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close this bookEssays on Food, Hunger, Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development (AVIVA, 480 p.)
close this folder37. B. Sustainable Development beyond Ethical Pronouncements: the Role of Civil Society and Networking
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View the documentWhat commitments are needed beyond ethics?: From the normative to the operational in sustainable development
View the documentThe primarily ethics-led process to sustainable development
View the documentThe primarily politically-led process to sustainable development
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What commitments are needed beyond ethics?: From the normative to the operational in sustainable development

A climate of change is something we help create, not something that is found out there; we have to create the times rather than be in step with time.

Imposing a new, more sustainable development paradigm is a political, not an ethical task. No intention is here made to split hairs. To work on a common set of new ethical values and to actually impose them is indeed a political act.

Politics - being based on knowledge, on attitudes and on values, on justifications, on commitment to principles, on positions and on levels of engagement applied to a given scientific and historical reality- involves the true practice of ethics and ideology. Politics is the translation of all our scientific, ethical and historical knowledge into the management of society. (Schuftan, 1982 and 1988)

In 1994, IRED-Asia published a powerful manifesto on this issue. The manifesto:

Highlighted the alienation(s) found in the ruling development paradigm; called for challenging the current 'failed development practice'; it talked of equity as a precondition for sustainability, of the need to continuously having to recreate democracy through direct citizens engagement so as to regain local control(s); it called the latter 'anchoring power in the community' to achieve equity in power relationships; it called for more systematically reflecting on the deeper causes of injustice (calling this a political awakening) as a precondition to embark in collective informed citizens' actions; it further noted that people had to commit themselves to the most fundamental changes needed; it spoke of coalescing local initiatives into a coherent force for change including fostering solidarity across national boundaries. Moreover, it brought up the crucial issue of how we, development workers, so often 'presume to talk for the people', embracing the rhetoric of empowerment, but how we also too often really serve primarily as intermediaries between donors and dependent client populations. (Asian NGOs Coalition, 1994)

As development workers, we are thus doubly challenged; not only should we oppose the old paradigm, but also help set out a counterconcept. We have to help set the parameters of such a new emerging paradigm: its ethics and its praxis. Being radical in this effort is not being totally opposed to the given order; it is just a commitment to a line of analysis trying to change things that are clearly not working.

We should refrain from only producing lengthy treatises on this transition, though. The challenge rather is to convince, persuade and mobilize potential actors at different levels. Incentives to reflection are fine, but only if including calls to action. In other words, since the call is to influence and accommodate change, we not only have to decide to intervene but, together with beneficiaries, we also have to build the needed capacities to intervene.

This reinforces the need for us to get involved in civil society-rooted development processes, particularly those that take into account the ongoing social and political mechanisms of disempowerment (and covert repression). And this entails primarily getting involved in bottom-centered consciousness-raising, social mobilization, advocacy, networking, coalition building, consolidation of movements and solidarity work (bottom-centered is here used in the sense of actions resulting from a convergence of top-down and bottom-up interventions).

The latter emphasizes the fact that social mobilization of the local civil society per-se is, therefore, necessary, but not sufficient. This mobilization has to come up with a way of breaking the global inertia and building more effective coalitions and networks across sectoral and geographic boundaries. Networking is thus about developing a sense of a common cause against the global embarrassment that the persistence of extreme poverty (in its different expressions) has become across the globe.

Strong scientific, ethical and political imperatives that oppose the prevailing development paradigm in developing countries are gaining new momentum in the late-nineties and require our engagement. They call for a more accelerated sustainable resolution of the world's most critical chronic economic, social and environmental problems.

There are at least two operational ways of steering the transition process to a more sustainable development paradigm: