Development Cooperation Handbook/The participatory approach
The participatory approach
Development cooperation is done at its best when the partners have a common interest at stake. When they all are going to benefit from the development process they analyze the problems together, and decide together what needs to be changed, and what needs to be maintained. This "togetherness" requires a healthy communication climate where the interests of all partners are considered and when they see each other associated in a positive-sum game relation.
But to establish such a consensus is a big challenge when development cooperation aims at benefiting marginalized and impoverished communities, that have been victimized by prolonged exploitation and subjected to strong violence; then the intended beneficiaries may be so impoverished and so deprived of confidence that they are non cable to assert themselves. They will be receiving support from strangers because they are not in the condition to freely pursue the kind of life that they have reason to value. In this context beneficiaries need external assistance, so as to overcome the violence they have received, restore their institutions and regain the confidence in their capacity to avail of their resources in a sustainable manner. This is generally the scenario where we need the development aid organizations that have as their mission helping the marginalized and impoverished communities to develop themselves and to overcome the vicious circle of injustice, poverty, ignorance and violence.
In these cases the development programs will not be written by the main beneficiaries themselves, because they do not have the competence or the social conditions to do so; they will be written by others, generally by the same development aid organizations that will do the job. The organizations will apply to donors for funding this projects and then will manage the activities. These organizations are not supposed to benefit from the result of the cooperation work, but they will be paid for executing the work that benefit the target populations. The risk is that the project is designed keeping at the centre the interest interest of the executing organizations, or of the donor organizations (i.e. the "donors"). And that the interest of the beneficiaries is overlooked.
In order to give centrality to the needs of the target populations a different approach is needed to which is generally given the designation of "participation". Participation is enabling all stakeholder to recognize and express their needs and their rights. It is dialogical process. In the participated approach approach to development projects the beneficiaries take an active role in development decision making: they are consulted in all aspects of designing, executing and evaluating development projects.
The rights based approach
In order to make more explicit that participation is not merely an expression of "needs", but is an assertion of freedom and dignity, then the term "rights-based-approach" has been coined for labeling a development that is responsive to the rights of the target populations. Rights-based approach to development aims at achieving a positive transformation of power relations among the various development actors, so that there are no more "exploited" and "exploiters" but only "partners".
This approach is potentially very rich. But one need to be very careful to overcome the stereotype that sees "rights" mainly in the "modern-western-secular" perspective. In many cultures ethics is less based on "rights" and more on "duties". So when we have cooperation project that involve different cultures with different ethical views, we we need to transcend ethnocentrism and arrive at the comprehension of the fact that ethics requires a balance between "rights" and "duties" - and that there is no use in stressing somebody's rights if at the same time no one says who is the holder of duty responsible to implement those rights.
Why should we take responsibility for recognizing and defending the rights of "others"?
If we adopt a right based approach in International cooperation we have to face an objection: since Nations do not have institutional "duties" to guarantee the rights of other nation citizens, why should they spend for it the money raised from taxation of their own citizens? The answer is that that the current global challenges require global responsibilities. By guaranteeing the respect for the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights and by enforsing the implementation of international commitments like the MDGs we improve the global cooperation climate in which all stand to gain. Besides this "common interest" there is also a moral driver to assume responsibility for the disadvantaged ones even if belonging to other nations and the cultural sensitiveness of many persons is evolving towards a new ethical identity as "world citizens".