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Survival International reveals a sinister side of “sustainable development”

Survival International reveals a sinister side of “sustainable development”

Survival International reveals a sinister side of “sustainable development”

Here is a video that will truly force anyone who’s ever called for “sustainable development,” particularly those of us who belong to the Church of Aid, to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and make us examine whether we’re doing what we’re doing right.

There You Go! is a short animated film created by Oren Ginzburg and narrated by the British comedian David Mitchell for Survival International – a global organization that “champions tribal peoples around the world” and help them “defend their lives, protect their lands, and determine their own futures.”

It depicts two men with questionable intentions setting out into a jungle to bring “sustainable development” to a tribal community. When they discover that these people are within themselves already sustainable, they resort to bringing them “just development” instead.

The narrative, then, begins to sound like the many annual reports you would hear being delivered across board rooms of INGO headquarters all over the world – a discussion on the “challenges” of implementing things like “participatory community project building,” “income generating activities,” and “empowerment.”

It ends in that typical ‘lessons learned’ style, where the development workers tout their supposedly successful “multi-stakeholder cross-disciplinary approach” and “innovative private sector partnerships,” despite having left the tribal community in complete and utter shamble.

The video reveals the sinister agenda of some development work, particularly those which are targeted at tribal communities that are often seen as ‘backward’ or ‘uncivilized’ – some call it the “development bloat.” (Click the article to read more)

The Boring Development Manifesto – the principal document of the controversial website that campaigns for “boring” (i.e., less sexy, more serious) development work – defines development bloat as “what happens when First World People look at their own lives, ask themselves what they like about them, and think, ‘isn’t it terrible that poor villagers in Africa don’t have this?’ without stopping to ask themselves what relevance that thing might have to people in an African village.

“Development bloat is compassion as contempt.”

Of course, it is equally naïve and unfair to accuse all development work to be wrong and bad. After all, the merits of aid and development, particularly in tribal communities, are relentlessly debated by a legion of people from various schools of thought, and almost always end in, “well, it’s complicated.”

But perhaps this video can instill in us a little metaphysical unease as we type up our annual reports peppered with buzzwords like “sustainability” or “capacity building,” and remind us to ever be critical of our good intentions.

To know more about Survival International’s work, click here.

Survival International

Changing the world makes for a good story – which is why I am a communications professional within the nonprofit/NGO sector. Read more.