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Saturday, January 28, 2012

CHASING DEVELOPMENT: From Blueprint to Guideposts by Prof. Feliece Yeban


Development has often been equated with economic development. This view has already been proven myopic. It is useful to recall how the world was divided along the line of capitalism on one hand and socialism on the other. The industrialization the Soviet Union underwent under Stalin’s New Economic Program during the 1930s which centered on the elimination of well-off peasants did not improve the nation’s collective life (Hermoso, 1994). We were witnesses to the disintegration of the USSR into smaller states in the late 1980s and early 1990s and to these new states’ abandoning of the socialist promise. Similarly, the pursuit by the Philippines of a more capitalist oriented import-based, export oriented development model has not resulted to substantive economic gains for the poor and marginalized. A country may attain what is considered as economic prosperity but not without attendant problems such as loosening of the social and moral fabric, discarding certain civil and political rights for “political stability,” alienating the self from the spiritual sphere of life, depleting the planetary resources and controlling the intellectual and ethical life of the public. Conversely, a society may opt to resist “development thrusts” in the name of retaining integrity of one’s culture and protecting the same from the perceived concomitant problems of “development”. Such societies will have to endure “trade offs” such as but not limited to diseases and short life span. In this light, one cannot be faulted to declare that there is no blueprint of development. Both capitalism and socialism failed.

The pursuit of “development models” has also given rise to diverse social movements. Some have exploded into different factions brandishing their respective “truth claims” on the best development model to pursue. Others have imploded to oblivion if not into sheer banditry or mob. Some have re-invented themselves availing, with relative success, every political space they can use to pursue their cause either through active resistance or creative alternative making. The mutation of social movements and government as development agents has further made development a disputed concept. To this day, we lack a synoptic vision of development that could cultivate convergence of efforts of stakeholders.


The government flaunts one development plan after another – Philippines 2000, Angat Pinoy, Beat the Odds, to name a few. These are undoubtedly economistic development models. The left on the other hand, is still debating whether to affirm or reject development agenda conceptualized in the 1960s. The civil society sector has more varied development projects either driven by funders or by their avowed commitment (Illo, The business sector is re-inventing itself by claiming to be socially responsive more than ever. All these sectors could claim a degree of success and will never run out of experiences of hope to share. Whether one believes or suspects “success claims” of these sectors, all these point to the fact that there is no blueprint for development, only guideposts. These are lessons learned chasing development which are then translated into principles that underlie development projects which have been proven to bring relative success.

Both the capitalist and socialist blueprints have been proven inadequate in bringing about genuine, holistic, inclusive, and long lasting development. As development workers and agents, a shift in the way we view development from outcome to process, from content to praxis, and from blueprint to guidepost might be necessary.  Below is a list of guideposts from which development workers could derive ideas for their creative alternative making endeavors. The list evolves as we continuously engage ourselves either individually or collectively in development praxis. 

Guidepost # 1 – A Game of Power

Development must be inclusive. Power is unequally distributed in society. As such development programs are inevitably influenced by who holds power. The marginalized sectors such as the women, children, peasants, urban poor, and the indigenous people must be “privileged” to enable them to participate substantively in the development process. They have equal stake in development as the business sector and other stakeholders. More often than not, the marginalized are asked to sacrifice. The sacrifices that should be made in the name of development must be consented to by the people who are asked to sacrifice. Any development policy or program must be formulated and implemented with due consideration of the “privileged” sectors identified. However, it can not be pursued for them but with them (Freire, 1970).

Guidepost # 2 – Valuing the 3 Ps

Development must be sustainable. There are balancing acts that are essential for sustainability to be possible. The creation of personal and national wealth must be pursued at all level. Filipinos cannot remain to be satisfied simply as the world’s workers. Entrepreneurial culture to serve both self and others must be strengthened. Individually, collectively, and institutionally, we need to be the creators and protectors of our country’s economic wealth and national wealth for the benefit of present and future generation.

Our pursuit of wealth creation, should be tempered by due consideration of the equal valuing of the three Ps - people, planet, and profit/productivity. Neither one of the three Ps should be sacrificed nor pursued recklessly.  For instance, at the individual level either as a consumer or producer, one must be conscious of the more sustainable lifestyle and entrepreneurial philosophy one will have to live by. Also, both the workers and entrepreneur must get their fair share of the economic values produced. In the same vein, embracing a more ecological consciousness does not mean “preserving” the environment to the point of “non-use” at all. A “naturalistic view” of the environment may not successfully accommodate burgeoning population and its needs. However, utilizing our natural resources beyond sustainability is unacceptable as well.

A further balancing act is necessary among the three sectors of wealth production namely, business, state, and social sectors. The dynamic participation of the social sector in wealth creation is the natural shield from the tendency of business to monopolize and manipulate wealth creation. The role of the state in this balancing act is vital and cannot be abandoned. The issue is not about how to make the state either strong or weak but effective and responsive. A vibrant social sector, an effective governance, and a tempered business sector is a better alternative to the onslaught of economistic and materialistic model of development and to the havoc wrought by globalization’s unbridled capitalism.

Guidepost # 3 – Parameters

Development must be people-centric. The human rights framework is crucial in three ways. It has achieved international normative standard, it is holistic in its view of the human person as object of development, and it provides a more “inert” conceptualization of development that can be readily measured in terms of acts of commission and omission by the “duty bearer” and degree of enjoyment and deprivation of the “rights holder”. Whether we use as measures human development index, gender development index, quality of life, gross national happiness, World Bank’s indicators of sustainable development, all these are informed by human rights promotion, protection, fulfillment, and respect. The human rights framework has the advantage of a built in enforcement mechanism.

Guidepost # 4 – Interface, integration, and interconnectedness

Development requires a micro-macro link and agency-structure connection.Development is both a personal and collective enterprise and an individual and structural project. This means that it happens at different layers of society and it manifests itself invariably at these different arenas. The macro layer as represented by the institutional agents of development such as the government must be able to articulate a development agenda that also correspond to the people’s pursuit of a good and meaningful life. Likewise, the people should be able to acquire a “sociological imagination” to enable them to locate within the structures opportunities to get their agenda (the public interest) institutionalized. It is the dynamic interface of the subjective (individual, collective) and objective (structure) that will “broker” development.

Guidepost # 5 – Negotiation

Development is a process. The process will determine its content. To bring about development, stakeholders must “own” the process of development (Bautista)t. Nobody can be a free rider nor can we allow the state and other development agents to be the sole decision makers. We should all be part of the communicative action. The challenge is how to expand the space for dialogue and milieu for engagement. This requires a process characterized by consultation, participation, partnership, transparency, and synergy (Baviera, Development workers do have a critical role in weaving silos of communities and individuals into a knot of mutual understanding and negotiated conception and practice of development. This process of engagement will determine the content of development. By shifting emphasis from content to the process of development, we are generating energies that move people to engage in creative activities that facilitate flow and momentum for development. We then stand to benefit from synthesis and not just from analysis of current development efforts. We can extend our discourse from the lack of development (a critical stance) to an inventory of what worked (an appreciative stance). It is process that will bridge theory and practice and vice versa. This new posturing of stressing process over content opens up traffic for creative alternative making towards a synoptic vision of development.

A Praxis –

Development is both a mindset, a ”heart set”, and a “work set”. As such it requires a set of knowledge, values, and skills that cultivate appropriate thinking, valuing, and doing development. To engage in this project requires a deconstruction, reconstruction, and construction of knowledge, values, and practices at the personal, interpersonal, communal, societal, and global levels. Concretely, this ranges from simple acts such as continuing self examination; advocating reforms in education, legal, and governance systems; and embracing new business philosophy; appropriate science and technology, and simpler but more meaningful lifestyles;   to the more complicated initiatives in social forestry, agronomics, transpersonal psychology, complexity studies, biopsychology, biocracy, and other emerging fields that blur the boundaries dividing the social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities. Kalaw (1997) argues for the “construction of a Science of Development that can provide normative and functional integration of economics, ecology, (self), and society and the development of management technologies that look at ecosystems, cultures, ethnicities, community, and evolution as units of analysis and management”.

Let me end this paper with a personal note that I approach my work as a development worker with humility that I may be wrong. However, there is so much work to be done that I have to take a leap of faith that I can contribute something to the development project of my generation. It is reflexivity that allows me to learn from my own and others’ experiences. My reflections range from understanding my inner self to comprehending and applying the science and theory part of development as practiced by people from diverse fields. This way, I am both consumer and producer (and distributor) of development knowledge and practice.

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