Social development perspectives
Gloria J. Davis
I want to explain what we are doing in the Environment
Department of the World Bank. I encourage you to offer your insights on how we
might accomplish our goals differently and how we might incorporate your
perspectives into our work.
I started my career as a psychologist but became an
anthropologist to focus on culture. Coming from the Midwest and growing up in a
behaviorist tradition, it occurred to me early in my undergraduate career that I
would not be able to understand why people behaved as they did if I did not
understand something about their cultures.
The questions that perplex me now are the ones that drove me
forward when I went to Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, in the early 1970s to
observe changes in the culture of a group of Balinese people. I was interested
in the fact that they were the descendants of Balinese Hindus who had come to
the region in 1905 when they were thrown out of Bali because of miscast
marriages. The people I stayed with lived three days from the provincial capital
and about thirty kilometers from a road. Islam was strongly entrenched among
these people living in Central Sulawesi when the Balinese arrived, and the
Muslims despised the Hindus because they considered Hinduism to be pagan. One of
the rumors that Muslims told me about Hindu beliefs was that Hindus bury and
cremate people alive.
What did this group of Hindu exiles do? They became Christians,
the religion of the colonial elite of the country. Their identification with the
colonial elite provided them with protection from intolerant local people and
gave them status. For forty years these Balinese and their descendants lived
happily in Central Sulawesi as Christians.
In the mid-1960s, about a decade before I arrived, this group of
Balinese started returning to Bali to recruit people to join them in Central
Sulawesi. At first Hindus did not want to leave Bali to live in a community of
Christians in Central Sulawesi. The only people in Bali who would agree to go to
the region were from a very small population of Christians, and for about a
decade mainly Christians moved to Central Sulawesi as a result of the recruiting
efforts of the Balinese Christians. A few Hindus also moved to Central Sulawesi
during the 1960s, but after two or three weeks most of them became Christians.
Then the Indonesian government placed two hundred families, or
about a thousand people, in Central Sulawesi. One-quarter of the people were
Christians and three-quarters were Hindus. All of the Christians remained
Christians, and the number of Hindus was large enough so that none of them
converted to Christianity.
During the period that I was in Central Sulawesi, 1972 to 1974,
an additional ten thousand people moved into the area, and virtually all of them
were Hindus. By the end of that period most of the Christians had converted to
Hinduism. This happened in part because Hindus in that particular context had
gained a reputation for being outstanding farmers and for having a rich, vibrant
culture, which the local people came to admire. The Hindus looked down on the
local people and the Balinese Christians and thought that both their cultivation
techniques and their cultures were inferior. There was therefore considerable
pressure for Christians to convert to Hinduism.
I came out of this experience with a sense that people and their
institutions are quite resilient and flexible so long as the people involved are
working in a situation in which they perceive their actions as voluntary. All of
the people who converted from one religion to another had a good reason for
doing so. They might have felt pressure to convert, but a lot of them would have
said they were doing it voluntarily because, by doing so, they were able to meet
their basic material, social, and psychological needs-needs having to do with
their identity, social organization, and means of production. The group of
Balinese exiles and their descendants now constitutes one of the most prosperous
communities in Sulawesi. They have overcome considerable obstacles and have
managed to succeed.
This story anchors me in what Shelton H. Davis called the
culture of hope. I have consistently thought it to be extremely important to
look at the context within which people find themselves. I consider myself a
development practitioner who is trying to maximize opportunities and
self-empowerment, minimize adverse social effects, and provide the best possible
social and cultural context for development.
As development practitioners we rarely have the opportunity to
influence the development of some of the things you psychoanalysts care deeply
about, such as child rearing practices and norms and values within the
household, and you probably would not want us to. However, I would like you to
show me how we can incorporate your views in our work at the World Bank.
I am head of the World Bank's Social Policy and Resettlement
Division, which is in the Environment Department and the Environmentally
Sustainable Development Vice Presidency, under the direction of Ismail
Serageldin. We are trying to make our approach to development holistic by
incorporating various elements of the development process in a reasonable social
policy. In this policy we want to include the procedures we have developed in
the past for systematic client consultation and beneficiary assessment.
Beneficiary assessment refers to the process of seeing that the voices of the
poor reach development planners so that these planners know what is happening in
the lives of the people they affect. My colleague, Lawrence F. Salmen, has been
working for more than a decade on listening to people and improving beneficiary
At this point the World Bank's social policy makes a number of
straightforward recommendations. First, it recommends fostering equity to
achieve both economic and social objectives. In the video "The South Slope of
Liberty" it does not surprise me that the places where civil violence was
depicted were places where inequity became perceptible to the population.
People and their institutions are quite resilient and
flexible so long as the people involved are working in a situation in which they
perceive their actions as voluntary - Gloria J. Davis
To foster change, we must have a clear understanding of the
traditions and the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of the countries
in which we are working - Gloria J. Davis
In many areas of East Asia, where fundamental land reform was
carried out and governments intervened early to provide social infrastructures
and develop the human resources needed to make development equitable, economic
development has been quite consistent and uniform over the past twenty or thirty
years. One exception is the Philippines. Although the World Bank initially
predicted that the Philippines had the most economic promise of any country in
the region, it began with a highly inequitable distribution of land and other
resources between the poor and the wealthy. This inequity was exacerbated by
economic growth, and both economic and social development faltered.
The World Bank is striving to foster equity, including gender
equality. To do so, we are first trying to identify vulnerable people and
disenfranchised populations to the extent we can. Lately we have been working
with post-conflict refugees who have no states to represent them in the
political process and who are therefore among the poorest and least powerful of
In addition the World Bank has been advocating support for
participatory processes. The Bank recommends that as development practitioners
we move away from an expert stance and adopt a participatory stance, in which we
learn from people and they learn from us. In our work we often create situations
in which only we and, say, a country's ministry of finance work through a
problem and study the issues involved. As a result there is no broad-based
consensus, and the knowledge and understanding gained is not shared by others.
If we include other people in the process, we might come to very different
conclusions, and there will be more decisions made.
Supporting participation means that both the World Bank and its
borrowers need methods and tools that level, or at least recognize, power
differences. We cannot expect poor people to participate in workshops unless
they have been prepared in advance or have good representation by articulate
supporters. We may also want to work with local people in their local contexts
to understand what is going on from their perspectives.
Another point we have included in our social policy is a
recognition that, to foster change, we must have a clear understanding of the
traditions and the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of the countries
in which we are working. I am an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, development
practitioner, and I have a strong belief in context.
The last and most important point included in our social policy
is the need to create capacity. We understand a lot more about capacity now than
we did in the past. Fifteen years ago the World Bank's knowledge of institutions
and associations was confined to its understanding of the public sector. We
still believe that the public sector has a role to play in development. We have
found, however, that the public sector is not very good at delivering all the
goods and services required, nor is it very good at promoting accountability.
Both are often better promoted by civil society and the private sector.
Ismail Serageldin and his colleagues have recently written a
book called Sustainability and the Wealth of Nations: First Steps in an Ongoing
Journey that discusses four kinds of wealth:
1. Physical assets, or goods made by men and
2. Natural capital, or natural resources
3. Human resources
In the World Bank's Environment Department we are concerned with
natural capital. We have proven, to ourselves at least, that we cannot deplete
natural resources and count that depletion as profit. We have to subtract the
loss from the balance sheet.
The new frontier for us is social capital. The associations and
institutions through which development and change occur constitute one of the
most important aspects of development and certainly the most underrated. Social
capital involves attitudes and norms as well as formal and informal
institutions-both traditional and modern-at local, community, regional,
national, and global levels. Understanding social capital and helping to craft
it is an important development objective, and it is something we want to look
into more thoroughly. Investing in human resources also will enhance the