Check out this article from the Center for Global Development:
From an economic standpoint, land is a commodity to be owned privately, used as efficiently as possible, and sold if there is someone else better equipped to profit from it. Acting off of this premise, the World Bank has long urged developing nations to privatize communally owned land, in order to activate rural capital, make the agricultural sector more efficient, and open up the market for land. If all cultures viewed land in the same manner, this would be an ideal development model. To many peoples, however, land is much more than a commodity; it is their livelihood, the basis of much of their culture, a source of political power, a focal point of community and familial bonds, or even a connection to the spiritual world. Considering these layers of meaning that are projected onto the physical terrain and that vary from locale to locale, is it at all surprising that land reform has not played out the way the World Bank has envisioned it?
As students of development, even as we pursue what we may consider desired goals, we have to recognize that our “universal” values are sometimes not shared by the communities we are trying to help. In development projects we must have a sufficient enough understanding of local conditions in order to determine what, in the opinion of the locals, needs to be done, and then to act effectively to pursue this. International organizations such as the World Bank have an undeniable effect on international development, but as such a large organization their blanket policies can be ineffective and even detrimental to individuals and communities.
Last week, Macalester Development Group core member, Kate Keleher, posted about 60 flyers around the Macalester College Campus inviting members to the Macalester Development Group’s introduction meeting. These posters depicted an African girl from Uganda, wearing a bright blue dress. What did MDG want Macalester students to take away from these posters? Why did this image represent MDG’s values and mission statement? In designing the flyers we made the conscious decision not to put a sepia-toned picture of an emaciated girl from Sub-Saharan Africa. We made this decision so as not to seem as though we are saying “come to our intro meeting and help save this girl.” Instead we think of the girl we chose to display as our “boss.”
The 900 employees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pass around a picture of someone they call their “boss” (and it isn’t Bill Gates or CEO Jeff Raikes). The person in the picture is a girl, sitting and smiling in a bathtub. This idea struck home for me. At Macalester College we often discuss the theories surrounding development, emphasizing the most well known actors such as the IMF, the World Bank and USAID. However, these organizations are simply the middlemen. In truth, the real bosses we are working for are the families in Kazakhstan, the laborers in Cambodia, the young girls in Uganda and underprivileged in our own backyard, St. Paul, MN. That is why on the MDG posters it is written, “In development….you never forget who your boss is.”