Observing the failure of anti-participatory development strategies of the last three decades and realizing the increasing trend of worldwide poverty, the author of the book suggests and creates arguments for the adoption of people-based participatory development in the Third World. He fervently believes that the construction of a just world is possible if people are empowered. To elaborate on this theme, in the first five chapters of the book, he criticizes the prevailing world system including aid agencies like the World Bank and USAID, whose aims and strategies often do not match the interests of the poor people. In the last seven chapters, Gran suggests how citizens, government and intermediate organizations could play effective roles to increase the participation and power of the poor in the Third World. The author feels that global poverty is the result of a prevailing world order where economic and political power is concentrated in the hands of the few corporations and states and where the existing cultural stratification and bureaucratic organization exclude people.
So if we educate people and build better base organizations, then a paradigm shift will take place leaving states, multinational corporations and other exploitative organizations ineffective.
In the first chapter of the, book, Guy Gran quotes Wallerstein and Samir Amin describing unequal exchanges between the core and the periphery, and the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few. Gran suggests that one way to overcome oppressive modern organizations is by following Hummel’s idea of small decentralized institutions with built-in feed-back systems, and by pursuing humanistic economics and participatory strategies.
In the second chapter, he shows that USAID is the prisoner of the national security strategy and is constrained by the limits of executive and legislative agencies. The conflicting reality of the top-down project-process of USAID is shown in third chapter by taking a case study of Zaire, while the fourth and fifth chapters show how the World Bank and IMF in the cases of Thailand and Indonesia have created more dependence and indebtedness in those countries reflecting a triple alliance of elite at local, national, and international levels.
Gran, in the second part of his book, turns from the macro-scale to the micro, by suggesting that one should empower people through the catalytic role of intermediate organizations that can tutor, defend and create not clients but creative citizens. He thinks that underdevelopment is a state of mind. So, he advocates an educational package, which includes such things as an elaboration of the hierarchy needs (Maslow’s ‘Byramid’) conscientization (Paulo Friere) and discussions of the relations of people to institutions and the roles of women, the elderly and children. He hopes that such an educational package will help generate active citizens and development catalysts, by which community organization (rather than community development, that is, management) will be possible.
Gran holds that this education process must be backed and defended layers of new organizations and conflict resolution techniques at intermediate, provincial, and national levels of the society. A method of social analysis needs to be developed which clarifies the general pattern (political economy) of marginalization and identifies social confidence mechanisms so the poor are put in proper context. Rural programmes have to be built by diagnosing and building collective thinking and by working from inside the system and enhancing participation in project implementation. These projects should be evaluated by mass empowerment. Otherwise, the process will remain elitist and will not serve the interests of the majority.
Finally, this model of participation in the phases of planning, implementation and leadership has to be enlarged to national and international levels to create a participatory society and global agenda of a just world.
Synthesis of Ideas
The book is thus a synthesis of many key ideas of various authors. If it is not difficult to find oft-quoted references to Galtung, Illich, Korten, Hollnsteiner. Geller, Amin, Wallerstein, Hummel, etc. The book is also full of loaded words like ‘system analy-sis,’ ‘world system engineering’, ‘metapolitical strategies’, ‘humanistic economies’, ‘organization sociology’, ‘conscientization’, ‘mobilization’, ‘transformation’ and ‘human-centered-participatory-development’, etc.
The book is useful as a resource guide, since it has numerous (over 2,000) references. But various ideas have been patched together rather than knitted into a consistent analytical whole. That is why the book is like a heap of colourful flowers rather than a patterned bouquet.
In fact, it can be irritating to read again and again about humanity, people, participation, etc., and to see the over-enthusiasm of the author about concepts like democracy, the importance of reading, about Maslow’s hierarchy, etc. The author’s neglect of subtle mechanisms like cultural (educational) imperialism and of powerful forces like colonialism and his overuse of popular phraseology may lead to cooptation and dilution of several useful ideas, and may undermine the applicability of this book to the harsh realities of the Third World.