Breaking out of the box

Inclusive Economy11 Nov 2011Frans Bieckmann

This morning I took part in a very interesting session that reignited my enthusiasm for the Bellagio Initiative. People, power, politics was the title of our get-together.

This morning I took part in a very interesting session that reignited my enthusiasm for the Bellagio Initiative. People, power, politics was the title of our get-together. For the first time we were really thinking out of the box, or better: breaking out of the box of the development sector. Up until this morning discussions had been dominated by trying to find solutions (or innovations) for problems within the development aid paradigm. In my opinion, there was too much technocratic reasoning going on, and far too little proof of a political approach. But today we did identify several critical issues that need to be addressed – urgently – by development actors, or as it is called here, by the complex development ‘ecosystem’.

It was stated that the concept ‘social justice’ needs to be reinserted into the rather a-political language of development, and become part of the concept of human wellbeing too. The main message brought to the plenary was that philanthropic foundations and development organisations need to adopt a much more ‘people’s centred’ approach. One that takes into account the real needs of people and the solutions that they put forward, as opposed to donor or supply driven solutions.

There was also agreement about the lack of connection with, and attention for, the local, national and global social movements that already exist, and whose members work hard to claim their rights, take control of their neighbourhoods, their streets, and their lives. Foundations and development NGO’s lack connections with old and new social movements, such as those that created the Arab Spring, the occupation of squares in Spain, or the wave of Occupy that, as we speak, runs through so many cities.

It was also noted that the development sector needs to be much more in touch with fast changing circumstances in the world, with emerging powers, alternative economic models, and the multiple global crises that jeopardize the wellbeing of many in the world. It is not just the poor in Africa or other developing regions, but also increasingly big groups in the richer nations which are excluded from the fruits of globalisation. And this will get worse if and as the financial crisis persists. Young people in particular, all over the world, face unemployment or very uncertain (‘flexible’) labour. They not only deserve solidarity, but they can be a valuable part of new coalitions that demand more inclusive economic systems and further democratization at many levels.

Such a wide-ranging vision of how to enhance wellbeing should be central to the work of development NGOs and philanthropic foundations. And this also means that they, openly and critically, need to reflect on whether they themselves are perhaps part of a system that inhibits fundamental change.

If these messages, sent out just before the closing hours of this first part of the Bellagio Summit, will survive during the next three modules, I consider the past intensive days of deliberation at the Bellagio Centre a useful investment after all.