Happy Tears: Human Connection Leading to Human Development
03 April 2015
By Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir
We may know - perhaps even at first hand - of a gap in society whose presence
causes pain for countless individuals. Here in Morocco, such a void - that of
unrelenting poverty - exists, particularly in rural places (where poverty is
typically most concentrated worldwide) and most of all in mountainous areas
of the Kingdom.
At the same time the people identify clear opportunities for prosperity that
lay tantalizingly close to hand but remain unreached year after year. The
late social scientist Charles Tilly suggested that the disparity between
unfortunate life conditions currently experienced and the improvements that
we can envisage but feel we are denied, is a primary condition that propels
socio-political movements that could lead to conflict.
Through the ages we have recognized, and the United Nations celebrated this
month this self-evident truth, that happiness is fostered by our connections
with others. This is entirely appropriate in human development terms since
dire socio-economic conditions are most effectively reversed by individuals
and groups connecting and communicating, utilizing a participatory democratic
approach. When such procedures are employed to create locally-managed
development, empowering beliefs are engendered among the beneficiaries, along
with the joy that accompanies greater self-determination. In essence, the
elements that are crucial for project sustainability also lead to happiness.
A human 'spark’
Imagine the feeling of belonging to a marginalized community possessing
little momentum for change. One day, a community dialogue facilitator starts
to organize - and catalyze - meetings where members of every household work
through their differences and describe their visions for the future, all with
the aim of defining a shared action plan for the change they seek.
Mobilization for development requires that spark, whether it is supplied by
an external agent or local women’s leader, association member, government
worker or trained citizen. After all, it is very rare that a community will
come together spontaneously to resolve differences in order to advance common
action. Further, even in countries such as Morocco, where the law requires
the forging of development plans based on the people's collective will, the
actual implementation of a genuine participatory experience may remain
elusive. Individuals capable of acting as effective catalysts for change are,
therefore, those who have undergone experiential training programs where they
learned how to facilitate community dialogue in real settings.
Let us assume that a development plan reflecting the people's priorities is
in place. While this is a necessary and positive first step, the battle is
not won yet; a successful transition toward implementation requires its own
set of fortuitous opportunities.
Raising funds to establish projects requires partnership building at the
beginning of the process, when communities determine their most important
initiatives, so that prospective contributors are drawn into the
participatory planning experience at the earliest possible stage.
In rural Morocco, the odds of receiving project funding are even lower since
illiteracy rates are a significant factor in inhibiting the required type of
communication. Potential donors worldwide would be both wise and magnanimous
were they to accept proposals submitted in ways that are easily communicable
by beneficiaries - orally or written in traditional (and often endangered)
Finally, let us imagine that the catalysis and facilitation of community
dialogue actually results in shared plans for projects, to which donors are
prepared to contribute financially and beneficiaries, through labor in kind
and in vital other ways.
This manifesting into reality of a self-determined idea or goal is a source
of empowerment, in an internal and an external sense. The experience builds
confidence, a sense of self-reliance and a belief in the efficacy of
collective action while also honing technical and managerial skills.
When communities are fortunate enough to enter the implementation phase,
almost without exception, in my experience, there occurs at least one 'golden
moment’ of reflection, wonder and deep appreciation. The people consider how
far they have travelled to arrive at a moment of concretization - of building
or planting, teaching, learning or making a presentation - and how
unpredictable the path they have traversed, guided by the principles of
participatory democracy. These instances are truly happy as, however
fleetingly, they encapsulate the feeling of fulfillment which, once
recognized, can be the more easily attained in the future.
Sustainability then, necessitates popular participation, bringing in its wake
both the empowerment we seek and the happiness we need.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is president of the High Atlas Foundation.
4 Rue Qadi Ayaad, Al Manar 4A
El Harti, Gueliz, Marrakech, Maroc
Tel: +212 (0)5 24 42 08 21
Fax: +212 (0)5 24 42 20 21