Are we on the right track?


Opening today, Trialog, along with a few other promintent CEE development NGOs and Concorde ( European platform of NGDOs), has organised a 3 day think tank of 140 participants, all with a background in what could be broadly termed international development work. The event was well oversubscribed giving a strong indication that the issues the programme addresses are already on people's minds.
The main question: are we on the right track? - is clearly up for review.
Here is the program and the aims of the conference:

And the aims:
To serve as a forum of civil society actors from the West, East and South:
from the 15 old EU member states, from the 12 new EU member states, and from developing countries in the South (Africa, Latin America, Asia) and East (Eastern EU neighbourhood).
To present an insight into the specific contexts and environments of CSOs in the field of development.
To challenge current development approaches and paradigms.
To find the most promising development approaches

This conference is a long time in coming. Trialog has to be congratulated for recognising there is a tension between how the Western NGDOs see and practice 'international development' and how the organisations - as well as the populations - in the East are interpreting it. This might be the beginning of a challenge to how development ideas are dominated by Western NGDOS, very much based on the inheritance of a colonial past. They have also very much accepted that development is about 'the other', in itself questionable.
The opening debates have been promising. We are here to be provoked. The opening plenary, the opening lectures and even the small buzz group discussions shows there might be a wider challenge, one to the whole concept of development practice itself, whether coming from the East or the West, or, if I can say it, from the South itself, where key speakers seem to have internalised the Western version of development.
One opening speaker - Chico Whitaker - put this in a provocative way: we have to invade the space of idea, bringing another type of logic. This is the logic which he sees growing within the World Social Forum movements: cooperation instead of competition, new ideas of riches - not only economic wealth-, equality, production for human need not profit, a respect of nature, and democracy that empowers, and not dominates but serves. Are, as the opening speaker asked, development NGOs up to relearning?
I hope so, yes. The opening speaker Justin Kilcullen, President of Concorde, was blunt about this: development NGOs have to shake themselves. He aimed to provoke. Let me paraphrase...
"Why are we divided between humanitarian, development, environment and human rights sectors? Given what we are up against, we need to work together" Good point.
" Where is the gender focus? We had the UN conference on Women, but still this is a man's world, made for men, run by men, serving men. Without women - the carers, farmers and entrepreneurs of the world - then we will not see change."
"We need to move beyond the Millenium Development Goals: these are within the logic that we should not accept. We now plan, implement, appraise and move on, and we are not creating change. The goals are not being reached and we have to move beyond them to create change. " I hope we go into this later, it's a pretty raw thought from the person leading the main European network dedicated foremost to this - achieving the MGDs.
There are a lot of other questions needing asked.
What is certain, is that this sector needs to be provoked. These is a development industry which is in danger of becoming self - serving. It needs to re-root itself and get a reality check. This is what many found refreshing and challenging in the ideas of the global social movements. The idea that it is not about 'them', but about 'us'.

(more later)