A few conversations on the blogs over the past two weeks have me thinking about the divide between aid/relief work and development – one of those minor issues I am supposed to be addressing in my current job.  I am nothing if not ambitious.  However, as folks have tried to clarify the difference between aid and development, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable because I really think these two areas need more blending, not more distinction.

And so now I am wondering if, in fact, the gap between aid and development is part of the reason so many “development” projects don’t work out.  I put development in quotes there for a reason – most of these projects never actually get to the development phase.  Take my ongoing rants about the Millennium Village Project.  Here is an ambitious program of interventions that is meant to be a development project.  However, at this point it is really an aid project – at least by the definitions I am seeing circulate.  The MVP is still completely dependent on external interventions and expertise for its outcomes.  Where it seems to me the MVP falls down is in the transition from the aid phase to the development phase, when these changes in people’s lives become self-sustaining, and engender new changes that do not require any sort of external intervention.  In short, the MVP seems to assume that with enough aid over enough time, change becomes self-sustaining and the processes necessary to bring about well-being spontaneously emerge.  This is what I like to call the “then a miracle happens” moment.  As in:

Dump money, aid and material into a place over a series of years –> then a miracle happens –> change is self-sustaining

The MVP is hardly the only project guilty of this – hell, this thinking is endemic to development.  We can back up to Rostow’s Stages of Growth in the 1950s (at least) and find the exact same fallacy.  Big push/modernization theories, the Washington Consensus, basically every program founded on the core idea that economic growth drives everything else, they all suffer from this fallacy.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is your grand challenge for development – the “big question” that could really change how we do what we do.  We need to articulate how our initial interventions, our “aid”, is/can be transformed/built upon/leveraged/instrumentalized/whatever to result in the self-sustaining changes we see as development.