Only human development produces economic development
Fernando Cardenal, who died at 82 on February 20,
was a lifelong and fervent educator.
This text, first published in envío over 20 years ago,
is still enormously relevant in today’s Nicaragua,
as its current government and business allies
only talk of the wonders of economic development,
totally ignoring or at best forgetting human development,
and its government has provoked a grave conflict
with the United Nations Development Programme,
a pioneer in showing the importance of human development
over that of the GDP in its annual Human Development Index,
a project Father Cardenal praised.
Most economic analyses of Latin America in the 1980s can be summed up in the famous phrase coined by the UN’s Economic Commission on Latin America: “a lost decade.” All statistics gathered by international organizations show that Latin America’s people became poorer in the 1980s.
In May 1993, Latin American Human Rights Association President Juan de Dios Parra noted in Quito, Ecuador, that over the last 20 years 70 million more people in Latin America have been going hungry, 30 million more are illiterate, 10 million more families are homeless, and 40 million more are unemployed. Yet in the last 10 years all governments in the region, without exception, cut their budgets for health, housing and education.
A question immediately arises when faced with this drama: what happened to the millions and millions of dollars that flowed into our continent through nongovernmental organizations, church groups, financial organizations and government agencies? Was pouring all of this capital into Latin America like pouring water into a basket? All that effort, suffering, work, sweat, organization and hope went into promoting local economic development, and at the end of it people are poorer. What happened?
Economic science called into question
The words of Chilean economist Rayén Quiroga summarize quite well the growing criticism of economic science: “Government efforts to achieve development have not produced sustained improvement in the quality of life of the people who live in this region in the decades of so-called develop¬mentalism, less during the recent lost decade, and now not during the privatizing pendulum swing. We economists have been espousing our creed from our ghetto, refusing to see the unequivocal signs of deterioration of our truths.”
She courageously added that “the economy is currently monopolizing knowledge and the praxis of development. Therefore, economists are the professionals best trained to take on the difficult task of development. But economy refers exclusively to the material processes of human life, even though economic practice transcends this confining definition. In reality, where we like to think our development recipes are operating, all kinds of emotional, psychological, political and judgmental ‘perturbations’ are converging, which we cannot continue underestimating as trivial or irrelevant.”
We have observed many “development projects” around us that we consider incomplete, truncated, in the sense that they haven’t reached their maximum impact or have achieved very little. In other cases the projects failed, or communities were left even worse off than before. After briefly investigating 17 projects and reviewing information obtained about others in Nicaragua, as well as reflecting on similar projects implemented in Latin America, Africa and Asia, we’ve seen that successes are often very limited and the impact isn’t always related to the amount of money that has been invested.
Human development is a slow process
A clear example of this “failure” is the Sandinista govern¬ment’s agrarian reform. It was successful in that it distributed nearly a million acres of land to Nicaraguan peasants, but it was a failure as an economic development project. Peasants were given land, financing, training, machinery, seeds, fertilizer, marketing mechanisms, in fact almost everything except the elements that make them grow themselves, as subjects of development, as people. The basic part was missing.
What does that basic part consist of? Where we palpably missed out was in maintaining contact with the peasants who benefited from that agrarian reform. They may have the best lands in each region, but they are dying of hunger. It doesn’t help that the Chamorro government is denying them credit, but more importantly they lack enough initiative and organization on their own to get ahead.
In other cases, we find peasants who received agrarian reform land and while they still use the name “cooperative,” they only plant on “their own” part of the land; no one wants to work collectively. Along with the land, they received many materials for production, but they didn’t undergo the human process of becoming organized growers working collectively. Thinking of them as a production cooperative is self-deception. Human beings’ interior world doesn’t change just because we want it to. Human development is slow, as is any complex life process.
A building without a foundation
When talking about economic development problems with the members of a Sandinista peasant cooperative we currently work with, they listed the obstacles they’re facing: difficulty adapting to the new ideas, internal conflicts among them, lack of labor discipline... The list was long and many of the items were subjective and internal, rather than objective and external. One woman from the cooperative summarized it as, “a lack of human formation.”
Since 1990, the United Nations Development Pro¬gramme (UNDP) has focused its interest on its Annual Human Development Report. These reports repeat what that cooperative member herself said. They show that economic development doesn’t produce human development, but the other way around. They see human development as “basic to economic development.” This idea explains why such big projects fall apart. They lack the basic underpinnings, like buildings that collapse because they have no foundation.
The UNDP puts development at the service of people’s wellbeing, not people at the service of development. It defines development as a process by which society’s members develop themselves, increasing their ability to mobilize and manage resources, so they can produce fairly distributed improvements in their quality of life in accord with their own aspirations.
UNDP has been a pioneer:
GDP growth isn’t enough
According to the UNDP, human development offers people the ability to choose their own options, which could be related to income level, credit access, education (literacy or primary education), increased life expectancy (health and food), personal security and political freedom. Their priorities and specific values depend on cultural and other aspects unique to a country or a particular social group.
The UNDP’s analyses are macroeconomic. They think about the economic development of nations, and have taken a significant step forward by moving beyond the narrow focus that uses a country’s gross domestic product as the main indicator to assess its economic development. The UNDP has pioneered this concept of the human underpinnings of development and anyone who wants to study development issues seriously and responsibly should read its Annual Human Development Reports.
A project on Granada’s Las Isletas
Our experience has shown that these ideas also need to be applied to the universe of local development, especially to the peasant world. There is a whole field of human values, habits, attitudes, concepts and behavioral patterns among peasant producers that the UNDP doesn’t sufficiently take into account.
Poverty among our peasants isn’t only a lack of consumer and production goods. Serious limitations in attitudes, values, concepts and habits make them inefficient producers and poor administrators of both financial resources and the means of production and natural resources.
We [in Fe y Alegría, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to grassroots education and social action programs] saw this clearly one day in a project we’re developing in Granada’s Las Isletas. The Claudia Chamorro cooperative owns two large coves with a narrow mouth, which seemed apt for intensive fish husbandry. After talking and dreaming with the cooperative members about a development scheme that would pull them out of their poverty and bare survival with small-scale fishing and fruit growing, we did the project.
We got strong promises of financing, and went to the Ecology Department of Managua’s Central American University, specifically its fish husbandry school, for the technology. For the marketing aspect we talked to one of Nicaragua’s most important fish and seafood exporters, who offered to buy 10-12,000 pounds of tilapia a week. Everything was apparently ready and we were delighted. But would the development subjects, the historically marginalized islanders, submerged in poverty and ignorance, be ready?
With this project the cooperative members could quickly and substantially raise their income levels. But the danger existed that such a sudden income increase would find them unprepared, without habits of saving money, without strong enough organization, with a tendency of some to drink given their miserable lives and total lack of diversion, and pushed to spend because of the new consumerism introduced by advertising. All of this could endanger the project and the cooperative’s very unity. We decided to put the project on hold.
Our work continues in Las Isletas and the cooperative members are involved in smaller projects including cattle, poultry, plantains and reforesting with fruit trees. Before the larger fish project gets started, we’re shoring up the building’s foundation together with them; we have begun the process of human development.
The inner world of human beings
We did one of our first projects with a group of women, starting with literacy. Bit by bit they overcame their lack of confidence in themselves and in their ability to produce efficiently. After doing all the necessary studies, they decided to work in pig raising. They were trained in all aspects of the work, from carpentry and masonry for building the pig sheds, to animal husbandry.
Everything went fine. The piglets grew and fattened and sold well. Not only did the women’s self-confidence grow, but so did their income. Then one day a conflict broke out among them that they couldn’t resolve, and some of the women took the pigs that corresponded to them and broke from the group. Because they lacked the capacity to dialogue, to recognize errors, to overcome passions in favor of solidarity, one group chose to give up its future development.
The impact of our human development process will be incomplete and most of the time almost nil if, through an educational process, we don’t encourage the subjects of economic development to want to increase their maturity, responsibility, work spirit and discipline, solidarity, criticism and self-criticism, and their self-confidence, and we don’t help them correctly value and modify their behavior in relation to women’s role and dimension, the environment, sexuality, alcoholism, and the like. At the end of the development project the people involved will be more or less where they were at the beginning, simply struggling to survive.
Any attempt at development that doesn’t enter the world of values, that internal human world of habits and attitudes, of the concept of the world around us, of behavioral patterns, of our entire behavior, will be exactly like erecting a building without first laying the foundation.
Buildings that fall for
want of a foundation
According to its Project NI 0022, dated August 21, 1993, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) offered a four-year loan of US$72 million to the Nicaraguan government for the “National Rural Development Program (PNDR).” The budget covered the following, with the bulk of it (77%) going not to the program itself, but to government institutions such as the Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA) for related activities:
Total PNDR portion: 23%
12%: Formulation, follow up and evaluation
13%: Applied sectoral research
20%: Municipal strengthening
23%: PNDR operation and coordination costs
32%: Promotion and advice to local initiatives
Total non-PNDR portion: 77%
5%: INTA for technical production assistance
7%: INRA for individual title legalization
88%: Rural roads, bridges (REMECAR 11)
It’s interesting to note that the IDB dedicated only 5% to “technical production assistance” that is, technological support or training, an indispensable aspect. Worse yet, not a penny was dedicated to human development.
It may well be because of projects like these that the 1980s was “a lost decade” for Latin America. In this concrete case, in addition to a building that is falling for lack of a foundation, with the added frustration for its “beneficiaries,” Nicaragua will end up owing US$72 million plus interest.
Knowing, know-how, being
In Nicaragua, and in Europe as well, confusion exists about the terms “education” and “training.” What do we mean when we use the term education? We agree with a work prepared by the PROCEP team in Bolivia, which identifies three components:
Objective: sharing knowledge
Objective: developing aptitudes, skills, techniques
Objective: developing attitudes, personality, values
These three components aren’t developed separately, isolated from each other. In practice, combinations exist among them. The important thing is to know where to put the most emphasis.
Education is characterized by its globality, by theoretical and methodological integration of its conception and practice. It needs information as well as teaching or training, but it doesn’t stop there; it is conceived of an action intended to generate changes in conduct or attitudes that permit people to change from one state to another.
Training transmits technology, teaching one how to do things, preparing one to use new techniques, such as growing the best corn or proper pig raising. But while necessary, it’s insufficient.
Formation, or education, is more profound; it teaches one how to be, helps one be more. More of a worker, more in solidarity, more mature, more responsible… in a word, more human, developing in each person the greatest of that person’s natural human abilities. It enters into the world of values: attitudes, habits, visions of the world around us, patterns of behavior. It’s part of the world of human development.
Formal and non-formal education
The distinction between formal and non-formal education is also very important. When we speak of education, we’re not referring to the education offered in schools, with systematic programs, contents and texts, already prepared within institutionalized processes that emphasize learning and are normally aimed at children and adolescents who move from grade to grade until they get their diploma and graduate. That’s what’s known as formal education, and it’s normally directed by education ministries.
Non-formal education takes place outside of the school and throughout life. Initially, this education made a decisive leap thanks to the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. It has been used extensively throughout Latin America for over 30 years. It’s conceived for adults and has a single text, which is life itself, the life of the adults educating themselves, and their daily work. It doesn’t have a target grade as a goal in order to move on to higher studies, and its organization is varied and heterogeneous. It is alternative education and is complementary to formal programs. Knowledge, attitudes, abilities and technologies are shared and through this process practices, habits and behavior are transformed.
Women are educators
in the school of life
Development is the product of integrating a complex series of factors. When speaking of the importance of non-formal education, we’re not rejecting primary education or technical education. We’re only insisting that in the adult world of work we must never forget that, in addition to the need to complete the primary education that workers never had the chance to finish as children, there’s a need for an education that will help the person be more, develop as human beings, as men and women, acquire new habits, values, attitudes and codes of conduct, so they’ll become not only more human but also better and more efficient producers.
This is where the issue of women comes in. Women’s role in development is often poorly focused, with regrettable consequences for both women and development. Women are typically considered a passive element of development. “Projects are needed to develop her,” many say—almost all of them men. It’s forgotten or not known that women can be magnificent development agents precisely because they’re the ones who transmit values, culture, tradition, habits, attitudes and patterns of behavior through the family. They are charged with caring for life, children’s food needs and the family vegetable patch and the garden, and are more able to grasp and transmit everything to do with protection of the environment and of life. They are potential non-formal educators in the school of life.
The grassroots educator
must be one of them
It would be hard to deny that local economic development is complex, and requires research into appropriate technology and training, organization, literacy, leadership training, follow-up and evaluation, markets, etc. But human development, the foundation of these elements, is missing in many projects. It’s even harder to find an adequate mechanism in such projects to produce this human development.
This mechanism could be ongoing education based on dialogue and led by a grassroots educator, a teacher of non-formal education who lives among and works with cooperative members, who knows popular education methodology and is constantly training to be able to fulfill such important and difficult tasks better.
For the training aspect of our work in Fe y Alegría, we find techniques in accord with the special technology we want to transmit. But the task we delegate to no one is the educational process. We conscientiously seek a grassroots educator among those working in, or who have worked in, adult education. We prefer that it be a member of the cooperative or at least someone who lives in the same area. We choose the person as our representative to the cooperative and that person becomes our primary cadre in the zone.
Dialogue and “educational lodes”
In the economic development process, education is part of life itself and is done with the same development subjects we’re working with. This isn’t “educating to produce,” but “educating by producing” or “producing by educating.” Under this conception, we try to turn the development projects into a genuine school in the cooperatives we work with, which are made up of the country’s poorest peasants.
We try to make use of what we call “educational lodes”: some human problem, conflict or event in the life and work of the cooperative members that offers a good opportunity to spark a dialogue, led by the grassroots educator, through which the members themselves take on the problem and search for adequate solutions.
Dialogue is the fundamental instrument. It can be initiated directly or prepared through peasant theater, role playing, puppets, music, or one of many other mechanisms grassroots education uses. In this process, education should preferentially address women’s issues and those of the environment and ecology permanently so development will be “sustainable.”
How to measure the impact?
It’s relatively easy to measure the quantitative success of a project. It’s much more difficult to measure the qualitative success of an educational process, of human growth.
Rather than speaking of qualitative indicators, it might be more profitable to speak of developing criteria that allow us to see if education is fulfilling what reality requires of it, reality not only as social demand, but also as a historically and contradictorily woven social fabric.
Starting from the guidelines established by Peruvian educator and sociologist Estela González, we propose that the monitoring be:
. Flexible and process-based, putting the educational project as a function of reality, and not reality as a function of the project.
. Imaginative and demanding, giving subjects freedom of action, but with mechanisms that guarantee the rigor and demands of the practice.
. Transmittable more than transferable. Transferable seems to refer to models that can be passed from one person to another while transmittable emphasizes the ability to generate and manage criteria about the pertinence of the educational project as the central axis of education
We don’t yet have a formula...
but we’re working on it
The internal world is manifested in actions of concrete life. We don’t yet have a formula to measure human growth, but we’re working on it. We find clear manifestations of human development being achieved: in one cooperative that only worked two hours a day, its members themselves decided to begin working four; another cooperative decided to give part of its lands to a group of neighboring peasants who had been affected by a hurricane so they could plant crops.
Other positive signs include staying together as a cooperative while others are disintegrating, labor discipline, a lessening of unresolved conflicts among workmates, increase in hope, and growth of self-confidence and trust toward workmates.
must be self-sustainable
The complex content of the so frequently used term “sustainable development” is clear to all of us who work in development. We’re convinced that this sustainability is an essential element in any development project in the Third World or in fact in any part of the planet.
But in addition to sustainable, the project must be self-sustained, implemented autonomously by the subjects of development. They are the ones who should be offering follow-up, continuity and permanence. This doesn’t only mean that they become economically better off while we work with them, but that their human development becomes a solid foundation that ensures their ability to promote their own economic development afterward.
Enemy number one of sustained development is the paternalism that gives things—often many material things—but doesn’t educate, doesn’t integrate the people as subjects of development. Paternalism fosters an object, with its hand permanently out begging for more. Then, when the paternalistic organization leaves, the people are orphaned, unable to continue on their own.
Any project’s success is due to multiple factors. The first is human liberty, which can accept the educational process that promotes human development, accept only part of it or even close off and refuse to change anything. Other exogenous factors also influence success: a long drought, dropping market prices, pests and other such frequent natural disasters in our countries.
Any building can be brought down by fire or an earthquake or hurricane. But long before it succumbs to such possible catastrophes, it will collapse to the ground in ruins if it was built without the solid formation of the people who erected it.
Fernando Cardenal, sj, a liberation theologian, headed the UNESCO award-winning literacy crusade in Nicaragua in 1980, the year after the Sandinistas toppled the Somocista dictatorship, served as minister of education between 1984 and 1990, and then as a director of Fe y Alegría in Nicaragua until his death. Fe y Alegría, born in Venezuela in 1955, currently exists in 19 Latin American countries and one African one, with Nicaragua joining in 1974. For more on Fe y Alegría, visit http://www.feyalegria.org/en This text, which has been slightly edited, originally appeared in envío in English in November 1994.