Mary Cusick, a former MBA student (in 2001), submitted an assignment in which she described conflict situations that arose when an international development organization from the first world made an intervention in a third world country. Cusick had worked for this organization as an evaluation analyst. She had not, however, worked on a development project in a third world country herself. The report in her assignment was based on informal discussions she had with various colleagues.
The project she described was responsible for empowering women in the rural areas of certain third world countries. The project's main purpose was to lift poor rural women out of poverty. The women targeted were living in villages bereft of adult men, who had migrated to urban centres , lured by the hope of obtaining jobs and making it big. Some failed to return; others were absent for extended periods of time. Meanwhile, the women had to contend with poverty. They were also little educated and suffered from malnutrition- related ailments. They were therefore not able to manage their meagre resources or cultivate crops in a manner that would yield profit.
The international development organization project gave the women small loans to be used for specified purposes, as well as training in crop management and farming, and personal finance management. Gradually the women started managing matters in their village. Their conditions of living began to improve. They began to buy modern farm equipment which they learnt to operate to optimal benefit. Their health also began to improve. The project was termed a success by the international development organization. Its main purpose had been met.
What the project had not recorded or taken into account was the social dislocation these women experienced , paradoxically because they had become more independent. When their menfolk returned to the villages, they were displeased to find that their wives no longer depended on or were subservient to them. The traditional norm of male dominance , emanating from the men's role as breadwinners, no longer applied. Some men could not accept this and took recourse to domestic violence.
In this case study, an intervention by an international development agency resulted in its beneficiaries being placed in conflict situations. This arose because the development agency had not understood the culture of the villages where it had introduced its project. Consequently its project was poorly designed and implemented. It should have kept in mind that development is not one-dimensional, and a model of development that works in one country need not apply in another culture. A few of the points the agency was ignorant about were:
Development has to occur in a holistic fashion to be without unintended negative consequences. Efforts to improve the economic conditions of living have to be undertaken along with efforts to enhance socioeducational levels. Development is also an outcome of an enlightened mind-set .
Development is a long-duration effort. Providing support to poor, rural women so that they can become economically independent, without helping them become socially independent, is not enough. Once the development agency had disturbed the cultural traditions regarding man- woman relationships, it should have continued its developmental efforts. It should have operationalized an additional project to resolve the conflict situations that had been unleashed in the village households.
This second project, since it impinged directly upon the cultural traditions of the village people, would not have met with success if it had been executed by people from a different culture. As far as cultural values regarding marriage and man-woman relationships are concerned , it is not possible for any culture to claim that its view on the subject is the definitive one. In the villages referred to, the cultural tradition was that a marriage was sacred and forever. To ensure that the marriage worked, the wives made more compromises than their husbands. The international development agency was located in a country where one out of every two marriages ended in divorce. Managers from that development agency would not be able to execute the second project by themselves , especially as they had already demonstrated a lack of cultural sensitivity. The project would have had to be designed and implemented by enlightened development agencies and experts from the local culture. The international development organization, together with local experts, would have had to devise ways of thwarting domestic violence without breaking up families.
Development has cultural components . A development project that worked in one cultural context might be wholly inappropriate else-where. Development projects that are based on economic criteria can lead to cultural backlashes. An international development organization that unleashes a conflict situation as a result of a development intervention has failed in its objectives. Poverty impacts the culture of a place, and an international development organization should realize this when designing poverty eradication programmes.