The Correctness of Development Work

We have a lot of development work going on in Kenya, and around the world in general there is a growing international focus on aiding the developing world to develop. Of course, with any major shift in government spending comes outspoken public opinion, and with public opinion come the experts to discredit public opinion and tell the public how stupid they are for mis-perceiving the situation, and then with the experts come more experts telling the first group of experts that they themselves are wrong. Books are published, votes are had, TV commercials air talking about the plight of children in some worn-torn, resource-raped country, where the white man is the devil or where warlords are the devil, and everyone is just sitting around waiting for some god to save them. Off go even more development volunteers to credit or discredit everything with a first hand account, and the situation just grows.

I am one of these development workers in a way (though whether or not Peace Corps is truly development work is another story). For whatever reasons I came over here, I did so ultimately to help the developing world develop and inadvertently got myself mixed up in the world’s great development confuzzlement. And you want to know what, as opinionated as I am, as willing as I am to take a side and stand by it, on this case, I am so confused. Despite all my heavily opinionated articles on one topic or another, written explicitly for this blog, on the larger topic of, “Does Development Work?” or, “Is Development Correct,” I am stumped. I know I am only a year in, but I just wanted to share that it’s been the most confoundnig thing of the past few weeks. I just don’t… know.

There are many good points on both sides of the argument. One the pro-development side, we have many for different points, for right or wrong. Some believe we should help develop certain areas of the world to sustain an overall global peace: the notion that helping others helps ourselves. Other factions believe that because the developed world has clearly benefited from the exploitation of developing nations, our social consciousness forces us to attempt to return and fix our wrongs. Some simply believe in the goodness of man and that God is pleased with those who help their fellow man. And finally, take the capitalist approach to Kenya: there are ripe markets here, why not build ’em up in order to sell to them later.

The flip side can come off as heartless but must also be heeded. The developed nations did it, “by themselves,” so why can’t other places. Western people just want a warm-squishy feeling and may actually be hurting countries more than helping. Development work as it stands now creates huge dependency issues amongst host-country cultures. Throwing money at solutions just fosters corruption. Lack of accountability and oversight does the same. Why spend all of this money abroad for people who don’t even appreciate it when we have our own issues back home we should be fixing?

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4 responses to “The Correctness of Development Work

  1. jesseosmun

    All valid points. I think what is an important distinction to make is that Peace Corps really isn’t a development organization in the traditional sense, but rather an outsourcer of labor to developing nations that need it. Any development work ( and I am sure Peace Corps fits into this model and is indeed structured this way for the most part) needs to be sustainable, measurable, and have a local impetus behind it to really effect change. It is part of why I am against the principal of Voluntourism, the gain from it is negligable at best, even if local communities get some small gains ( money from the tourists) in exchange. Overall,your point about confusion stands.. sometimes it’s more gray then black and white.

  2. You have explored both sides of the argument and described them well enough as to potray the understanding you have on both sides. Just a matter of which points hold more weight and you have yourself a stand.

  3. @Wyndago but that’s my problem, they are all holding weight equally. it leaves me flabbergasted!

  4. Good points, and I think that those who have the capacity should definitely assist in development, but this doesn’t mean just charity. I think it means being a better advocate – whether it is through social enterprise, capitalist solutions, or working with the government to come up with sustainable solutions.

    I don’t think aid is the way forward. More and more African people themselves are beginning to demand that there are at least some more strict rules on aid disbursement such as government conditionalities. The truth is that aid itself won’t solve anything – it has to be done and monitored in the right way. On the other hand, capitalist solutions can certainly foster growth but this doesn’t mean a completely hands on approach. The poorest in society still need a social safety net, and the developing world requires foreign investment which of course means developed countries have to play a larger role in seeking out these opportunities. At the same time, we can’t completely remove aid to many countries because aid CAN be effective. It just needs to be done in a more effective manner.

    I think there’s a middle ground between aid & trade and I really don’t think it has to be one or the other.