Monday, January 28, 2008

Sustainable Development for dummies (Part 3 – The way forward)

This is the third of 3 blog posts in which I try to explain very briefly my view of what “Sustainable Development” is, based on my experiences in Rwanda.

In my last post, I concluded:

Development Aid is sustainable when it leaves behind an independent and exponentially growing sector, that continues to grow and respond to future environmental, social and economic challenges.

So how do we create such independent exponential growth? Experience in creating sectors in Europe and Africa have shown that to “jump-start” a sector from the outside, you need to work through 3 development stages:

To illustrate this development, you could look at the development of the German solar energy market from the 1990s up until now. This market started with a small demonstration programme called “100 roofs”, then it the government introduced an even larger “1000 roofs” programme and finally the government introduced a law guaranteeing a fixed price for solar electricity to private and public operators. The solar electricity market took off and is now one of the largest solar energy markets in the world.

This model shows a logical progression, in which each stage prepares for the next one: Pilot projects in phase 1 test technologies and methods that could be used in a larger national programme in phase 2; Larger national programmes in phase 2 sensitise the population and create independent organisations, institutions and companies for phase 3. Finally, the independent sector development on a national level in phase 3 can create the exponential growth required for sustainable development.

A poorly designed development aid project would be one that counter-acts this development. For example, if a country has a growing private textiles industry (phase 3) and a donor brings in free clothes to distribute to the poor (phase 1), then this will damage or even destroy the local clothes and textiles businesses.

Sustainable development is hard to achieve. It is unclear whether such a complicated issue is within the abilities of a large, bureaucratic, inflexible and uncoordinated donor industry. Time will tell: If in the next 50 years we achieve as little development in Africa as we have in the last 50, we will once again have failed.

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