Musings on market-oriented approaches to International Development
In many professional circles, story-telling is a potent tool with immeasurable value. In this sense, story-telling is using anecdotes as a foundation for influencing individuals, organizations, conveying ideas and broadly speaking – driving change.
For the social sector, in general, and international development in particular, story-telling holds a venerable position. Its usage is made particularly prevalent by virtue of the ability of stories to cultivate support from individuals and organizations for development-oriented initiatives.
Stories about women building business and supporting their families. Stories about children getting better education, shaping a brighter future for their nation. Stories about farmers gaining wider access to inputs and markets, generating larger yields, and securing higher incomes.
Yet, like the tales children read, gaps often exist between the stories and reality. Sometimes, this gap between story and reality is acceptable; most times, it is not.
A story/reality gap can legitimately exist in stories on the aspirations of an organization. The goals of an NGO, Social Enterprise, private sector firm, or government can be expressed and built upon a foundation that is not fully formed. It is understood – and should be made clear – that the overarching story is a goal, a milestone yet to be achieved. Most people would accept this gap between reality and the story of aspiration – lofty goals are worthy endeavours.
A story/reality gap cannot exist in two areas: the translation of a firm’s values into actions, and the results of the organization’s work. If any organization speaks of values to its workers and the broader public sphere, then the actions (reality) of the firm should match the values (story) of the organization.
Also, the results of a firm’s work should be fairly and honestly represented, providing little wiggle room for misinterpretations or misleading. These requirements hold particular gravitas in the field of international development.
With a mission of improving lives, ending poverty, and enabling dignity – a heavy moral onus rests on us to vigilantly guard the gap between our stories and our reality, particularly the reality of those we seek to serve.
With slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism and dictators – the developing world has had enough yawning chasms between stories and reality. No more is needed.