The idea of development itself, its definition, and even the method we use for defining it, would be a good place to begin toward discovering its potential in our lives. We cannot rely on any single, or even ten, definitions. We need to look at the full range of literature that arose following the end of World War II, decolonization, and reconstruction from when international development spawned in our era. How has development been defined across the decades?
One of the ways this information can be organized is by looking at the explanations--some concise, some longer--of what development is, and taking those few sentences and putting them into a file, building a database of development descriptions. This process gave me several hundreds of pages from several thousands of books or authors that can help one come to an understanding of what is development.
The next step is to break down the definitions into their components. You have a box for development as it relates to economics. Another relates to social aspects. Still another is about the political side of the issue, and another is about geography. Other components will include change, growth, and process. When you have built a database of information and broken the concept down into its elements, you are then in the position of defining the term based on the range of its basic elements.
You can extend this method to other aspects of your life and work, where I hope you find the most passion. Defining the terms will be essential to creating a foundation for your research, investigation, analysis, understanding, teaching, and training. In my own investigation, absorbing all possible literature on the development field that emerged from the 1950s up until 2011, at which time most of my energies transitioned from academic study to development practice in Morocco, I can share what I gathered. One result of dedicated study can be the formulation of new definitions, created by drawing from all of the “baskets” of broken down and organized parts, and then reassembled into working definitions.
What we find with all of these words--development, empowerment, sustainability, participation--is that there are great differences and lack of consensus in their meaning, with entirely different emphases, depending on the context. There are also some other words--like progress, change, movement, mobilization, action, unpredictable, and multi-dimensional that reappear when we discuss development. Lack of predictability does not mean uncontrollable or unmanageable, but rather requiring flexibility or the ability to adapt with ever-changing circumstances.
What do we mean when we say “multi-dimensional”? What are these dimensions? Economic, environmental, cultural, social, political, technological, financial, historical, and physical-ecological--these have all been identified as elements of development, recognizing that they touch every aspect of community life or the totality of human life. Development experiences also identify a spiritual aspect, connecting to the universal, recognizing that the impact of development is also internal and perceptional. These dimensions surround our community lives and are within the fabric of our relating to one another.
From the early decades to today, “modernization” has been the underlying perspective for approaching development. All societies experience or need to experience this espoused linear progression from point A to point B as part of their development process. The agricultural economy needs to be productive to the point where it can feed a growing urban population, so that people in the cities can manufacture and have industry. If we are in Morocco or anywhere else, modernization’s progression--at least according to its own view--is necessary for development.
When we talk about development that doesn’t support this model--it’s not A, B, C, D, E for everyone. What works for you might not work for us and might actually hurt us, take away our autonomy, and won’t let us build our economy based on our choices and capacity and agricultural opportunity. Not taking into consideration our geographical and environmental situations, our history, our culture, our traditions, strict modernization is often a source of our poverty. Development which tries to readdress this rigidity is labeled “alternative”, controversial, or even politically contradictory.
Our definition of development must include growth and expansion and meeting human needs. There are, however, profound differences among different societies on how those things are achieved and what the nature, quality, and characteristics of the growth look like. This is why a single definition is so difficult to land on. It dooms us to not be fully adequate in our definition. Forms of development can be conflictual. We can’t have full industrialization in developing countries based on products that are in demand in developed countries and expect the same outcomes on all sides of the exchanges. The modernization model may create a cost borne by developing/less-industrial countries because they will only grow as a reflection of demand in the developed ones.
From the birth of development, there has always been an alternative approach, rejecting external control that mainstream prescriptions bring and instead emphasizing internally strengthening (and diversifying) people-driven change. Today, it is the norm to advance people’s participation--in Morocco, it is the law--but that point of view did not used to be mandated and was distrusted by those in the mainstream who believed it was putting collectives of people in positions to make decisions they were not equipped to make. The outcome and what public participation would mobilize was feared and distrusted.
Who is to benefit from development and enhanced quality of life through mobilization, action, change, and a multi-dimensional process improving upon all aspects of human life? The goal is all or the majority of people, but particularly the people who experience poverty and marginalization. We will always have to make choices because budgets are never endless. However, when making choices, we focus on people who are disenfranchised, disadvantaged, and remote--the individual and the collective. Not just in Morocco, but around the world, most poverty is concentrated in rural areas, and within these places, typically the highest rate of impoverishment is in mountainous and dry regions.
So, what definition of development have we come to after reviewing literature, breaking down into parts, and reconfiguring these elements into something workable? It is a process that considers in its planning, economic, political, institutional, cultural, environmental and technological factors to achieve its goal of generating benefits in these areas directed at all or the majority of people, especially those who experience poverty.
If we go through this process together, across our localities, we will be in a superb position to manage public health in a pandemic. We will be in a position to encourage calm dialogue in the face of terrible unrest and unfairness. We will understand how we may effectively govern and campaign to govern, to devise infrastructure investments for maximum community-level return and widely shared management and benefits, to guide our trade relationships emphasizing self-reliance, regional bloc markets, and global engagement, and to address the root causes of people’s dissatisfying work and interconnectivity with each other. To best face the time we’re in, there is no greater immediate and long-term urgency than the process of development requiring inclusion.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is a sociologist and President of the High Atlas Foundation, a U.S.-Moroccan non-for-profit organization dedicated to sustainable development in Morocco.
Amina El Hajjami
Director of Programs, High Atlas Foundation
+212 (0) 6 62 17 66 63
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A Partnership for Food and Clothing Solidarity in the Face of COVID-19
MARRAKECH - The High Atlas Foundation and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy are grateful to be of service to communities in Morocco that have endured livelihood losses as a result of COVID-19. Together we are making food, hygienic, and clothing items more accessible for 600 families located in the provinces of Azilal, Boujdour, Chichaoua, and Taroudant whose livelihoods have been negatively affected as a result of the pandemic. These communities and so many others have been economically hurt because they depend on each day’s labor, which has not been available, in order to make the most basic ends meet.
Even as we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to provide assistance to these families, we hope very much that we can carry out more acts of sharing with many more communities in Morocco.
The High Atlas Foundation would like to also sincerely thank Soles for Souls for their kind giving, and to the LFMC Foundation for enabling us to be of food assistance in Taza.
If you are with means and capacities to enable families to receive staple foods, please let us know. We send our gratitude to the Moroccan civil associations that have entrusted us with their requests and expressions of need.
When I first started the internship for the High Atlas Foundation (HAF), I also had to take a UVA class to complement the internship experience. Our first assignment, Envisioning Your Learning Chart, stated, “it is almost guaranteed that your internship will not be what you expect it to be.” There was no way I would have ever predicted my summer turning out the way it has, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Although I was and still am slightly sad that I was not able to physically go to Morocco, I am still so grateful to be able to learn as much as I can through a global, virtual internship. Even though I was hesitant about what a virtual internship would look like, I have been pleasantly surprised by how consistent we have been able to meet and talk, and I have enjoyed being able to get to know and work with my fellow interns. Working with the other interns and the HAF staff has made the virtual work feel more connected and meaningful.
When we were talking about the benefits and challenges of virtual work, I have somewhat struggled with keeping a consistent schedule. I tend to do my internship work at a variety of times throughout the day, and I would like to have a more regular schedule during the day. Maybe I’ll try planning out my week more. With the move to virtual work, Morgan, a fellow intern, brought up an interesting point about work-life balance in view of the fact that many people are now available on a 24/7 basis. I have also wondered how much technology will continue to be implemented in our daily lives, because it seems as if the pandemic has only cemented the integral role technology plays in people’s lives. It scares me how much society, including myself, relies on our phones, laptops, tablets etc., because I cannot imagine a world without these gadgets now. Especially with all the crazy events in the world recently, people rely on getting their news and social interactions through technology, which has its benefits. I hope the world will better learn how to use technology as a tool without it becoming a crutch we cannot live without. But, honestly, I think we have already passed that point.
Bill served as a volunteer consultant to the High Atlas Foundation (HAF) through the Farmer-to-Farmer Program (F2F) for two weeks in January 2020. Originally from New Mexico, now residing in Boston, Bill collaborated as an F2F volunteer with four of HAF’s tree nursery cooperatives in southern Morocco. He was tasked with improving their productivity. One immediate benefit of his visits with Moroccan farmers at these sites is that he was able to share not only his technical and business skills but also to find ways for the four individual cooperatives within the same province to share their own specialized skills with one another.
Farmer-to-Farmer responds to the local needs of host-country farmers and organizations like HAF in developing and transitional countries. It leverages the expertise of volunteers from U.S. farms, universities, cooperatives, agribusinesses, and nonprofits. As an example, during Bill’s visits, he offered guidance to sustainably maximize the quality and quantity of organic fruit trees. This directly coincided with the goals of HAF, the current F2F-implementer in Morocco, to develop project plans with donor partners that local communities determine and manage.
Bill’s assignment was fortuitously timely, as it was during Morocco’s planting season, when partners are driven to plant as much and as well as possible. Early in the season, cooperative members consider the number of seedlings to plant along with the expected returns from their plantings. In response to this need, Bill supported them in their cost-benefit analysis that, along with a reevaluation of tree pricing, informed the nurseries’ operational budgets.
Bill’s work on pricing trees was immediately utilized by the cooperatives in order for them to meet the rigorous project criteria of their donor organization, Ecosia (a German search engine that finances reforestation around the world). As a result, Ecosia now supports planting 150,000 seeds of almond, carob, olive, and walnut trees at the nurseries of the four cooperatives where Bill provided assessments: Tassa Ouirgane, Imdoukal Znaga, Akrich Village, and the Adrar Cooperative. At the latter, he also instigated a soil analysis for the nursery caretaker, who complained of substandard planting soil.
The groups he worked with acted upon Bill’s observation and coordinated capacity-building workshops. For example, the members of the Women’s Cooperative of Tassa Ouirgane, since Bill’s work with HAF, have participated in monthly technical trainings facilitated by Hassan, a father of two in his thirties who is the caretaker of a nearby nursery cooperative. Bill had met Hassan when they identified a more efficient water delivery system for Imdoukal Znaga Nursery. That collaboration led to the identification of system material needs and related costs. The local F2F-HAF team communicated this information to FENELEC, a federation of Moroccan companies, who then funded the solar pumping components and training needed for the improved the water system.
These lasting outcomes are deeply relevant to worldwide F2F programming today. The current global pandemic makes it extremely difficult, even impossible, to field volunteers on F2F assignments. Until the pandemic lifts, needy host-country organizations will not receive assistance from foreign volunteers. It is profoundly helpful for the emerging agricultural cooperatives that in all thirty-five of the United States Agency for International Development’s F2F-country programs we are currently able to, for example, enable local experts like Hassan to complete new F2F assignments. Bill’s connection-making has benefited several cooperatives in this way, illuminating its necessity in our new global reality.
That F2F Volunteers excel in Morocco and around the world speaks to their being exceptional people. A testament to this is not only Bill’s diverse and vast knowledge-base (technical, financial, and managerial), but also his wholehearted generosity. However, it must be said that volunteers also require a conducive context that enables the potential of their work to be achieved. Through essential participatory dialogue, cooperative members are able to attain consensus on their goals and are ready to act on the agricultural project plans that they have themselves created well before F2F volunteers arrive in country. By laying groundwork in advance, HAF can ensure that the volunteers’ recommendations are directed toward what is most needed and wanted. In truth, cooperatives more often consider recommendations and accomplish their objectives with new partnerships that are contributive – in both directions – as was the case with Bill’s successful assignment, assisting Moroccan people to advance transformative initiatives.
Since it began in 1985, the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program of USAID has supported volunteers from all 50 states in their completion of over 15,000 assignments in more than 115 countries. It is an honor for the High Atlas Foundation to implement this program in Morocco, and this program is made even more meaningful as HAF was founded by former Peace Corps Volunteers. Bill’s good effects are rippling onward. Upon their reflection we can see that the global positives of F2F – and of Peace Corps fielding more than 235,000 volunteers since 1962 – are incalculable.
Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir is president of the High Atlas Foundation and a sociologist.
The High Atlas Foundation is a Moroccan association and a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2000 and committed to furthering sustainable development. HAF supports Moroccan communities to take action in implementing human development initiatives. HAF promotes organic agriculture, women’s empowerment, youth development, education, and health. Since 2011, HAF has Consultancy Status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
On February 14th, I went with three members of the High Atlas Foundation to a primary school near the town of El Gara in the Berrechid Province. During this day, two workshops were organized in order to raise awareness about climate change among the young generation. The first activity was aimed at having the students participate and gain knowledge about the environment, polluting practices, and the direct effects these have on their environment. The second activity consisted of planting a symbolic tree with the children in the school’s playground before the other trees were to be planted the following day. Despite our unexpected arrival due to logistical reorganization, the teachers welcomed awareness activities dealing with climate change and the opportunity to get to know our association.
I wasn’t expecting the pupils at this school to know a lot about climate change, but it appeared that they are familiar with many terms relating to global warming even though they were no more than 11 years old living and living in rural Morocco. The school has already been involved in sustainable projects such as the installation of a solar-powered well pump. That may explain how much the children are already aware of the variety of renewable energy sources.
Those rural pupils will be the first to be impacted by global warming. Indeed, due to the high temperatures that will cause drier summers and warmer winters, that rural population who relies on locally grown food, weakened water infrastructures, and food-deprived animals, will suffer far more difficulties than more affluent city-dwellers. The fact that they are the most endangered should be the reason for them to be the first informed. In practice, the best way to involve them is to have them participate in direct planning. Through these ongoing discussions, HAF aims to develop the pupils’ sense of connection that will ultimately encourage them to protect their environment.
During the different activities, the students’ eagerness was noteworthy: such a simple action as planting a tree becomes a day’s event at the school. While this disrupts their daily routine, it allows them to discuss a subject that will become their reality during the next decades. As important as Math or English classes, this awareness must be part of the tools given to such rural populations. In addition to the issue of girls’ education, the issue of global warming awareness is becoming nowadays an essential topic in Morocco’s rural schools. Wherever they are from and whatever the gender, the children must be informed about these global realities and guided in discovering how they will address the problems as they grow. In turn, they will raise awareness among their parents and eventually their own offspring.
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