The vast majority of the world’s population is extremely dependent on other people and institutions to provide them with the wherewithal to expand, grow, develop and prosper. We rely on doctors to cure us, on teachers to help us learn, on clerics to guide our spiritual thinking, on governments to provide us with services and opportunities, on employers to guarantee our financial security and on councilors to assist us through difficult times. All of these have an important place in our lives, but the level of dependency which we allow dominate our lives needs to be examined. If this level of dependency worked in the way we hoped, there would not be millions and millions of people still eking a living, there would not be religious intolerance, deaths through illness and disease would be far less and the vast chasm between the "haves" and "have nots" would be a lot narrower.
More often than not, when one or more aspects of our lives suffer and we feel down and depressed, our initial reaction is to blame someone or something external such as the government, the economic climate, banks or employers.
Where are we as individuals or as societies/neighborhoods/communities in all of this? What is our role? How do we contribute to reducing the negative and creating the positive? Churches, governments, schools, hospitals and companies cannot cater for everyone’s needs, but instead deal with nations and huge populations. It is our role to take advantage of this where we can and capitalize on what benefits us, but it is also our role to address the gaps that exist by taking greater responsibility for our own and our family’s lives.
These reflections also apply to development assistance. Community Development as we know it has focused on needs for 50 years with little to show for the massive array of inputs. When a representative from the government, an organization or donor goes to a community with a purpose of "assisting," the common questions are too often "what is the problem?" and "what do you need?" While most communities will quickly be able to answer those questions in a manner which they hope will result in aid, have they ever questioned the dynamic that is being created? On the one hand we have the "experts" who have experience, knowledge and resources and are willing to impart this for the betterment of the "needy," while on the other hand we have the grateful ever-so-ready recipients appreciating that someone recognizes their deficiencies and is willing to "fix" them.
If, however, a community is asked, "What are your experiences, knowledge and resources which can be used to improve your lives and livelihoods?" the answer does not always come so readily. But once this is thoroughly explored and an understanding develops of what local strengths exist, that dynamic of giver and needy taker is transformed. As such, the needy taker becomes the driver of his/her or community’s future and the giver becomes a resource which is tapped when the community deems it necessary. The major shift in the status and positioning of each is clear.
We have cultivated a mindset which is based on the belief that others know better or can do more. As individuals or communities we have much more going for us than we see. The more we look to others, the more we are blind to our own abilities and capacities. We must begin to look deep inside ourselves and examine our own communities to search for, identify and recognize all that lies beneath and that we can bring to the surface. We, individually and collectively, have huge strengths in the form of skills, knowledge, physical assets, finances, passion, interests and community spirit, which, when assembled together can move mountains.
This blog post was authored by Brian Nugent, who is an independent consultant and trainer, with Asset Based Approaches being one of his specialty areas. It was originally published on Adeso's website on 07/04/12.
Photo: Community consultation in Garissa, Kenya. Copyright Jennifer Huxta.
This blog is part of a series in recognition of the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Oct. 17.