Sunday, November 13, 2005

Culture: Dutch views on development cooperation

I struggle a bit with what falls within the domain of communities of practice, but OK some wandering off... Good, old SNV (with whom I spend almost 9 years) organised a great reunion for its 40-years anniversary. The minister of development cooperation, Agnes van Ardenne had the most visionary speech. She talked about 1965, the time SNV started to send out volunteers to the 'third' world. The world was orderly from a conceptual view: the first world getting wealthy, the third world as poor (where the volunteer were coming to aid) and a second world where you don't mingle. This has changed and the boundaries between first, second and third world have blurred and problems are more complex and intertwined. She proposed that SNV could use its expertise to bring parties together around concrete societal issues ('connecting people's capacities) in the South to do exactly the same in the Netherlands. I think this is great because it departs from an assumption that the problem on living together and dealing with diversity in society are universal (and that we are not ahead of other countries). For instance, I have always admired the way Malian society accomodates various ethnic groups (and all cultural practices around it). As long as you look down upon others, you will not learn from them.

The second great comment was from Jan Pronk, talking about the need for organisations to listen to the people in the south and not going by hypes alone. He stressed the need to retain the voluntary spirit in development cooperation amidst all 'professionalisation' and 'result/efficiency orientation'. I can relate this easily to communities of practice where practitioners are connected who are passionate about their field and work. Without this commitment, its much harder to connect and innovate.

To add one anecdote: when my husband talked in Unicef about his experiences with FAO in Ethiopia, it was reported in a magazine that he worked to 'eradicate hunger'. So if you work in a supermarket in the Netherlands would you be reported to 'enhance food security'? Sometimes work in development cooperation gets mystified.

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