Programs aiming to enhance the capacity of communities to advance processes of development may benefit from a critical examination of the conceptual assumptions underlying their efforts—what is a community? how is it developed? who are the primary protagonists and what are their roles?
A searching exploration eventually leads to questions about human nature—what are the aspects of human nature? how are these elements balanced and developed coherently? what is the nature of the relationship between an individual, other individuals, and the institutions of society?
Goals and strategies for community development rest on set of underlying assumptions, which, more often than not, are taken for granted and not critically examined. For example, our present day conception of “development” has its roots in the post World War II era—a time that witnessed the rise of global development rebuilding projects aimed at accelerating economic production. The underlying belief being that a growing economy would in turn improve the social, cultural, and political conditions of nations because of a belief that human nature was primarily physical in nature and characterized by qualities such as self-interest and competition.
By the 1990s it was evident that this approach to development was in need of re-examination. In the series of global conferences convened by the United Nations consultations acknowledged the need for development strategies to take into consideration fuller conceptions of human and societal nature, capturing into frameworks for action concepts such as “development is inseparable from the cultural, ecological, economic, political, and spiritual environment in which it takes place” and that “individuals should be allowed to develop to their full potential, including healthy physical, mental, and spiritual development.” Yet, despite this advance in conceptual thinking at the international level, the axis and primary measure of global, national, and local development remains GDP, and the value of people and things in general is weighted against the ability to generate economic value.
IN LIGHT of this context, community-based programs designed to enable students to contribute to the betterment of their families, neighborhoods, and society must go beyond merely imparting formulaic skills and technical information to developing in young people the capacity to critically examine social theories and forces; to read the social reality surrounding them in order to form a vision of its betterment; to design, employ, and refine, through action and reflection, development strategies; and to operate within an evolving conceptual framework that takes into account historical experiences and an optimistic vision of human nature, society and the environment.
OLINGA hopes to explore the use and development of such educational programs and materials in collaboration with like-minded organizations and groups. Its approach is founded on a set of underlying concepts that include building capacity and systematic learning.
OLINGA does not view development as a product delivered by the “developed” to the “underdeveloped”, rather, its is a process, the primary protagonists of which are the people themselves. Enhancing the capacity of individuals, families, and community-based groups, through proven educational programs and materials, to advance their own communities is seen by OLINGA as its primary aim.
For individuals, building capacity implies an ongoing process for raising up human resources from within the community—a process that is vital if long-term sustainability is to be ensured. Training programs must equip individuals with practical skills, such as consultation, observation, and analysis; qualities and attitudes such as trustworthiness, excellence, patience, justice and equity; and knowledge of concepts relevant to development, such as participation, evolving complexity, capacity building, learning, and knowledge.
For community-based groups, building capacity implies developing certain institutional capabilities necessary for carrying out social and economic development:
* Constructing a conceptual framework
* Reading social reality and forming a vision
* Translating a vision into programs
* Implementing programs in a mode of learning
* Raising up new human resources
* Securing and managing financial resources
* Forming collaborative partnerships with community institutions
In an ideal program, while concrete action is directed towards visible improvement of some aspect of life, success is measured by the impact these actions have on the capacity of the community and its institutions to address development issues at increasingly higher levels of complexity and effectiveness. As such, learning is the axis around which development programs are organized—learning in this sense is not limited to study and evaluation but rather implies a methodology of action, reflection on action, study, consultation, systematization of experience, and training.