Monday, October 29, 2007

What Will It Take? Your Thoughts Please

In the current Rex Foundation newsletter, we note that in 1983 Buckminster Fuller proclaimed: "We can now solve all the problems of hunger and need across the world, having all the available resources and technology; all that we need is the political will." And yet, nearly a quarter century later, those problems and many others persist.

For the newsletter, we asked some Rex supporters for their thoughts on the question: “How do we find the will to generate positive solutions to current world challenges?" Here are some of their inspiring responses:

"The will is always a matter of the individual taking small steps and a leader at the top to help show the way." - Phil Eisengart

"Look beyond our own comfortable blessed lives and see how others less fortunate live." - Michael Fasman

"We find the will by being an example for others and working together with others for social change. We need to always have hope.” - Janet Leach

What do you think? We welcome your thoughts. We also encourage a wide range of viewpoints; please treat your fellow participants with respect.

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At 9:12 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Fuller is only partly right. For issues where there is an indisputably straightforward solution, ‘political will’ can and does make a difference: for example through improving primary health care and education. The clear focus of the Gates Foundation on AIDS and TB is a good example: governments could do that.

For the most part though, political expediency mitigates against those in power tackling long term, complex problems such as those related to power, poverty, access to resources, sustainability etc (until they retire!). Ironically dictatorships may be much better at making and implementing the dramatic, sweeping decisions people seek than democracies! .Even when ‘political will’ is exercised, not all will approve, because there is little unanimity on how to solve complex problems. Is globalisation is a good example of pro poor, pro-development ‘political will’ or a manifestation of greed? Is ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ not a supreme example of political will (and sacrifice) to improve the lives of poor and oppressed people?

Where political will exists for popular pro-poor activities, these tend to be time-limited, bureaucratic, unproven and simplistic macro solutions, exported as ‘projects’ to problem areas, mostly with disappointing results, vast transaction costs and wastage. The issue may not be the political will, but how that will is expressed.

Working in disadvantaged areas all over the world, the best interventions I have seen for addressing complex issues of poverty and the environment are:
- Designed from the start in consultation with the intended beneficiaries. Most poor people know what they need, and, if empowered to do so, can make good informed choices about solutions.
- Small at first, growing ‘organically’ in line with the capacity of the beneficiaries to absorb them.
- Flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.
- Allowed to take as long as they need, not what is convenient to the donor.
- Funded through modest long term stream, rather than a single large sum.
- Nurtured and championed by individuals/organisations who are committed for the long term
The shining example of this approach is the ‘Micro Credit’ revolution in the developing world.

So what is the right kind of ‘political will’ to help with this?
- Providing resources, but not necessarily in the form of vast ‘cookie-cutter’ programmes and projects.
- Taking notice of successful interventions, supporting their proponents and encouraging their replication. (Many developing country governments react far more positively to ‘home grown’ successes than to the advice of external ‘experts’)
- Creating and sustaining the ‘enabling environment’ for success by removing barriers (fiscal, trade, monetary, legal, administrative, bureaucratic etc) that limit the success of solutions that are working.
- Acting quickly and decisively where large scale responses are needed: emergency aid, health, education
- Leading by example on global issues where power and resources can make a positive difference: promoting peace, stability, social justice, human rights, wise environmental/climate management etc.
In short: the poor should identify the needs, the non government sector should facilitate the solutions and the politicians should create the enabling environment.


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