One distinction between them that I thought I had established was that aid is something provided from the outside whereas development is something that you do to yourself (as an individual, organization, community, country). You can be aided in your development by others, but development is really your own journey, someone else can’t do it for you.
But then, it occurs to me that development relies on the external, even if not in the form of aid. If you want to get better at something, or start to do something new you will need resolve, but you also will also most likely need resources, knowledge, expertise, skills, new ideas. While you might be able to generate some of this yourself, it’s likely you will need to turn to others for advice, information, for moral or material support or possibly for a loan. Maybe you don’t fully accept the need for personal development, even if others are telling you that you need to be more reliable or look more presentable. Maybe you don’t know about what possibilities you might have and how to access them.
But at the same time, I’m the only one who can getter a better job for myself, look after my health, be a better parent or neighbour. Others can help me and even nag me or try to twist my arm to make me change, but I can only really do it, and only if I commit to it.
Back in 2009 I attended a couple of very interesting sessions at the web4dev conference: first Bhartendra Singh Baswan, Director, Indian Institute of Public Administration talked about the role of technology in development and on the behaviour of individuals, and influence of technology on corruption, based on the experience of India. Then Tony Salvador, Director of Research & Definition for the Emerging Markets Platforms Group (EMPG), Intel spoke a little more abstractly but equally compellingly about introducing change as a “heroic” task.
Salvador likened the push to introduce an innovation to the classic “Hero’s journey” a set of steps (rather like the script to a play) outlined by Joseph Campbell (see this explanation for more details) and repeated in classic heroic tales such as Homer’s Odyssey, or Jason and the Golden Fleece (taken as Salvador’s example), or as I prefer Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy. These 12 steps include “The call to adventure” when we realize the need for change, “the refusal of the call” when we question our own ability to lead the change, a journey through numerous trials and temptations along the way, where we gain the insight and skills needed to an eventual confrontation or reconciliation with the existing power structure, leading to a sweeping away of the old system and the creation of the new with the “hero” as the master of both worlds.
While the story line was epic and gripping – the challenge is how to follow this script in practice. Both Salvador, and Baswan stressed the need to both bring in new ideas from outside, but also to understand the existing power structures and who stands to lose from the change and how to effectively co-opt or confront them. Both stressed both the importance of bringing in ideas and resources from outside but needing to integrate them from within and that the new “system” needs to be owned and managed by those who are part of it. In terms of development this means either the force for change comes from someone within the system who looks outside for inspiration, or if it is someone from outside that they need to quickly transfer ownership of what they do and then move on.
So the real heroes of development then come from within, but at the same time need to undertake their personal journey to absorb the new ideas from the outside and figure out how to reconcile them with their existing societies. Aid workers can be allies to help smooth this journey, but they cannot take it for themselves.