Participatory community movements found a contemporary impetus in post-World War II reconstruction of Europe and decolonization, primarily in Africa. The approach of locally managed change, however, was highly distrusted during these initial years, during which the dominant view was that central-level policy makers are in a better position than the people to make highly productive decisions regarding development projects.
The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, passed under the leadership of President John Kennedy, marked an attempt to de-link U.S. development assistance from the nation’s military, political, and economic interests. The Act emphasized “maximum participation” on the part of the people in their own development.
Subsequent decades have shown that market-based models for growth, while generating higher levels of economic activity, also created dependency in developing nations as their economies became increasingly structured to meet the consumption needs of other countries. The participatory approach, which at this time was widely considered an alternative to achieve improved livelihoods, became more desirable by thought leaders and communities that felt that their futures had become a reflection of outside nations’ priorities rather than their own autonomous ones.
To read the rest of the article, go to The Fletcher Forum.