Crossroads NYC and AVSI USA present dialogue on human factor of development
Thursday, 03 November 2011 07:54

altIn the shadow of the UN headquarters in New York City on October 26, 2011, Amb. Oscar de Rojas and AVSI Program Manager Jackie Aldrette presented an evening discussion on the challenges facing modern development and offering the key to a solution: the continued emphasis on “the human factor.” Around 100 professionals were present in the hall at Holy Family, the parish of the UN, for the event, which was part of a series held within the framework of the Crossroads Cultural Center.

The two panelists agreed to address challenging questions which are part of international debates on development and aid—such as accountability, efficiency of project implementation and limited budgets—highlighting how affirming the human dignity of each person involved in a project is a significant part of the answer. This insistence on the value and creativity of the human subject is echoed by all the organizations co-sponsored the event: Crossroads, AVSI-USA, and also the World Youth Alliance.

De Rojas, who in 2009 retired after 10 years as the Director of the Financing for Development Office in the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs and previously served as a Venezuelan Ambassador, began the discussion briefly framing the history of Official Development Assistance. He showed how a global trend toward a more rounded human approach is apparent in the widening of evaluation indicators, for example in the Millennium Development Goals, to include health and social considerations and not only signs of economic impact in beneficiaries.  Still, De Rojas asserted that the human factor entails more than this.

“[The human factor] also touches upon other aspects,” De Rojas said, “for example, the principles of "small is good" and subsidiarity.  The positive experiences of micro-credit teach us that when you work with individual people, even if it is with small projects and small amounts of money, it can yield surprising and multiplying results.  The same can be applied to aid.  When people in a town, a village, a community can "touch and feel" the assistance and are made partners in its delivery and its putting into use, they will probably treasure it more than when big amounts are allocated by more impersonal, distant forces.”

altAldrette helped put this point about the importance of the person at the center of development in concrete terms using a case study from an urban upgrading project. The program, which integrates physical and infrastructural improvements with social interventions, is successfully being scaled up in the bay area of Salvador, the capital city of Bahia State in Brazil in a joint effort of AVSI, the World Bank, Cities Alliance and local governments. The program is notable in the breadth of its impact, reaching around 500,000 residents of Bahia State in its later phases, as well as its use of AVSI’s method, empowering inhabitants and community organizations already present to drive the intervention.

A key part in keeping communities from reverting once again to building informal dwellings in the form of stilt houses over the bay was the attention of the implementers to their role as educators who accompany, rather than replace, the local population, facilitating the emergence of the strengths and positive traits in the people and their context. The concrete accompaniment was an opportunity of growth for individuals and for the entire community, thereby reinforcing the capacity and participatory role of many local organizations and institutions as protagonists in their own development. A few examples of the results from social development activities managed by AVSI were the 73 community-based organizations strengthened, 1,339 social workers trained, 7 job cooperatives established and 13 community structures that were built or expanded.

Aldrette summarized why taking the ‘human factor’ into account is vital, despite any objections that it may require greater investments of time and resources: because when we speak of development we speak of human persons, who are made up of their own freedom, creativity, aspirations and life challenges—and this applies whether we are speaking of beneficiaries, donors, implementers or any actor in the process.

Too often development programs try to skip over the human factor”—Aldrette explained—“the complexity of desires, ambitions and—most importantly—freedom that constitute each unique person, and consequently authentic social groups—and instead aim for a perfect set of interventions, policies, or resources, succumbing to the temptation to believe that a mechanism will be set into motion leading, inevitably, to the desired outcomes, even the most ambitious ones. Since what we are talking about is development, or in other words ‘change’, I would posit that a quick look at oneself can confirm that it isn’t so simple.

Find out more:

More information, pictures and video from the event on the Crossroads website

News story from Net NY TV

Publication about the Alagados urban upgrading project from Cities Alliance