The concept of development is not new and is probably as old as human civilisation. Development is inevitably treated as normative concept, as almost a synonym for improvement. Development is the process of improving the quality of all human lives with three equally important aspects. These are: raising peoples’ living levels (i.e.
incomes and consumption, levels of food, medical services, education through relevant growth processes), creating conditions conducive to the growth of peoples’ self-esteem through the establishment of social, political and economic systems and institutions which promote human dignity and respect, and increasing peoples’ freedom to choose by enlarging the range of their choice variables, e.g. varieties of goods and services. However, over time development has carried very different meanings. The term development in its present sense dates from the post-war era of modern development thinking. Development is not purely an economic phenomenon but rather a multi-dimensional process involving reorganisation and reorientation of entire economic and social system.
‘Authentic Development’ is a fairly recent phenomenon within the development thought. Too often, wealth generation is used as the milestone against which development is measured. But authentic development is much more than economic progress. Authentic development is the full realisation of human capabilities means men and women become makers of their own histories, personal and societal. They free themselves from every servitude imposed by nature or by oppressive systems; they achieve wisdom in their mastery over nature or over their own wants, they create new webs of solidarity based not on domination but on reciprocity among themselves, they achieve a rich symbiosis between contemplation and transforming action between efficiency and free expression.
This total concept of development can perhaps best be expressed as the ‘human ascent - the ascent of all men their integral humanity, including the economic, biological, psychological, social, cultural, ideological, spiritual, mystical, and transcendental dimensions. Authentic development is perceived as being broadly concerned with the improvement of the conditions of the majority of the population and particularly of the poorest.
In this subcontinent the first seed of such type of development had been sown by poet Rabindranath Tagore. He started rural reconstruction project at Sriniketan in 1921 aiming to make villagers self-reliant and self-respecting, and competent to make efficient use of resources for the fullest development of their physical, social, economic and intellectual potential and abilities; and to get them acquainted with the cultural tradition of their own.
In Bangladesh the major institutional authentic development initiatives for the first time was forged in the early sixties under what has now become known as the Comilla approach. The rural works component of the project emphasised the mobilisation of rural unemployed labour for infrastructural development, and, in this process, providing a major source of off-peak employment for the landless population. The project, entitled Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP), combined production and anti-poverty goals targeted at the landless population.
Over time it has become the single most important poverty alleviation programme in rural Bangladesh. Immediately after independence, another relief-oriented scheme called Food for Works (FWP) was added, and recent years have seen the addition of a huge number of similar projects, both in the public and private sectors.
Specific targets of authentic development in today’s Bangladesh include the rural poor, especially the more disadvantaged groups of women and children. Rural development aims at building the capacity of these target groups to control their surrounding environment accompanied by wider distribution of benefits resulting from such control. The key elements of rural development in Bangladesh are: poverty alleviation and raising the living standards of the rural poor, equitable distribution of income and wealth, wider employment opportunities, participation of the local people in planning, decision-making, implementation process, benefit sharing, evaluation of rural development programmes, and ‘empowerment‘ or more economic and political power to the rural masses to control the use and distribution of scarce resources. The government’s current rural development policy’s main emphasis is, as manifested in the latest perspective plan and other public documents, on employment oriented growth, greater citizen participation in development activities, greater cooperation between public and private sectors, specialised programmes for the disadvantaged groups such as rural poor women, ethnic minorities, children, and the elderly people.
The government and international development partners have also put emphasis on pro-rural development by strengthening the local government system in the country. In attempt to achieve strong local governance, the government has introduced several reforms and decentralisation programmes to bring the government close to the people. Increasingly, people’s participation in local governmental affairs is considered an indivisible part of the meaning of democracy at local levels. In the Upazila Development Co-ordination Committee (UDCC), one member is selected from local elites or from ‘freedom fighters’ two and three female members from the Union levels, which is directly representing local people. Similarly, in the Project Implementation Committee (PIC), except for the president, all other members are selected from the local people to link them with development programs. In addition, there are local management committees, formed mostly by local people, to look after the development activities when implemented by the contractors.
NGOs play an important role in the authentic development of Bangladesh. It is doubtless to say that NGOs with their constructive efforts have been promoting development strategic by creating unique changes in the field of economic progress in Bangladesh since her independence. The mission and activities of NGOs revealed the fact that the NGOs are omnipresent with their multifaceted and multidimensional projects aimed at providing informal and non-formal education, health, nutrition, and empowerment of women etc. NGOs have organised the rural poor and taught them the benefits of forming groups/cooperatives, supplied them with inexpensive agricultural technology, leadership development, social forestation through usage of government owned khas land etc all of which helps in poverty eradication.
Bangladesh is already on a journey of transformation. Translating this into a journey of hope for a poverty-free and egalitarian society is the key contemporary challenge. It is a challenge which demands active, intelligent and innovative engagement from all: governments, development agencies, private sector, NGOs, community organisations, media, academia, and above all, from the people of Bangladesh themselves. The engagement is not just for policy planning. It is as importantly an engagement for results, for inclusion, for imaginative solutions, and ultimately an engagement to unlock the potentials of the nation.
The writer is an Assistant Professor,
Department of Public Administration,
Jagannath University, Dhaka