SPIRITUALITY AND DEVELOPMENT
Are development institutions
evolving towards more inclusive approaches ?
The cultural issue has been present for a long
time in the writings and in the fieldwork of people like Ivan Illich,
Father Henri Lebret, Ashish Nandi, Joseph Ki-Zebo, Majid Rahnema,
Raimon Panikkar, Rodolfo Stavenghagen, Serge Latouche, Hassan Zaoual,
Denis Goulet, Gilbert Rist, Robert Vachon, Gustavo Esteva etc., etc.
Some NGOs have since a long time shown interest and made important
steps forwards in that direction. The United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP) has greatly contributed to broaden the criteria of
development, notably through its annual reports and, especially, its
Human Development Index. Similarly, the World Labour Organisation has
been stressing the importance of the “informal sector”,
which itself can and should be seen as an immense reservoir of
culture-based approaches to work, saving and entrepreneurship.
Some years ago, a rather exceptional World
Bank paper squarely recognised the need for socio-cultural analysis. It
would be interesting to enquire as to what degree this warning has been
“The penalty for not carrying out the
social analysis and not incorporating social knowledge into financially
induced growth programs is costly and swift. An anthropological
secondary study of 57 World Bank-financed projects, which examined the
association between the socio-cultural fit (or misfit) of project
design and the estimated economic rate of return at project
implementation (audit) time, found that attention to issues of
socio-cultural compatibility paid off tangibly in economic terms.
Specifically, 30 out of 57 projects were judged to have a project
design compatible with traditional cultural and local socio-economic
conditions, while in the other 27 projects serious socio-cultural
incompatibilities were identified. The most significant finding was
that the compatible set of projects had an average rate of return at
audit of 18.3 percent, which was twice higher than the economic rate of
return (only 8.6 percent) of the other 27 projects in the second
This was approximately the time when a World
Bank officer wrote a book, the title of which sounded like a programme
by itself : Listen to the People (L. F. Salmen : 1997).
Culture is also about
people' s religiosity
A Hindu group in Tamil Nadu started a double
project, including on the one hand the installation of a sewage system
in the destitute unhygienic harijan colony, and on the other hand the
building of a temple to Ganesh (a Hindu deity). Western and
western-inspired donors accepted the first project for financial
support but considered the second as “having nothing to do with
development”. Yet, such temple had to do with self-respect, and
psychological and spiritual needs just as important as the material
needs. This example raises avowedly difficult but nonetheless real
questions as to the criteria to be handled by donors. It illustrates
the fact that a secularised vision is too narrow and that
materialistic, rationalistic and positivistic criteria bedevil
development work and donor agencies.
People are steeped in religion, spirituality
or magic. Thus, in Brazil, Candomblé deities, Catholic saints
and Carnival are absent from the concerns of social activists whereas
they play a key role in peoples' daily lives, concerns and value
systems. Imbued with a secular comprehension of life and death,
freedom, land, wealth, society and its future, development workers fail
to understand the vision and perception, the expectations and attitudes
of local people.
The secular approach, which originated in
Western Enlightenment, has great difficulty in accepting and
apprehending correctly other peoples' sacred approach to life.
How can an observer coming from a “disenchanted”
de-secularised and consequently profane world come to understand the
deeper religious or mythical levels of meaning which give strength,
flavour and orientation to the local practices of people who have
retained a degree of wholeness?