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close this bookThe Self and the Other: Sustainability and Self-Empowerment (WB, 1996, 76 p.)
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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 assessment.

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 all people.

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 women
2. Natural capital, or natural resources
3. Human resources
4. Social capital.

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 development process.