A really popular phrase in the jargon of aid agencies right now is “stakeholder participation”. This is the image it conjures for me.
You might approach an aid agency because they claim to “be passionate about helping underprivileged communities to overcome poverty, get clean water bla-bla-bla”. They’d ask you what you propose to do, and you’d answer “permaculture”. Now if it was me, I’d say, great, I’ve got the cash here, let’s get started. After all, permaculture is about the only truly long-term sustainable idea modern humans have come up with. And (if done properly) it would solve water shortages as well as provide an abundance of food while massively improving the health of the people.
But an aid agency… those poor folks work in dull offices filling out forms and making presentations, holding meetings and going on courses. They’ve had the zest for life trained out of them. They’d want to see a business plan. They might say you’ll have to grow organic argan oil to sell internationally. You’ll have to set up a co-op and get some experts to help you set it all up legally. Whatever it is, you can be sure it will cost a lot to pay everyone to come in from Europe, sort out stuff like marketing, training, etc… But no worries, the aid organization has loads of money and lots of expensive experts who want to be paid.
You won’t get to do permaculture, except maybe in a few little patches, and underneath the main crop. But there’ll be no shortage of permavultures to help you pretend that it is permaculture! They’ll even have you believing it.
Never Act Like Prey
This is because you approached the aid agency. They are in a position of power over you. You are essentially begging. The cats on the farm where I live, when they see the dog from the house down the road, they creep around furtively, close to the ground, legs going fast. So, of course, he chases them; I often want to chase them myself, they’re asking for it! The cats from the house where the dog lives, in contrast, strut around like they own the place, and the dog respects them.
If you can get on with your project, and do it as you dreamed it, they’ll eventually come to you because you’ll have something they need. They need to show their financial backers some good results, or they’ll lose their jobs. They became aware of you, not because you approached them, but because your success was being talked about all over the internet. They want to be associated with it because it will help their image. You have something they want. But by this time you’ve learned the truth; they don’t really have anything you want.
The Forgotten Word
Now you can tell them what you want, and if they won’t support what you and your community are dreaming of, you can tell them no! That’s the essential word in negotiations. They say it all the time, normally: No, you’ll have to produce the five-year cash flow projections before March. No, it will have to be a women-only co-op. No, to qualify for the grant the whole community will have to do a compulsory course in personal hygiene. [all real “NO”s I have seen with my own eyes.]
Well, now it’s your turn. No, we don’t want to work in a plantation, we did that already! No, we just want to reforest that watershed over there to stop the erosion and flash flooding, and to give us year-long fresh water and wild game to hunt. We already have all the people to do it, and we have a thoroughly worked-out permaculture design and plan, along with full costings. All we need is the money. You can film it if you like.
The one who is approached is the one who can say “I don’t need you, you’ll have to make it more interesting”. By being the one who is approached by the aid agencies, you will reverse the power relationship and put the “aid” agency in its proper place: there to aid you, not for you to aid them.
When they use phrases like “we encourage stakeholder participation”, they are revealing the truth of their position. In a well thought-out project, one that’s designed by you to suit your needs, there would be no need to encourage such things, as the so-called stakeholders would already be the ones driving it.
Also, the control freak World Economic Forum has “stakeholder” as one of its main buzzwords. This gives an indication of who is really pulling the strings of the “aid” agencies and who they really work for. Being refused by the big “charities” should be a badge of honour. The purpose of the direct sponsor system is to make it possible for people to not need anything from them; to render them obsolete.