I have done a lot of reflecting on the two articles provided this week – they are two of Richard Kiely’s favorites, and I took a Social Justice class with him last semester (I actually helped put together a presentation on Korten’s Four Generations). When we talked about the different models for ‘development agencies’ last semester, and what makes a successful NGO, the idea of “sustainability” was really at the heart of all discussions. An organization that enters a community and provides aid with a top-down approach (i.e., Korten’s First Generation) may provide direct relief, however this relief is not sustainable because the community will revert to old patterns as soon as the NGO leaves. A better model is one in which the NGO teaches community how to improve their livelihoods (i.e., Korten’s Second Generation), and/or inspires lasting political structural changes that improve the situation (i.e., Korten’s Third Generation). The fourth generation is a more complicated, but essentially Korten describes a situation in which an NGO helps facilitate the shifting of a global mindset.
Korten’s article provides a really unique framework, and a lot of interesting conversation points. And yet (for the sake of reflecting on something different!), I also disagree with much of the overlying message of the article. Upon finishing the article, the reader comes away with 3 things: (1) NGOs ‘stuck’ in the first generation are bad NGOs, (2) NGOs in the fourth generation are good NGOs, and (3) NGOs in the second and third generation are okay NGOs. While I completely agree that it is crucial to integrate more sustainable models of development into communities, I also believe that the so-called first generation NGOs play a vital role in development as well and do not think we should look down on groups that provide disaster relief and welfare services. Without these services, many people would be starving and in critical condition. The best strategies, then, might be combination development of both first generation and some of the later developmental stages that are more sustainable.
The Westheimer and Kahne reading invokes a similar response. This reading discusses three different types of citizens: the personally responsible citizen, the participatory citizen, and the social-justice oriented citizen. The personally responsible citizen is described as one who follows the rules and helps those in need; the participatory citizen is an active member of community organizations and/or improvement efforts; the social-justice oriented citizen questions social and political structures to identify root causes of societal problems. Much like in the Korten article, the reader comes away with 3 conclusions: (1) The personally responsible citizen stinks, (2) the participatory citizen is a little better, and (3) the social-justice citizen is awesome and we should all strive to be this person. Once again, I disagree with the severity with which the authors judge the participatory and personally responsible citizens. Although perhaps not creating as sustainable change as the social-justice citizen, these people are offering extremely positive contributions to society and it is important to have people who operate under these paradigms. If we only had social-justice citizens (or only NGOs in generation 3 and 4), then there would be a lot more people suffering.
Despite my critique of these two articles, I actually agree with the authors on most regards. Personally, I think that really the only way to make a lasting impact is by attacking a problem at the political level. Using Korten’s framework, I guess this would put me at stage three. This being said, Korten’s work targets NGOs, and I am interested in working at a governmental organization at some point in my life (Department of Health), so I am not completely sure if his generations are still applicable here. I find the government agency appealing for a few reasons, but primarily because it provides more direct access to changing policy issues and also because there is a lot more money with which to target problems. Consequently, Department of Health initiatives are often much more successful than those conducted by health NGOs.