Sunday, 18 December 2011

Of Public challenges, social movements, and international policy making processes

Could the hold be this strong?
You sit by the banks of a stream, that’s almost drying in Sub Saharan Africa, and you realize that probably your tears could also flow like this stream if you just sat there and wailed. So you get up and gather some barks from the nearby fig tree, and try to write new solutions; to help the stream, those who depend on it upstream and downstream.
You recall how the stream looked like 15 years ago, when you would come down the hill with your mother to fetch water, wash clothes, water the animas and carry some water home. On some occasions, you would also buy, or when lucky get them for free, vegetables from those who irrigated their farms next to the river. This privilege does no longer exist; the water is too little to be pumped for irrigation.

The most important is to get a solution, because if you don’t, you may as well throw this bark away, or carry it home to form part of your fuel wood for the day. But if a solution is engrained on it, you may keep it in your room, you may walk by the stream and share with your neighbors the solution you have drawn out, you may ask for their opinions to be included, and even their support. This bark may be the ark by which to save your neighborhood, and the stream that supports their livelihoods.

If you had a solution, and your neighbors thought it was worth trying, you will call a baraza, and you will share with the rest of the community members who will draw up the work plan. And if you are lucky, you will get their support, their participation and sustainability of this solution. The community has the solution at heart, and they may have the know-how to effect the change they need, but they need resources. If inherently drawn up, then the resources required will be readily available and provided by the community. If not, they know even better how they can source for them. Your work will be to guide the process and making sure they don’t give up hope. The resources are available and the commitment is there, so get to business, effect the work plan, implement it, change the community to what they want it to be!
Remember you are doing this for the community, not to avoid crying again by a drying stream. So don’t forget that they should be the implementers, the evaluators and the center stage actors in each stage of the implementation process. Your role is that of a facilitator; you may actually learn a lot from them if you take them step by step.

Don’t forget the bark of the fig tree where the solution started, revisit it regularly to see if you are on track, if you are a good record keeper, which you should be, you should actually have several of them, containing all the discussions you have had with the community, the solutions provided by the community, the support provided, the steps taken and the work plan drafted with the community and now the implementation monitoring and evaluation, not forgetting the lessons learnt.

One thing that one may forget is that, your community is not the first in the world to face the challenge of a drying stream, of degraded and unfertile lands, of persistent crop failures of whatever challenge that comes with a drying stream. There are others around the world that have been through the same, and have successfully or otherwise developed plans to deal with their solutions. Take time to study these with your community. You may be the one to steer this process, or they may be ahead of the game- either way, be sure to ensure that you learn from other experiences and as well share your experiences. Don’t forget that what works in one region of the world will not necessarily work in your region, but there are underlying principles that can be adopted and scaled up. This is what you and the community will be interested in.

Finally, the stream will flow again, will be live again, you will again walk by the stream, and enjoy receiving gifts of fresh vegetables from your neighbors who no longer have to worry about draining the stream.  Your mother will no longer need to take water home, as the plan involved making her water sufficient even up the hill.  Everyone will be happy!

And is it ever going to be this instant green light?
I tell this story in a liner way, assuming that life will always be like this when you are faced by a public challenge. However, it’s never ever like this as a public challenge is born out of utility of public common goods, and whose rights are contested. Public common goods will always be contested, as no one wants to take up the sole responsibility of protecting them, but also no one wants to limit their power over them for others to benefit.

The real story also can not be this liner, as it involves people, and everyone has a way of thinking, and it’s always me, myself and I first, then the world follows. Getting a community to understand and appreciate that ME cannot exist in isolation is as difficult as getting them to agree that the public good is finite, and may one day come to an end.

This real story is not linear, as the community is already suffering from the impacts of a drying stream and they need first hand help, before they can actually think of a sustainable solution to the problem at hand. We also can’t forget that the nature of social beings is to see themselves as good, and putting the blame on others, and who need to stop their actions.

So how would you rewrite this into a real story taking into consideration the dynamics in a society who need a solution, but who also need to be that solution they need?

This would be possible by just adding the facts, pros and cons of movement building. How do you build the movement, who joins, who does not join, how do you deal with those that don’t join the movement? How do you meet the core objectives of the movement, and not the ‘objectives of the differences of those who join and those who don’t join’?

Probably, this is what international policy making processes need to revisit, the process of decision making to solve the underlying challenges. A lot of efforts have been put on trying to address the differences between those who claim not to cause, and those who the blame is put upon, instead of the underlying challenges of what brought them together. Whereas the challenge cannot be solved without having all of them ‘happy’, its important to consider that achieving the ultimate goal, of resolving the underlying challenge (be it environmental, economical, social etc.) is the ultimate happiness that each party would ever get. Until parties are ready to accept that there is a rainy and sunny day, there is a win and a loose in every game, then we shall never accept we have weather neither games!


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