I have now been engaged with the development sector for more than 25 years.
Yesterday, we found another overstated work that could not be verified.
While complaining to a mentor, I said, 70% of the work in development sector is hogwash.
He agreed. We both knew.
But after the angst was over, i sat down to wonder why that is so. These millions of people who make it their life's work to change the lives of others -why do they overstate their impact? Why do they project that which we know, through experience, is not going to happen?
Malafide motivation cannot be the answer, because development sector jobs don't pay that much. Even for large NGOs, getting honest grants on an ongoing basis is a real challenge.
There is no easy answer.
But the top 2-3 things that jump up are:
A. The structure of the industry
Everyone knows that human change is a slow and laborious job. Yet, funding agencies need to see numbers and impact within a finite time. If you want your mother to give up a habit (that is one person and one behaviour change), you do not know how long it will take. Yet, funding agencies want NGos to wave a magic wand and tell them that they will get 100x people to change 10x habits / beliefs / attitudes within the next 2-3 years.
B. The incorrect inherent assumption
This is actually my realisation after 25 years in the sector. When we did गरीबी हटाओ, we assumed that that was an objective for everyone. That everyone wants to improve their lot by working hard and /or studying. If we just create the opportunities, those opportunities will be taken.
Turns out, that is not true. People want to get rich, but not by working hard or studying hard. They want to get rich by getting doles that they can then sell at a profit and go back to being poor and underprivileged to get more doles. That is their personal revenue model. That is their chosen profession.
Low income housing, MNREGA, PDS, and a host of other welfare measures, both state and private, have taught us that a small fraction of the population will indeed choose hard work or education as a means of upliftment. But that assumption cannot be applied to the entire population.
Yet, 75 years and counting, neither the planners nor the funding agencies, nor the NGOs themselves, have started to factor in "beneficiary receptiveness" in their model.
Esha created an employment model for Braille cards. The idea allowed a person to become financially self reliant. Out of over 100 people we presented the idea to, only TWO people wanted to try it out as a profession.
In our other projects too, we have had a proportion of people who want to try it before not taking it up, and a much smaller population that then goes on to benefit from the opportunity.
At first, we thought this was a case of poorly designed solutions. That if we created better solutions that actually do meet the need, that solution would be adopted by pull model and we won't have to push it.
2 years and 2 research projects later, we learnt that we were wrong. It was not a case of a poorly designed solution. It was a case of poorly understood problem. We assumed that knowledge was an inherent need. It is not. People do not know because they do not want to know. This was a huge shock to us.
But think of it from their perspective, and it makes perfect sense.
We tend to think of life in terms of a single currency - money. Therefore, the more money we have, the better our lives will be.
But they know instinctively that that is not true. Time, leisure, relationships, are all currencies. When we lift ourselves to a better financial position, we lose the social ties with our peer group. With our relatives. We have to fit into a new social circle which may or may not be as welcoming. When we devote time to hard work, leisure is sacrificed. When we spend time in studying, we cannot use that time to earn, to help, to meet friends, to do other things that lead to more instant gratification.
So, I end this day, not with complaint, but with understanding.