Reading and Intervening in our Development Context
The operations of the CDRA are nested in the complexity of our global and local context and the inter-linkages of the state, the market and civil society. Prior to the 1990s, the development world was dominated by a rational logical positivist science and implicitly a sense of certainty in the future. In contrast, the new millennium has thrown up multiple issues and challenges with large degrees of uncertainty, which we believe can only be appreciated and engaged through a conceptual framework and organisational practice based on the new sciences, on complexity theory, and on the study of nature and ecology.
Attempts to address complexity and uncertainty by increasing managerialist control from above are not a viable response to the challenges of our time. In order to meaningfully address poverty and inequality, we must situate the issues of development in all its complexity within the new global context. In the following few paragraphs we look briefly at the situational conditions at the international and local South African front.
Economic and cultural globalisation, climate change, competition for markets and for strategic and scarce resources are forcing new complexities on all sectors of society the world over. The geopolitical and economic fortunes of the world are changing. But there is little to suggest that the shifts in power and wealth creation are going to address the issues of poverty and increasing inequality. While there are some measures that suggest that there has been a small decline in poverty, there is no doubt that the gap between rich and poor has grown along with unemployment. Significant strides have been made in providing services to those previously excluded but entrenched structures and patterns of power and wealth and its attendant poverty remain dominant. We are in the thrall of a global economic and political system that is increasingly inappropriate and self-contradictory, unable to come to terms with itself.
A significant feature of globalisation is the expansive and robust economic growth in the short to medium term, however, what is disturbing is the gross inequality it generates with the poor experiencing severe pain through high food and fuel price inflation. This rise in income inequality is being felt acutely in South Africa. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in social unrest, [it is suggested that we have the highest per capita rate of social protest in the world, an average of 10 000 incidents per annum]. The growing anger is further fuelled by a perception that critical services like public education and health care are on the decline while crime increases.
Located in a country which is now considered to have the greatest gap between the rich and the poor, we view these growing tensions as an opportunity for creativity. The rich history of courageous civic driven change and the urgent need for political and economic systems that work make South Africa fertile ground for the search for innovation.
As social development practitioners in support of civil society we strive to systematically and rigorously ask good questions to explore and improve the real work we need to be doing. We will continue to contribute to building grounded theories of social change to inform more effective practice. The conventional division in our sector between policy-makers (and their theorising) and practitioners is deeply dysfunctional, leaving the former ungrounded and the latter unthinking.
We sense through our range of work and experience that the development sector, both in South Africa and more broadly in the world, is facing deep challenges. The sector is faced with the particular challenge of what it has to offer to a world so lacking in creative and effective alternatives. The CDRA locates itself in the growing global community of organisations and practitioners who are convinced that we do not only have to change 'what' we do in response to these challenges, but even more importantly we must change 'how' we facilitate meaningful development. There is an increasing realisation that the way the world organises and manages itself is a significant part of the problem. Our core purpose for the next three years is to explore, promote and support innovative organisational forms, practices and principles that transform power relations towards increasingly effective and creative interdependence.
We see dangers of the civil society sector drifting away from its unique purpose towards becoming delivery agents for the state and/or the market. But amidst all of this we are conscious of and encouraged by a gradual convergence and consolidation of awareness of the challenges being faced. We believe we are entering a period of opportunity as issues of poverty, marginalisation and increasing inequality edge their way towards centre stage on the global agenda.