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Funding movie sets instead of futures: Long-term sustainability integral for transformative change

I am more convinced today that any development organisation will have to stay in and be committed to a community for about 21 years – the life cycle of a child from birth to first qualification – to be able to effect any transformation, writes Lorenzo A Davids. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

I am more convinced today that any development organisation will have to stay in and be committed to a community for about 21 years – the life cycle of a child from birth to first qualification – to be able to effect any transformation, writes Lorenzo A Davids. Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 7, 2022

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The parliamentary debates on the Budget speech left one with the sense that growing sustainable communities is a poorly understood aspect of those in charge of the Developmental State.

As has been the practice over the last 28 years, we allocate heaps of money to plans and programmes and then believe that society transforms itself based on a budget allocation.

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While a budget allocation is an important step in the process of societal transformation, it is but one in a series of important steps. Change in any community is a long and arduous process.

The most significant change in any community is not accomplished by the efforts of external hands. The litany of failed and abandoned projects across South Africa speaks to that fact.

When the Development gods arrive in communities with their sun hats, SUVs and solutions, it is a sure indicator that what is starting out like a buzzing movie set is going to end up like one as well – abandoned after use.

Transformative change is like yeast – it transforms its environment from within. The yeast may be from outside, but once kneaded into the dough, it becomes one with it and cannot be extracted or recognised apart from it.

We cannot change anything we are unwilling to be associated with and become identified with over time.

Sustainable change always comes from within the community. It is never sustainable if it is directed like a movie set.

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Strangers can't change anything within any community. Only insiders can. And the tragedy in modern-day development is that the government acts like movie-set financiers, and development organisations pitch up to apply for funding to "make their movie".

At the end of the process, they show funders the movie. Then they move on. Those who can see beyond this movie-set transaction know that nothing has changed. All that happened was that a movie was produced. Change was not achieved.

Having worked in this environment for more than 30 years, I am more convinced today that any development organisation will have to stay in and be committed to a community for about 21 years – the life cycle of a child from birth to first qualification – to be able to effect any transformation.

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Until children born into poverty qualify with sufficient education to change the trajectory of their history, they will not be able to escape the poverty of their past.

Development agencies have not been verbal enough in articulating that the triple evils of poverty – food insecurity, lack of full-cycle education and childhood trauma – are long term barriers to success.

The children who are booted from NGO programmes because they are “difficult to work with" are the ones we need to be working with.

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Often we discard the youth who carry the seeds of childhood trauma and the manifestations of future violence to only work with “youth who show potential".

All these sanitised development practices have made most development agencies sterile storehouses instead of strategic specialists.

For example, we only invite those children “with potential” to speak to donors. We only tell “success stories”. We hide our stories of utter failure.

We do not talk about the problematic, traumatised, violent, disruptive and broken children. We do not talk about the endless failed starts because of the pressure to produce quick results.

Some 28 years later, we are all paying the price because the government and donors were foolishly funding movie sets instead of sound development practices.

I wish that development agencies, the government and donors were brave enough to embrace long-term sustainability strategies.

Everyone should understand that we will need to spend the next 28 years working with a community and its children to help them move from present poverty and violence to a better life. Our love for immediate success is a cancer.

We should only spend government money on sustainable, transformative change. Anything else is a waste of money.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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