed at accounting
improvement in both the short term and over a longer term. The vast majority of
the junior staff of government are expected to need training so that their daily
work is done better, More senior staff will need training so that the processes of
accounting and improved and the control systems are in place and operating
effectively. Both senior accounting staff and other middle and senior members
of the civil service will need training in the use of the accounting system and the
analysis of accounting reports.
African countries have lost a lot of their brain power during the last thirty years
simply because the economic opportunities in their home countries are so poor
relative to world possibilities.
North America and Europe are the primary destinations for educated Africans.
Now, several decades after independence African academics and professionals
are to be found doing work in the NORTH that would be immensely valuable in
the SOUTH. But at a personal level it makes no sense to stay poor in the SOUTH
when good opportunities are open in the NORTH.
People ... reason for everything
Development ought to be all about people.
But it isn't.
More people are in social and economic difficulty now than forty years ago.
There has been progress. But there has been more backsliding. On balance most
people have not benefited over the past several decades in the way that might
reasonably have been expected.
This is not what the relief and development experts at the World Bank,
in the UN and at donor organizations like USAID want to hear. And in
order to legitimize their position they have started to redefine poverty so
that it is split between extreme poverty and just plain old poverty, and
then they can say that extreme poverty is down, even while basic plan
old vanilla poverty still is huge, and bigger in absolute numbers than
Something is wrong. People were meant to have been the beneficiaries of
progress. But instead something else is going on.
Some people are getting wealthy, very wealthy. The prevailing organizational
and legal and economic structures are working to facilitate wealth creation. Not
surprisingly, wealth is concentrating around those with decision making power.
And some people are getting poorer, and some poor are in the stage where
survival is an issue.
This is not the end of the 19th century. Supposedly the era of the “robber barons”
is over. This is the beginning of the 21st century. This is not a world where most
people are ignorant. This is a world where knowledge is widespread. But power
and decision making still remains highly concentrated.
The organizational framework is wrong. Decision making is is concentrating
wealth and power rather than achieving broad based people progress.
Development is about people. It always has been. But along the way the idea of
process, and a whole set of thematic issues has overtaken the people focus of
For development to succeed it has to be about people. Everyone who has
worked at the “grassroots” level of development understands the importance of
the people dimension of development. They know that failed development ends
up with people who are poor and hungry and lack the basics for a decent quality
of life and with little or no opportunity.
The basic thesis is that people are the key component of society and of
development. And human rights are central to the people dimension of
Just as economics had to rethink its arguments when labor became a component
of both the production side and the consuming or market side. Development
needs to do the same thing. People are part of the engine that drives success in
development and people are the primary beneficiaries of development.
It is a long time ago, but corporate business moved on from the corporate era of
the robber barons (circa 1880) to a more enlightened era where management and
labor would work together for the good of the company and the workers.
The world is full of good people. And the world has half of its people poor and
But people in general have little interaction with the world at large. They just
interact with their own local family and community. What happens beyond that
is of little concern. This is the nature of the individual human being, and their
Over time people have organized in order to do things that individuals cannot
do alone. And as organizations have been created, leaders have emerged to
make these organizations run. And leaders have emerged to control the
activities of organizations, and in some cases to benefit unfairly from the
Some organizations have been created to govern. Other organizations to conduct
business and build things. Other organizations around the spiritual dimension
All organizations have links with history. All organizations are created within a
context that reflects what society expects, whether it is through law and
regulation, or by tradition.
And all organizations evolve to reflect the pressures from inside and outside the
organization. Some do it well. Some do not.
But all organizations essentially are people.
And organizations sometimes make it possible for good people to do bad things.
In fact, it is argued that modern organizations actually make good people do bad
The corporate world expects profit improvement year after year after
year. This is not a normal feature of corporate reality, it sometimes
happens for a few years in a row, but rarely continuously for ever.
Where it does, there is usually some bad reason for it being that way.
And in recent times it has been people doing bad accounting and corrupt
and greedy corporate leadership that made the unreal appear possible.
The Official Development Assistance (ODA) community has more “good
people” than most groups of organizations, but the various organizations that
make up the ODA community are not able in any way shape or form to deliver
the sort of “good performance” that might be expected from good people. This is
not a problem of good people, this is a problem of organization. It is just not
possible to get good performance out of organizations whose structure makes it
And in the SOUTH, there is poverty and there is hunger and all sorts of other
problems. But people are mostly good. Sadly, the circumstances make it possible
for the cunning and the greedy to be “successful” at the expense of the poor. The
organization of society favors the rich and the powerful, often at the expense of
the poor. Good people abound, and even the good people among the rich and
powerful are limited by the organization of society to be of much help to the
There is defeatism among many good people. They argue that the poor
have always been with us, and that this will always be. I argue that
there was a time when this had to be, when technical and economic
productivity was still very low, but those times are long past. People
used to say that people would never fly. The idea that people would go to
the moon was pure science fiction. But these things have been
accomplished. Poverty and hunger can be solved when good people get
committed to doing it.
Good people can do amazing things. They need to get organized to do what
needs to be done. Good people have got to avoid the organizations that are
constraining factors in getting good performance, they need to use the best
processes and the resources they need. And they need information to help them
get the job done.
People have been left out of the development process.
This is not entirely true. People in ODA organizations are part of the
development process and they have become the controllers of the process.
But people in the SOUTH have been left out. The people of the SOUTH should
have been the beneficiaries of development, but instead their lives are arguably
considerably worse now than they were many years ago. Certainly the gap
between the well to do of the world and the poor of the SOUTH is as wide today
as at any time in history.
The World Bank has been heavily criticized over the years for ignoring the input
of the people of the SOUTH and in 2001 rectified this problem by carrying out
more than 60,000 interviews. The outcome of these interviews, and other World
Bank studies of people of the SOUTH was reflected in the World Development
Report of that year, but one has to ask why was it necessary to have 60,000
interviews and how do you make any sense out of this number of interviews
within the World Bank process for development decision making.
The people of the SOUTH have got to be beneficiaries. Their communities
should benefit from progress, but on terms that suit the people. The
achievement of progress is a process. It is organic, and will never be the same in
two different places or at two different times.
People centered development
The idea of people centered development is popular. In fact it is touted as the
solution to a lot of the malaise of development. But action speaks louder than
words, and in fact people centered development is mainly words with rather
In fact, development is centered around organization and procedure and
thematic concepts that have become an excuse for practical tangible activities
that have a value for people.
Put People at the Center of Everything
People are the key engine for development
People need ways to do what is essential for themselves and their family in an
efficient way. People are essentially enterprising, and will do a lot if it benefits
themselves, their families and their community.
People will work long and hard to make a living ... and they would prefer to
work long and hard for good money than just enough to get by. This is a
function of the efficiency of the work available and the buying power of the
community and the country.
In poor places, people walk long distances to get health care. They would prefer
to walk a short distance, and not lose so much working time. People have their
children walk long distances to go to school, but would prefer it if the children
could go to a school that is close by.
People are often constrained by a lack of education and experience. Don't try to
get people to do what they cannot reasonably be expected to do, but figure out
what it is that they can do that is valuable, needs to be done and is worth paying
People ... human resource
People are the most under-appreciated asset, and because of this planning often
excludes their impact on the process of development, and little goes as planned.
When people are pulling the process there is a very different outcome than
when the process is trying to push the people.
The best way to make a person valuable is to organize so that they have
something valuable to do, and they can do it efficiently. People who are
educated and healthy and unemployed doing nothing are of little socioeconomic value ... worse they can create civil strife ... but give people like these
an opportunity to work in a good organization and get paid for it, then there is a
big value and good progress.
Some of the most successful organizations give credit for their success to the
quality of the staff ... and they are absolutely right to do so.
The rebuilding that took place after World War II was funded ... but the success
is attributable not only to money but also to people and motivation. People can
do almost anything if they want to do it, they are encouraged to do it, and there
is a reasonable level of funding so that the needed materials are available.
Rebuilding after World War II
The success of the Marshal Plan in helping to rebuild Europe after
World War II is explained in large part by the willingness of the people
to do a lot of the work. Provided there was some money, some food and
some materials, people could put the society back together.
There was a lot of red tape, but it was not doing planning as much as it
was trying to be reasonable about the allocation of scarce resources. The
speed of Europe's recovery, and especially Germany, was frequently
referred to as a miracle.
Time for Change
African professionals are ready for change. What is needed is the opportunity to
Experts at the World Bank and other institutions know there is a need for
change, but do not know how it can be done.
The many dimensions of people
There are many different dimensions of people, all of which have an impact on the development process and performance.
All of these dimensions of people are present and conflicting at the
More Good People Than Bad People
The world is full of good people
Most of the people I know seem to be “good” people. Wherever I have worked
(something like 60 countries) I have found that most people are good. This
experience transcends both religion and race ... I have had the good fortune to
work with good people of many different religions and races.
In spite of this, global society as a whole and especially the socio-economic
situation is a disaster. There has to be a reason why good people do not have a
more livable global society. Good people need income to pay their bills. To
support their family, good people have to work and are constrained by the
When good people meet bad systems
A lot of good people are stuck in jobs where systems are not very good and the
organizational culture is ethically challenges, but they can do little to change the
situation. Good people get beaten by bad systems, bad processes, and ineffective
or unethical organizations. They work where it is very difficult for them to
perform well and get good results. The situation in Iraq is no different ... plenty
of good people with an enabling environment for socio-economic progress that
Good people live in bad societies ... and no matter how hard they try, they are
stuck in a bad situation and can do very little about it without help.
Good people ... working hard
In government ... public service ... and in the international relief and
development sector, there are a lot of good, ordinary people who work hard and
willingly put themselves on the line to get good outcomes. From time to time
these good people put themselves in harms way, and sometimes get into the
news as they work against all odds to mitigate the impact of disaster.
I have become convinced that most people are good people at heart, in spite of
some outward appearance to the contrary, and some aberrant behavior from
time to time. If people can be as successful being good as being obnoxious then
there would be more people looking good, but sadly, being obnoxious is often
the best way to get ahead. The challenge, then, is to give good, hard working
people more of a shot at doing well.
How Should People Organize?
There are all sorts of ways that people can organize informally to do collectively
what they may not be able to do individually. An example of this is the way
children will organize themselves in order to play a team game like soccer.
People organizations like trade unions have had a very important role in getting
a balance between the greed of capital in the 19th century and the dignity and
value of the worker. Eventually a strong middle class emerged and later the role
of collective bargaining and the union diminished. There is still a legitimate role
for organizations to advocate for good conditions and workplace safety for
workers around the world.
How does this get coordinated?
Broadly speaking ... the less coordination the better. Sustainable development
will perpetuate itself as soon as there are incentives that pull development, and
decisions are made automatically ... organically, if you will ... by community
groups. It is a distributed decision model. It has been described in economics as
the working of the “invisible hand”.
Some modest level of active coordination is required in order to get the best
possible results. A market that is manipulated because of the lack of balance
between buyers and sellers, or inappropriate access to information or the
exploitation of monopoly power does not result in good outcomes from the
Getting people organized - teamwork.
People can do a lot when they are organized, and all pulling in the same
direction. There is a lot of people energy wasted on disagreement and conflict.
People will not put a lot of energy into doing something that they oppose ... but
will put a huge amount of effort and energy into doing things that they want to
This is not a complex idea ... we see it everywhere.
When people have opportunity, they usually make good use of their abilities.
But the most value usually comes when people are part of a team and the team
acts together to do something of value. This leads to the question of how teams
can be established and how people can organize to get things bigger done.
How do you build teams? The better question is how do teams get built ...
because a team that works is going to be one that has a natural birth. They can
be encouraged, but they cannot be created from the exterior.
How everyone can help ... a little bit
There is a need for everyone to help. A small amount of help many times over
works very well. Everybody should be doing something to help.
Everyone can be a part of this. Planning becomes local and is not dominated
simply by Soviet style Gosplan or the World Bank style equivalents. Planning is
done in a “distributed mode” where people close to the problems identify
priorities and how progress can be made. And people who are remote from the
problems and can help have opportunities to build linkages that can assist in a
It is understandable that there are busy people who are fully committed to their
work, their families and their social activities ... and already do more than their
fair share in their own communities ... so cannot reasonably become engaged in
helping the “south”. But they can help by ensuring in their day to day activities
that they are not supportive of anything that is fundamentally wrong and doing
socio-economic damage in the “south”.
Ordinary people can have an important impact wherever they are. When
everyone is intolerant of global bad behavior, and is prepared to make just some
modest action to make things right, there can be a sea change in relief and
There are many competent people who are not able to do very much of value
because present organizational structures do not embrace merit very much and
opportunities are limited. Competent people are doing good work, but at
nothing like their full potential. Getting the most from a community of people is
not done from the top of the pyramid, but by a lot of knowledge at the bottom ...
something that is possible in a community and in a small organization, but
rarely of much effectiveness at the top where everyone has become a number.
Local folk can do a lot
There is a prevailing assumption that local people cannot do very much. This is
a fundamental mistake. Local people can do a lot within the limits of their
resources. It is worth noting that the things local people cannot do are things
that are often not needed. Studies and master plans and baseline studies and the
like are needed not to achieve development but in order to satisfy the
requirements of a process. The process is not essential to development. The
process may be useful and facilitate development, or the process may actually
constrain development. In too many cases the process has become more
important than the resulting development.
Field visits to communities in many parts of the world resulted in some
valuable feedback. “Why ...” we were asked by community leaders “....
do we have to buy things we do not need, in order to qualify for a credit
package that we do need” Meanwhile “development experts” were
asking the question why so much of what was being sold never got used.
What the planners had succeeded in doing was to create waste and
inefficiency and high costs for the community that indeed did need
credit, and indeed did need some items in the “package”, but rarely all
the package, and the unneeded stuff was bought and then discarded. In
theory the planners may have been right, but in practice the planners
had it wrong.
I was working with Mozambican refugees in Malawi. There was a fire at
one of the camps and some 40,000 refugees lost their shelter. UNHCR
was faced with a serious problem, but the refugees themselves drove the
process that rebuilt shelter almost instantly. UNHCR facilitated the
organization of the refugee community so that they were able to rebuild
their huts, and UNHCR provided some materials that would not be
available easily to the refugees. Essential UNHCR provided nails. The
refugees did the rest, using locally available materials. If this rebuilding
had been done using the normal development paradigm, with formal
planning and studies and external resources, it would have taken a long
time and cost a lot more.
What Do People Need?
Everyone needs the basics ... food, water, shelter, clothing. At the bottom of the
pyramid it is not self-evident that even the basics are going to be available.. and
if they are available, are they going to be affordable. In Iraq, the national wealth
should make it easy to all to have a lot more than the basic needs. Everyone
should be able to share in a quality of life that is of an internationally high
People need opportunities
If people have opportunities, almost everything else will fall into place. But in
the real world there are constraints on opportunity that are draconian.
Developing opportunity requires a careful matching of people and possibilities.
People need opportunity, and not to be constrained by everything around them.
Everyone needs to think more about what people are doing, can be doing and
should be doing.
Making better use of people is a huge opportunity. Local people need
opportunities to go to work and do something useful. Organizing so that people
in the community can do things that are needed by the community and valuable
is one of the big opportunities.
More than anything else the opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid should be
something that does good for the community. People need places to work where
they get paid and do something of value. They need jobs. They need profitable
ways of using their time.
People have all sorts of skills ... there needs to be some sensible matching of
skills with needs. Education can help, but it is the vocational rather than the
academic that is probably the most use ... the practical rather than the
What someone does is not important, merely that what someone is doing should
be of value to the family and the community.
People need health
People get value from a good health system. A good health system is one that
makes it possible for all to get adequate health care without an undue economic
burden, and be better able to contribute productively to society.
People need education
People get value from a good education system. The cost of education is low
compared to the life-time value of being educated ... but of course that value is
only realized in a society where people have the opportunity for work and pay.
Though one of the biggest successes over the past 40 years has been the increase
in the number of the “educated” around the world, this has not been matched
by an increase in the number of decent jobs. Because of better education, things
are possible today that could not have been reasonably contemplated a
generation ago. But the number of people who have opportunity for gainful and
productively employed is not enough. There are very large numbers of people
who are either unemployed or underemployed ... and there are also people who
are employed but unpaid.
People need religion
And people get value from their religion. Religion and the spiritual dimension
of life and the society should be adequately recognized, and taken into
consideration when trying to understand what priorities should be given to
I like to think of religion as an enormous force for good ... and when that is not
what I am seeing, it is usually because guns have taken over and religion is
merely being used as a front for secular militarism.