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Silveira House

The Paradox of 21st Century Development Work: Moving ahead with Innovation and Staying true to Core Values

The year started with a lot of promises of a new dispensation. We, along with other Civil Society Organizations had high expectations. Regardless of minimal publicity, the influence of Silveira House on the national socio-economic arena is quite visible. With the beginning of the year, what struck me the most were the changes in the Indigenization Policy as we had made remarkable progress in our advocacy efforts in favor of the previous policy, entrusted with a huge responsibility of coming up with a draft Statutory Instrument (S.I). The draft was ready for submission and final steps were underway with the former administration. The disruption, therefore came as a huge blow to our work. The S.I was going to be key in empowering Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) especially to access revenue from economic activities taking place in their communities and to respond to the challenges they were facing relating to corporate governance and community advocacy. So, we had to adjust to the new scheme of things.

Having accepted the changes, we sought ways of consolidating the benefits we envisaged through our progress on the former legislation. We, therefore, assisted the chief’s (custodians of the CSOTs) to engage the government and express their anxieties with the new legislation through a position paper. This paper was delivered to the President in person by a representative of the chiefs who was asked by the president, not just to leave it on his desk, but rather read it out to him right away. The President was impressed by the chiefs’ level of reflection and articulation. From then, the chiefs took it upon themselves to put pressure on the President to address their concerns. In June, the President ordered the Ministry of Land and Mines to review the new legislation in order to incorporate CSOTs. Thus, began our work afresh with the government.

Stakeholder engagement, a silent form of diplomacy remains a key feature of our work, carried on to this day by the advocacy team. It is has many frustrations as navigating the system drains emotionally, but always humbling to see processes unfolding. Patience in advocacy and identifying strategic players in the produces tangible results. The CSOTs, our baby here in Zimbabwe adopted from Zambia has brought about real transformation in the communities ranging from infrastructure development through building schools and clinics to manpower development. It is, therefore, important as the leaders reform policy to take note of the crucial role played by the CSOTs.

Turning to the community based activities in the districts we work in, I am always humbled by the substantial change in the behaviors of the community leaders. Their transformation filters down into the communities they serve, which is a source of encouragement to us as catalysts of social transformation. This kind of change is not easy to quantify or capture in a simple document. Some of the limitations in our capacity to document the impact of our work come with the breadth of the scope of our projects and the fact that we operate within confines of our budget. Inadequacy of the financial and human resources stand in our way to doing more to bring about the desired change. One cannot help feeling helpless in the face of real need. For instance, we had in one case resources to cover only 5 out of 21 wards in each one of 4 districts we worked in. Noticing the difference between the ones we have worked with and the remainder, authorities demand for our intervention in the rest which we unfortunately cannot give a positive response. To this challenge, more emphasis on depth than breadth of coverage can surely bring better results and substantial transformation to the communities we work with. By this I mean geographical scope. Covering one district completely is more effective than patches of four. As for our partners in the Rural District Councils, prioritization of community sensitization programmes can go a long way to complement our efforts. I am confident of their capacity both technically and financially to run such programmes.

Funding for our work remains a challenge especially owing to the move by funding partners towards pre-defined thematic areas and preset objectives. Ideally, development work should be people (needs) driven if projects are to be responsive to real challenges. But often, implementing organizations like ours are now in the business of responding to the demands of the donors. Even the strategic plan of the organization receives lesser attention if not aligned with the available funds. With the prevailing macroeconomic situation that places us in survival mode, we have no option but to comply. The trade-off is on our autonomy and independence.

The paradox of fundraising partly owes its origins to working under the not-for-profit label in the midst of shifting trends that are capitalistic in nature. The current sources of funding demand creativity and innovation in programming, but the ordinary person is interested in simple answers. They want jobs, access to healthcare, shelter, food, water and education. So, no matter how crafty, if the solution does not respond to these, it remains abstract and alienates the grassroots people. The evolution of development work into an academic discipline and a standalone industry also presents a challenge as it creates a need for sustaining all those trained and employed within as professionals. The industry is here to stay. The Roman Catholic Church’s thrust on 1Corintians 13 that gave origin to this work of Love and Charity is being challenged by capitalist values and business like operating models.

I am someone with a strong passion for local culture. My interaction with various people in the communities and in high profile forums has heightened my dissatisfaction with the distortion of the true meaning of gender equality discourse. The concept of gender in its original sense is very constructive but its practice often gets mixed up with feminist tendencies, an extremist position that pits women against men. The devastating impact on our culture gets attributed to the gender equality movement and yet feminism is the real culprit. Sadly, civil society organizations are the ones fueling the movement. This calls for Silveira House to deepen its understanding of the concept and move beyond mainstreaming to devise a strong deliberate strategy that shapes dialogue on gender equality in the country. Fortunately we already have partners who express willingness to assist us in this regard.

A key feature of 2018 was the harmonized elections. The “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” mantra of the pre-election period carried some hope that this would be one of the cleanest election in world history. Unfortunately the post-election events, marred by violence, irregularities and fainting confidences on re-engagement of Zimbabwe with the international community drowns all hope. We were almost out of the woods, but i regret that we are back to the same fear and uncertainty of old. It is very obscure where the nation is headed to given the latest events such as inconsistent policy frameworks from the Reserve Bank that threaten to erode people’s savings.

Looking ahead, Silveira House needs to maintain a strategic balance between policy advocacy and community based social action. This involves advocacy on the formulation of sound policies, their implementation and review. Following up on the already present good policy documents and creating demand for accountability by the people (rights holders) from their leaders (duty bearers) is paramount to sustainable development. At the moment the approach is haphazard, lacking coordination among members of civil society. The lack of civic education among the people also adds to the problem. It breeds low confidence among grassroots people to demand accountability and a relaxed, condescending executive. Therefore, the balance between policy advocacy and community based social action, accompanied by a strong commitment to research should characterize our development work as we go forward.