After working in the Peace Corps for almost three years, one volunteer, Jean, told our group that one of the biggest lessons she has learned is that “development and poverty are based in relationships.” Looking at different paradigms of development as part of our poverty and development class, this statement made me think: what kinds of relationships does she mean? Sure, it involves people's relationships with money and resources, but it also goes deeper, to relationships between groups, between individuals and people in power, and between entirely different cultures. In other words: grassroots development.
When we think of grassroots development, we generally think of small nonprofits that help bring change from the “bottom up,” starting with the community. But, how do we reconcile this with the globalized system we have? Is it possible to have grassroots change at a higher level? Perhaps not. But, I would argue that building the relationships necessary for change are not necessarily confined to local, grassroots organizations. Also on our excursion to look at development paradigms, we spoke with a representative of the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB). This bank differentiates itself from other financial organizations by striving to provide direct help to those who most need it. In other words, the IDB tries to cultivate relationships between the lenders and the receivers of aid, requiring visits to the sites and concrete records of what kind of development has been done and where the money has gone.
Julia Sánchez, a Dominican representative of the bank for 30 years before retiring in '92, told us about more than just the bank's set-up and process, but how it developed her relationship with her own country, by showing her what conditions people were living in and what she could do to change them. I think that too often we think of large organizations such as this one as impersonal and unidimensional. The IDB is an example of how, even at the larger level, it is possible to focus on the people and look beyond the dollar sign. In contrast to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Sánchez argues, the IDB only gives small loans at one time, waiting for the follow-through to see where the money went. Furthermore, the interest rates are lower then the IMF's and countries are given grace periods to pay back the loan. In other words, the bank seems to make a conscious effort to work with its members as opposed to merely throwing money at the problem and expecting to be paid back all at once.
Now, clearly, the IDB is not perfect, but, then again, what is? Our responsibility is to ask tough questions and keep working with the bank so that it can be better. How can we ensure that the bank maintains the personal relationships with loan receivers? At a community level, what can we do to make the most of IDB loans? The goal here is to continue cultivating these relationships at both the community and international levels. Community development does not exist entirely out of international development, nor the other way around. It's a hard balance to hit, but organizations like this one are at least trying, fairly successfully, to feel the waters of this new combinations of ideas.
As service learners, human developers, and people, our challenge is to cultivate these relationships and learn from our exchanges. In anything we do, we must remember to work with people instead of for/in spite of them. For me, that was the take-home message this weekend, the paradigm of human development. Only by empowering ourselves and others can we enact change, because, truly, it's all about the people.