If you’ve had opportunity to get to know Agros and our work of empowering entire rural villages to work their way out of poverty, you’ll have heard us talk about the complex, long-term focus and impact of this work.
Following is an excerpt from an interview of Ben Ramalingam, author of the blog (and forthcoming book) Aid on the Edge of Chaos. Interviewed by Dennis Whittle, Ben explains the nature of navigating the complex human systems inherent in poverty alleviating interventions.
International aid has been built on a very particular way of looking at the world, and this continues to dog its efforts. As a senior USAID colleague put it, because of our urgency to end poverty, we act as if development is a construction, a matter of planning and engineering, rather the complex and often opaque set of interactions that we know it to be.
…The whole system disguises rather than navigates complexity, and it does so at various levels – in developing countries and within the aid system. This maintains a series of collective illusions and overly simplistic assumptions about the nature of systems, about the nature of change, and about the nature of human actors.
So the end result of all of this is that poverty, vulnerability, disease are all treated as if are simple puzzles. Aid, and aid agencies are then presented as the missing pieces to complete the puzzle. This not only gives aid a greater importance than perhaps it is due, but it also misrepresents the nature of the problems we face, and the also presents aid flow as very simple.
Instead of engaging with complexity, it is dismissed, or relegated to an afterthought, and the tools and techniques we employ make it easy for us to do this. We treat complex things as if they were merely complicated.
(For complex systems) there is no mathematical model which can say, if X is the situation then do Y. Sustainability, healthy communities, raising families have all been given as examples of such complex systems and processes. Peacebuilding would be another, women’s empowerment, natural resource management, capacity building initiatives, innovation systems, the list goes on and on. Complexity science pulls back the curtain on these processes and it can force you to think about the world you live in in a different way.”
As a learning organization, Agros strives to “think of the world a different way” such that real, lasting transformation can take place for an entire community rising out of multiple generations of systemic poverty. Yes it takes funding, resources, partnerships, a proven model; this is precisely why the Agros approach to poverty alleviation is holistic, integrated, and can only work when village members themselves are the main actors and navigators of their own future. A future that is undergirded, however, by a web of initial funding, credit, partnerships, and trabajo, trabjo, y mas trabajo!