It’s been interesting to think about my role in development and what really is development. Is development formalizing a national banking sector and stabilizing currency fluctuation? Or on the other side: bathrooms, clean water, and cocinas mejoradas?
Development can and most likely should be all these things; they all signal different levels of faults in the country for different peoples. At the top down approach, having banks can help investment (both foreign and domestic) grow and lead to more job, advancing industries, and more opportunity for unique growth. Currency stabilization allows for assurance in the higher levels of the banks, but also the government and allows people to have confidence that their investments will not devalue or skyrocket too soon. Bathrooms/clean water/cocinas mejoradas signal a lacking for society in a different perspective. But at both ends of the spectrum, it’s not enough to simply creature these things. Rather, much training and convincing is required in order for people to want to use these things. And that’s a large part of the job in the Peace Corps.
You see, many people are used to living more or less the same for generations. They’ve had the same water, crapped in the same spots in the fields (and consequently had the same illnesses) for generations. So why does that need to change? And in developing countries, banks have never been too stable, so confidence is low. And what’s the point of saving money in a bank when you can do it at home [Note: several investigations have pointed to the fact that ‘poor people’ do want to save and, in fact, can save some money but do not have the channels to do so]?
So maybe a big part of development is changing attitudes? Not necessarily cultural and societal beliefs (but then again, maybe to an extent), but understanding the root causes of the repetitive actions and beliefs. From there, it’s necessary how to figure out how to adapt and change these beliefs to compliment this development, whether it’s changing attitudes about why they should use a bank or why a latrine (or better yet, an eco-baño!) is a better and healthy option than the fields. I really think this is a major part of development that is strongly overlooked. It’s the old saying, you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. People hate changes, because many times it signals instability. If people do not trust and have confidence in the changes, the projects will become the infamous white elephants of development; such as latrines used as storage sheds or for animals.
This is also why not only economists and politicians should be involved in development, but other types of professions. Health promoters, sociologists, psychologists, communicators, scientists or whomever really. Development is a multi-step process, and really if anyone knew ‘what worked’, it would have been done. But rather, things work but more often they fail in development. And that’s why new approaches, such as more instruction and understanding, must be explored.