Deborah Eade

The scale of the current economic crisis defies prediction, its many impacts unfurling in unexpected ways around the globe. Individual human beings, families, and entire communities, defined both by geography and by employment, face unprecedented levels of insecurity. If the best-laid plans can be dashed from one day to the next, there seems almost no point in developing projects for the future. The moral universe too has become topsy-turvy: the ‘casino capitalists’ continue to reap colossal profits, even as the many thousands of lives that have been ruined by such extravagant gambling go to the wall. Virtue may be its own reward, but it seems clear that for the powerful, profligacy often pays. A strange world, indeed, which rewards greed and consumerism, and turns a blind eye to spectacular corruption, while awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Mohammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, whose very success hinges on the insistence that loans be repaid, however small and however poor the borrower.

Two good things to come out of this are, first, a growing distaste for wasteful consumption among those able to afford it in the first place; and second, a greater openness to new ideas, as the realisation dawns that neo-liberal prescriptions helped to fuel the crisis, both polarising whole economies and reducing the capacity of governments to deal with the consequences. Interestingly, several of the contributions to this issue use the metaphor of ‘paths’, which evokes the idea of a relaxed stroll at a sustainable and human pace, rather than hurtling around at break-neck speed in a 4x4 vehicle.

Peter Drucker argues that the global social-justice movement has embraced the non-economic dimensions of development but has generally treated sexual identities and sexuality as issues of citizenship, rather than relating to alternative development strategies. It is essential to challenge hetero-normative assumptions in order ‘to understand the role of gender and sexuality in the ways in which families and communities are structured and the ways in which family and community intersect with the state and economy’. Further, ‘queering’ often taken-for-granted concepts such as democracy, community, and empowerment will necessarily take development in new and potentially more nurturing directions.

Donald Curtis and Yeow Poon consider the dissonance between the uncertainties that are inherent in any development process and the continuing obsession with management tools that seek to pin everything down from the outset. They call for an open management style that is at ease with adaptation to circumstance, arguing that this approach also enables accountability to be ‘an interactive learning process’, and not simply the upward reporting to donors that tools such as Log Frame encourage. Dissonance is also addressed by Jon Cloke in his critique of the potential for progressive development NGOs to mediate between civil society, the state, and the market in relation to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), given that so many have yielded to donor pressure to move away from engaging with grassroots mobilisation and towards poverty-alleviation and service-provision activities that complement the role of the diminished state. While it may be argued that ‘donor pressure’ is probably as much a convenient smokescreen as a concrete reality, the author’s message is that NGOs cannot have it all ways: opting for certain roles effectively rules out others.

Other articles focus on various aspects of partnership, a recurrent theme in this journal. Sandra Smeltzer, Grace A. Flesher, and Ellena Andoniou describe a development and research partnership, ‘Western Heads East’, between the University of Western Ontario in Canada and a group of grassroots women in Tanzania who are living with HIV and AIDS. This revolved around the production and sale of probiotic yoghurt, whose properties include improved immunity to infection. The authors address the challenges inherent in such a multi-cultural and multi-level partnership, as well as the questions posed by its success, in particular the concerns about the potential role of a major commercial company in the venture. For Md. Farhad Zamil and Jean-Joseph Cadilhon, the role of a local entrepreneur in the Bangladeshi city of Mymensingh proved critical in providing family-level oyster-mushroom producers access to a reliable market. Their mutual interest in the success of this collaboration is also the surest guarantee of its sustainability.

Emilie Flower and Brigid McConville illustrate how individuals can often inspire others to get engaged in ways that they might never have imagined, as an existing Tanzanian campaign on safe motherhood became involved in a transnational effort that culminated in the first television screening of a participatory film involving local health professionals, communities, a pop singer, and the Minister of Health. Not only was the production experience valuable in its own right, but the film also helped to persuade the government to commit itself to double the number of trained midwives. As the title indicates, a communication project became a living campaign.

At another level, Sango Mahanty, Yurdi Yasmi, John Guernier, Rob Ukkerman, and Lucia Nass draw a number of useful conclusions about ways of making partnerships work in practice, based on long-term collaboration in Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and Vietnam between a Dutch NGO and a regional forestry training centre. Among the lessons learned is the fact that partnership, like democracy, takes time: it is not simply a question of signing a Memorandum of Understanding and hoping for the best. They emphasise the informal communication that oils the wheels, as well as the need for clarity about any imbalance in the partners’ input into the relationship. Writing about ‘farmer squatters’ in peri-urban areas of Fiji, Alex Thornton illustrates that a more participatory approach to issues of re-settlement could potentially mitigate some of the threats to the ‘agri-hoods’ of the squatters, although this would not in itself address the underlying problem of land tenure.

We also have three interesting shorter pieces in this issue. Patrick Develtere and Tom De Bruyn draw attention to an emerging trend for groupings that are not part of the development industry to become actively involved in what is termed ‘decentralised co-operation’. These are not embryonic NGOs, or inspired by a conventional North–South narrative, but ‘rather, they have become specialists in their own context, be it their company, school, union, health-care provider, or profession, and by gaining hands-on experience, and they are confident in sharing this with colleagues facing similar challenges’. Carolette Norwood argues that while women came to the fore in debates on population through a combination of factors, ranging from de-colonisation to technological advances in contraception, international policies on population and development have implicitly assumed a relationship between poverty and population growth as the basis for integrating women. Grounding these policies in women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights would shift the centre of gravity in the development of thinking about human fertility and population growth. Finally, Devaki Jain and Shubha Chacko outline the long history of engagement between the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the women’s movement, arguing that the NAM still has the potential to initiate an inclusive growth paradigm with a Southern feminist agenda at its core.