Facilitate development from below and from within: Seven practice-based recommendations for philanthropists


Fons van der Velden and Ntombi Nyathi


World Bank data indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause the first increase in global poverty since 1998. Organisations such as Oxfam International argue therefore that it is the time ‘for bold and visionary choices for our collective future’. Massive investment will be required, to avoid that so many people will be sliding back into poverty. As two seasoned practitioners, we offer seven practice based recommendations for philanthropists who want to provide support to counter these trends.

In his book Rural Development; Putting the last first, (1983), the British development expert Robert Chambers makes a strong plea that it is important to promote reversals, which first and foremost put the wishes of the poor themselves first. For this to happen, Chambers argues, it is important that power relationships between giver and recipient, outsider and insider change. Very unfortunately during the past three decades not much progress has been made with regard to this topic.

To contribute to such a reversal, the following seven interrelated strategic suggestions (presented as ‘lessons’), which are based on practical experience of working with development organisations and social entrepreneurs, are offered.

Lesson 1: Nobody – not even development professionals – develops the other; people develop themselves and can set their own priorities. In this context, it is a good start if professionals and the organisations within which they work at least start to adapt their language, which is often a manifestation of deeply rooted views, and no longer talk about ‘target group’, ‘capacity building’, ’empowerment’, ‘guidance’, et cetera and develop more respectful alternatives for this.

Lesson 2: Bear in mind that dominant Western-based knowledge systems, history, and experiences are not universally relevant, valid, and accepted, and develop attention to, and respect for, other views.

Lesson 3: Demystify the role of outsiders as ‘experts’; start listening and probe further and stop working with imported approaches, models and tools; link with – and build on – what is already there in terms of approaches, methodologies and tools, and organisational relationships.

Lesson 4: Engage in co-creation of change processes from the initial phase, i.e. also with regard to the formulation of strategic principles of those who provide funds (donors, social investment funds), policy formulation, formulation of subsidy frameworks, and the development of operational guidelines.

Lesson 5: Do not consider change processes as apolitical, technocratic, neutral processes and pay attention to power relations in the context of a programme or project and in the cooperation among partners in the (aid-) chain.

The sixth lessons requires a short introduction. It seems that with his famous poem The White Man’s Burden (1899) Rudyard Kipling mainly wanted to make a call to colonise ‘less civilised’ peoples by the Western powers. The poem has now become a euphemism for racism, colonialism and imperialism.

The African psychiatrist, writer, philosopher, and activist Frantz Fanon has made an important contribution to thinking about racism with his books Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961). He argues in essence that racism is not about skin pigmentation, but more about power. Ghanaian former president Nkwame Nkuruma also states that identity is defined internally, ‘not because someone was born in a certain place, but because of who you are’. The late South African anti-apartheid activist and leader of the ‘black consciousness’ movement, Steve Biko, states that black people must recognise their identity from within as a source of power.

From people such as Fanon and Biko it may be learned that it is important to approach matters from the perspective of those who are oppressed and marginalised. It is also important – analogous to Biko’s argument that ‘blacks’ should become aware of their internalised oppression– that ‘white’ people need consciousness to recognise what whiteness means. ‘Decolonization of the mind’ and consciousness are therefore needed.

Lesson 6: In meetings, evaluations, and learning sessions, pay conscious and systematic attention to expressions of racism, also within partnerships between outsiders and insiders. Pay regular and conscious attention, both at organisational and team and at individual level, to decolonisation of the mind set also.

Lesson 7: As an outsider, both at the organisational and individual levels and in the cooperation with other organisations, make critical self-reflection an integral part of the work (for example, as part of the annual planning and learning cycle) and, in particular, ask the question ‘Are we doing the right things? (Instead of just ‘Are we doing things the right way?’).

Ntombi Nyathi is the director of Training for Transformation (based in South Africa), a global organisation that offers trainings that focus on transformative change. Fons van der Velden is director of Context, international cooperation, the Netherlands, and the author of several books including Towards a fair and just economy; Social business as a transformational approach (2018).

Tagged in: Covid-19

Comments (10)


With regard to this matter, I am quite grateful that you have informed me.

michel johns

No doupt.very informative article.

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Until today, when we have controlled the Covid epidemic, when I read this article and think back to the time when the epidemic broke out, I still feel scared about it. We had to go through bad days when the epidemic broke out.


Nobody develops the other, not even development specialists; people develop themselves and can determine their own priorities. In this context, it would be a good start if professionals and the organizations in which they work began to adapt their language, which is frequently a manifestation of deeply rooted views, and stopped using terms like "target group," "capacity building," "empowerment," "guidance," and so on, and instead developed more respectful alternatives.

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That's right, As they age, people can set their own priorities. This environment requires professionals and the organizations where they work to adjust their vocabulary, which often reflects deeply held ideas, and avoid using terms like "target group," "capacity building," "empowerment," "direction," etc. and establish more respectful alternatives.

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I think that global poverty seems to have started, or you can call it a famine, some countries have fuel and food shortages, this is due to covid-19, I don't know how true this is.

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Covid 19 came as a surprise to many people at the grassroots level, and understanding what Covid 19 is and internalizing the impact is happening at the same time. Without a doubt, the consequences in terms of economic calamity and bad health outcomes have already been set out and are well understood by many. It's even worse when the solutions don't appear to come from the usual sources, such as governments, experts, and development practitioners. If the infections continue unabated in Kenya, the already strained health-care system would be unable to cope, and a tragedy will loom.

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Thank you so much for sharing this amazing information, please keep sharing…


Hey, the international organization believes that, perhaps, the forecasts have yet to be revised towards a further decrease in economic indicators. Ayhan Kose, Director of the World Bank's Economic Prospects Research Department, warned that events in recent months have forced the bank to reassess global economic growth rates unprecedented in its speed and sharpness, and therefore “policymakers should be prepared, if necessary, to take additional measures to stimulate business activity .

Roger Fox

A study by King's College London and Australian National University shows a sharp increase in poverty in middle-income developing countries, where millions of people live just above the poverty line. Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines are considered particularly vulnerable to the economic consequences of the pandemic.

Robert Wawire

Speaking from the grassroots level,Covid 19 came as a surprise and the understand of what Covid 19 is and internalization of the impact is happening at the same time. It is no doubt the impact in terms of economic disaster as well as negative health outcome is already laid out and clear to many. It is worse when answers don't seem to come from the normal sources i.e governments, experts and practitioners in development. In Kenya, if the infections continue as they are, the already dysfunctional health infrastructure will not cope at all and we have a disaster in waiting. unemployment situation is made worse with the massive job losses especially among the youth who are mostly engaged in informal job market. I agree with lesson three and four. Given that answers are not readily coming, and the challenge is bigger than those we thought can handle any situation, co-creation and lessons from within is key to make meaningful progress.


COVI19 Pandemic has been an unplanned break issue affecting the world with different speed, shocks and different ways to respond. What’s common is it world economic consequences which clearly mean Donors economy affected will increase recipient economy infection. I want to illustrate my thing from DR Congo reality where daily life of citizens doesn’t depend on state support for up to 80%. Over 400.000.000 USD from bilateral or multilateral cooperation increase lockdown, fake news. In Uvira, where I am, while no any dollars given to prevention, test, care… people have to stop their informal daily income generating activities without any count part from state. It means the international aid dictated state attitude @ the lockdown @ without any accountable behavior to the citizen. State Media play big role to announce daily wrong number of new affected persons that increase the fear without it response. State leader’s advertisement of sensitization or prevention little actions was claimed as from their own pocket initiatives. In this arena, people produce their own resilient self and individual / family prevention norms and attitude based on international/ national barriers measures. In development cooperation, we could recognize the importance of outsider’s brought but give place for the adaptation, include the more power of local context influencers in the process, let local lead the framework and guide the process, outsiders could tell about the model but not take the model a copy and paste. NGO in the south play Pipes roles of which on entry side is donor money and on exit side are so many destinations: a part of beneficiaries [ why that word which mean just receive], part for organization[ to survive no place to reflect on ], for lobby [ to show that state do nothing and that is why NGO exist], etc. It may be the same to international NGO. The originality of international NGO is that the bring approaches, methodologies. It could be effective to rethink of the role in the south and in the north. The word partner sound good to qualify what is done for and with active/ creative people. Even, the partners word used for friends NGO, it doesn’t work accordingly. There is still unbalanced power which dictates the working process and defines successful and unsuccessful relationship from which no place for local contextualization, less or no place local influence, shortage in time and big ambition link to budget as the good project is the one reaching big number of beneficiaries, no place of mind readiness for change, no place for the diversion, etc. The place and role of back donors is put of front line of justifying the one way: framework, approaches, and models… even the individual errors of northern organizations. International cooperation is a wide word full with several of sense, method. Project could be based on apprenticeship from down, with main end goal of helping people to produce, control and means of the norms and give place for needed errors. Projects have not to accuse state but build on. The first partner has to be state even the weak as DR Congo one.


COVID-19 pandemic had opened the reality of global economy and capitalism. Total shut down of many industries globally tend to create wealth had cautioned where one heads in terms of economy and governance. It is important to note that while the total economy was heading to collapse still people were talking about covid-19 is an opportunity of another way of wealth creation on the pretext of health economics worldwide. Who will produce vaccines, medicines for treatment and who will control are the challenges. We have witnessed the sufferings of the migrant labourers in millions belonging to unorganised s sectors walking back home miles away. We need the global economy to turn back to localised economies that are people centred, environment friendly and sustainable. This means a strong political will in placing radical policies that shall address poverty, structural injustices globally and locally - a total return to decentralised economy of life.

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