[* Originally published within the electronic publication, The Drum Beat - click here for archives.]

Imagine an international development funding scenario in which the following were obligatory:

  1. For every dollar spent on the development of a new vaccine or drug an equivalent dollar has to be spent in support of networking by and for a movement of people that are directly affected by the health issue that is the focus of that drug. When The Gates Foundation announces USD 130 million dollars for malaria vaccine development they also need to announce and provide USD 130 million dollars for a network and movement of families and communities affected by malaria.
  2. For every dollar spent by an international organisation on their own public and media relations [including policy advocacy] they have to contribute the same level of resources [no strings attached] in support of a high profile voice for the people directly affected by the issues that are the focus for that organisations work. The UNICEF budget for media relations needs to be matched by a financial contribution [no strings] to a movement of children and parents in developing countries so that their voice [which may be disparate and inconsistent] on the key issues that affect them can be heard louder and clearer.
  3. No international development decision making forum is considered legitimate unless a majority of the people making the decision are themselves directly affected by the issue in question. The majority community at every HIV/AIDS forum - from UNAIDS and UN special sessions to national coordinating mechanisms and local HIV/AIDS groups - needs to be people living with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS.

The chance of these proposals being adopted is of course much less than the possibility that I will become UN Secretary General! But posing them as proposals that touch the sharp edges of international development - technical development, funding, decision making and organisational advocacy - highlight how far international development has moved from the core elements for long term effective change. As I argued in the most recent strategy ConunDRUM [click here] the current, predominant model for international development based on SI = T x I x F [where SI = Sustainable Impact; T = Technical Assistance; I = a specific intervention; and F = Funding] is at best struggling and at worst has failed. But there is another model - hinted at by the proposals above.

We need to derive a change model that emanates from some of the most successful non-violent change processes in world history. An equation drawing from those experiences might look as follows:

Degree of SI = level L x scale V x focus A


SI is Sustainable Impact

level L is the level of Leadership by people most affected by a development issue in confronting that issue

scale V is the strength of their Voice within the public debate and relevant decision making fora

focus A is the local resonance of priority development Agenda in any given context.

So, in prose form that would read:

The degree of sustainable long term impact on any development issue is directly proportionate to the level of leadership by people immediately affected by that issue multiplied by the scale of public debate and private dialogue on that issue multiplied by the extent to which the issue in question is a 'local' action priority in any given context. If there is a high score on these three factors then there is a high likelihood of long term sustainable impact. If there is a low score on these three factors then a low likelihood of long term sustainable impact.

This is very different from the predominant theory that appears to drive most development action from the perspective of major international development agencies and governments as described above. So, where does Degree of SI = level L x scale V x focus A come from, how is it justified, and what are the implications for overall investment in development actions and specific communication interventions?

There has been no sustainable, effective social movement in which the principles of leadership from within the peoples most affected; a strong and independent voice in public debate, private dialogue and decision making fora by people most affected; and, the people most immediately involved defining and agreeing the development agenda, have not been core, central components of the action. I would encourage you to think on your own local and national situations. Alternatively, please reflect on these social movements, also cited in the previous Drum Beat - the women's movement, anti-apartheid movement, civil rights movement, anti-globalisation movement, anti-racism movement, anti-genetically modified crops movement, anti female genital mutilation movement, Jubilee 2000 movement to reduce/eliminate the debt of developing countries, environmental movement, non-violent independence movements in many countries and territories, gay rights movement, the land rights movements of many so-called ethnic minorities, peace movements and many other social movements - North and the South and crossing and joining that divide.

Successful movements have internal leadership, a powerful voice for the perspectives of those most affected in the public debate and a strong role in agenda setting and decision making as central, intrinsic components of what makes them successful...and makes their results sustainable.

This is not to suggest that we do not develop new vaccines and other scientific solutions to some very serious development issues. Of course we should. They are vitally important. But those 'solutions' will only work if they are in combination with the social movement processes. Hence, in the proposals that lead this item it should be matching money not replacement money.

These social movement focused change principles tend to be, to coin a term mine and other children used when learning to speak, 'poo-poohed' by many in international development, particularly by senior decision-makers. They are often searching for the simple, hopefully low cost, globally applicable, easy to administer, high proven efficacy answer. Talk of people and change and movements and norms and communities and dialogue and debate and participation and other similar concepts is regarded as wishy wishy and loose and ill-formed and unable to be assessed. I challenge them to stand in front of the leaders of the social movements that have made such significant changes in all our lives and say that to their faces. "Hey, Martin Luther, Te Kooti, Mahatma, Germaine, ... [here fill in the leader of your own favorite social movement]...it will never work..." Uh! [as our friends' teenage kids utter!]

The next response for why the principles of social movement are not priorities to fund and support in international development is that international development issues are technical problems requiring technical solutions. Nowhere is this perspective stronger than in health. To which I say HIV/AIDS, Northern India, Northern Nigeria and Tobacco.

HIV/AIDS is well documented. The countries/communities with the highest levels of internal leadership, public debate, private dialogue, spontaneous local action and local challenging of existing social practices and prejudices have done best - gay communities, Uganda, Thailand, etc. L, V and A [see above] are present in large quantities. Without the Treatment Action Campaign there would be no progress on substantially reduced costs for treatments. And without the People Living with AIDS network and movement there would be much much less vaccine development [many pharmaceuticals having got out a long time ago]. L, V and A by the bucketload.

For a negative perspective that makes the same point, take a look at what is happening to child health in Northern India and Northern Nigeria. We have many of the technical answers in child health. There are high efficacy, simple, low cost, provable interventions, the most admired of which is immunisation. Case closed? Umm - no! Immunisation rates in many parts of the world are going down. In Northern India and Northern Nigeria they are plummeting with predictions of disastrous consequences for child health. Why? Because the scientific answer has come up against a movement of people. Outsiders can call these people misguided, wrong, ill-informed and any other description. But local people taking local leadership [L], voicing their perspectives [V], framing debate and dialogue on their terms and developing their own agendas [A] have inflicted severe damage on immunisation rates. We only have ourselves to blame. By ignoring those same principles when developing and implementing child health programmes we have laid a very weak foundation. A base slab that is very easily turned on its side when a group of people say 'hold on - I think those immunisations are also sterilising our girls or causing other illnesses', feelings which in the social and political climate resonate and spread no matter how untrue the allegations may be. So, by all means develop AIDS and malaria Vaccines, but do no expect them to work all by themselves.

Finally [a very resonant term for this issue] we roll on to tobacco! In many countries there have been very significant gains in non-smoking rates. They were not due to quit smoking campaigns or the patch. In most cases the changes involved a very loose coalition of organisations large and small, working from sometimes different motivations but always with the same goal. In a coordinating group for anti-tobacco action you could find - young people angry at the ways tobacco companies market at them, cancer patients, the fire service, people concerned about second hand smoking risks and others. It is this loose grouping working as a movement rather than as one programmed course of action that has moved the anti-tobacco agenda.

This perspective has important implications for those of us with communication responsibilities. Within a strategic paradigm that has technical assistance, a specific intervention and funding as it's core principles, communication is reduced to a support role. Communicators are asked to help "sell" the intervention [immunisations are good - line up on Wednesday], promote the technical support [these people can help us to...] and raise the funds [we are a great organisation]. These roles are important but they do not play to the real strengths we communicators can bring to more effective international development practice. Imagine [or observe where it is happening] the communication role with a social movement paradigm guiding the strategic thinking. Communication is of central importance for local leadership [L], crucial to getting the voices of those most affected into public debate and decision-making fora and [V] and indispensible for creating and shaping locally driven agendas. Real, meaningful communication would take place.

This is a necessarily short analysis and explanation. The subtle textures of international development require a deeper and more nuanced approach. From my perspective it would be great if we could move from SI = T x I x F to Degree of SI = level L x scale V x focus A. But what do you think? Does this make sense? Is it important? Do you agree? What is your analysis? What would you propose? How do we move these agendas?

Thanks for your time and many best wishes.

Warren Feek
October 31, 2003