Development emerges...

Forget everything else. just look at this picture! Forgive the quality, see the content!

Development emerging in front of our eyes.... Photo:Surender Singh

Development emerging in front of our eyes.... Photo:Surender Singh

My blog goes big picture sometimes- the role of nation states, game theory and development, musing about climate change or funder/NGO relationships…Lets go little picture this time. Today  I cycled to an NGO I work with where project manager Surender showed me this- a photo of  a little girl writing in a book on the floor of a village house in the back of beyond in the Indian Himalayas while some women look on.  So what?

So everything!

A few weeks ago the NGO team and I were in the village sitting in on a women’s self help group (SHG) meeting. The Indian government gives money to kick-start such groups which then, hopefully, use the money to start businesses or  loan amongst themselves for family needs. Our team’s development aim  goes beyond that. For us money and business is an output, the outcomes we are chasing are women networking, feeling empowered, identifying and acting on their own and their community's needs,... we want to kick-start a new culture. The NGO has had some great successes previously through SHGs. One group of women bought an electric flour mill and charge local (male) farmers to use it. Beyond the revenue for them this is about confidence,  providing a much needed community service and challenging stereotyped gender roles. Its a great approach. 

Anyway, back in the SHG a man and his wife walked in. He was carrying their 12 year old daughter who has poorly developed legs and is unable to walk. They were tender and gentle with her. The man had come to look after Sunita (name changed) while his wife, participated in the meeting. It soon transpired that the group's biggest hurdle was banking. None of them could read nor write so they depend on a man to do their banking. Where's the women's empowerment in that?

Well we asked Sunita who confidently affirmed she can read and write and we floated her becoming the group secretary.  No decision was made,  but a seed was planted. Now a few weeks later Sunita is indeed the secretary and our NGO will pay her a small sum each month for her duties and…

Its development. Its an outcome. It’s a new behaviour, predicated on a new attitude and new relationships. Sunita is not disabled, she's differently abled. The community is using one of its own resources- a human one. A group of women that could not function independently now can. A girl has a role, confidence and new horizons. A different life is possible for Sunita and other disabled children. Sunita's family will get a little money and, more importantly, encouragement.  A community has an advocate (she's already asked to be taken to the government to tell them to pay the allowances due to disabled people).. We have ideas for getting her to lead a disabled group herself, to engage with a young peoples group the NGO facilitates, perhaps an article about her  in a state-wide newspaper on World Disability Day…. Suddenly our development ground is so much more  fertile. Seeds everywhere!

This is emergent development- Nowhere in the project proposal did the NGO plan for disbled people to do secretarial work. This just emerged from a team which understands its own vision engaging with a community able to express its needs.  It emerged with the NGO doing very little yet creating so many possibilities. Essentially we facilitated new thinking and relationships and thus allowed the community to use resources  they already have. They have re-organised themselves in a way that is better for everyone. That’s all. That’s a lot. Thats the best development.

Today in the NGO office we looked at the Vision on the wall rippling with phrases like “new behaviour attitudes and relationships” “Inclusion of the most vulnerable” “new culture” “evey individual living to their full potential” . We similed at each other knowing all that is possible. We felt glad that "boundary partners" (an Outcome Mapping term ) have connected (one staff member is responsible for disabled people and their families, another for women in Self Help Groups). We wondered what else Sunita might do to mobilize other differently abled people. We wondered what else we might do with Sunita's extraordinary parents (anyone who tenderly brings up a disabled child is extraordinary, especially a couple in a low-resource Indian village who persevere to get her through school)  We dreamed of other seeds that might sprout from this emergent outcome. Today we knew we'd touched that most elusive thing- development. Good change. Hope. 

A small picture shining in my head. Fantastic!

A small picture shining in my head. Fantastic!

Sure its but an infinitisemal change on this gorgeous, ugly, unjust, wonderful, unequal surprising planet but its a huge change in one girls life, one family's esteem, one SHGs functioning... I cycled home, this small picture shining in my mind's eye and a smile flickering  on my face.  

The Himalayas smiled back.