Innovations, Spring 2008, Vol. 3, No. 2, Pages 67-93
Posted Online June 20, 2008.
Empowering the rural poor means developing their capacity. It means developing
their skills so they become competent decision-makers with the confidence to act
on their choices. Thus far, conventional approaches to such empowerment have
failed. The approach that big donors and Western-conditioned experts have taken
to reach the poor—forget about allowing the poor to develop themselves—has
been patronizing, top-down, insensitive, and expensive. It excludes the marginalized,
the exploited, and the very poor and keeps them from making decisions on
their own. Thus it disempowers them, leaving them dependent and hopelessly ill
prepared to improve their lives. Moreover, these “patrons,” however well intentioned, have refused to learn from their mistakes. They are stuck in a rut that
wastes money on a process that simply has not worked.
But there is another way to empower the poor. It starts with giving the poor
the right to decide for themselves how they want to improve their quality of life.
They must have the right to choose whether they want the urban experts to come
into their villages with “modern” ideas. They must have access to information and
knowledge and the right to decide whether they would like to be independent of
advice and skills from outside when they already have such incredible technical,
human, and even financial resources within their own communities. They can
even decide whether some knowledge would be useful if they could adapt it to
serve their needs.What they need is the opportunity and space to develop themselves. When provided with that mental and physical space, the poor can achieve wonders without any outside professional interference or advice.