Re-Thinking Development Practice
for Equity and Justice

Since the institutionalisation of development, the field has been preoccupied with progress and prosperity for all. Reality, however, has fallen short of expectations evident in the persisting issues of inequality. With each crisis, these issues become even more apparent. In the current one, in India we see it in the stark images of the plight of migrant informal workers. If reduction in poverty and inequality are the desired goals, then our development paradigms need to be re-thought to be geared towards enabling just systems that encourage dignified livelihoods.

Reversing years of following systems requires careful thought where development is not a matter of: for communities, from practitioners and policymakers, but rather is a process unleashed with those who have been marginalised and silenced in free-market economies. The project of re-imagination seems like a lofty one but is one which is quite well-encompassed within the social innovation methodologies practiced by the Development Alternatives Group.

Unlearning our assumptions and ideologies is a necessary step in deconstructing our redundant systems. It requires reflexivity in practitioners, asking themselves difficult questions especially when ‘speaking for’ the marginalised or those we think are ‘in need of development’. Do we need to ‘speak for them’? Or are they aware of their contexts and complexities, which we can embrace to embed solidarity in practice? Practices of deep listening and reflection can enable a narrative shift towards a reflective and resilient base, sowing the seeds for solidarity. For instance, during this crisis, even in isolation, connectedness has been possible through phone conversations and community chat groups between the entrepreneurs. Just by listening, stories of community resilience have come to the fore.

Secondly, through dialogue and interaction, we can begin to re-learn and re-construct our development paradigms to recognise heterogeneous lives, livelihoods and aspirations that well-intentioned but dispersed efforts cannot adequately respond to. Instead experiences from the Work4Progress programme indicate that dialogue can open up spaces for co-creation of locally relevant solutions with system wide impact.

Finally, re-imagining new paradigms for development practice towards dignified and meaningful livelihoods requires a commitment to consistent learning and re-iteration for sustained social change. A one-time, linear approach is unethical in its aspirations. It ignites possibilities for change, without being backed by real action.

The promise for social change that social innovation entails, however, does not sit in the civil society, philanthropy or even in the wider development architecture. Rather, the promise is in the activation of local connections and networks that can build a robust rural economy. The social opportunities that would emerge as a result can enable people to shape their collective destinies, and maybe not find themselves stranded in urban centres again with failed hopes of a better life. Re-imagined development practice at its core, would facilitate people, as Amartya Sen (1999)1 pithily put it, to choose the life they have reason to value.


  1. Amartya Sen (1999) Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press


Vrinda Chopra


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