Akash Kapur’s New York Times article describes through his personal experiential lens, “creative destruction,” a concept Joseph Alois Schumpeter popularized in his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.  Kapur describes how innovative entrepreneurial development that can sustain long-term economic growth bringing wealth to some in previously impoverished areas, simultaneously often destroys the values of a culture, fabric of a community and the natural beauty of an environment.  The July 2009 issue of the Chicago Journals Economic Development and Cultural Change’s articles address this phenomenon from different perspectives in various countries’ initiatives.  Since I’ve long supported sustainable development initiatives in the US and throughout the world, I continue to explore with all types of leaders – from local communities to national governments to multi-national corporations – how to balance many of these complex and often competing issues.  Kapur’s piece also particularly resonated with me as right now I am half-way through Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss.

I welcome your comments as all of us who struggle with the unintended consequences of good deeds can benefit from each other’s insights, whether we work in business, government or civil society.  And, I’m interested to see whether each of those respective sectors view these issues through the lens of humanitarian philanthropy, economic development or some other way.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Martin Kace August 9, 2009, 1:51 pm

    In my view, assessments of helping, disrupting, destroying cultures and the like need to be taken out of the hands of the giver and placed squarely in those of the receiver. Only recipients can evaluate whether the consequences of assistance have had net positive or negative effects, and there will likely be significant variance within receiving populations in assessing benefit and detriment. We are currently working on a major project involving philanthropists, foundations, on-site providers and beneficiaries trying to establish success metrics in their work and giving. Social and cultural impact are very difficult to keep top of mind for a group having to be environmentally disruptive when delivering malaria vaccines. I believe that the more comprehensively we try to assess the impact of giving, the more of a disincentive is provided to donors.

    I’m just sayin’.

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  • Nadine Hack August 10, 2009, 10:13 am

    I agree with Martin Kace: as I’ve written in several of my prior blog posts, experience has taught me that following the leadership of local stakeholders and addressing issues in the most comprehensive multi-faceted approach possible – including integrating insights from all stakeholders – increases the likelihood of sustainable success. But, even then, you have to closely follow the project and make the course corrections that reveal themselves as an initiative proceeds. Over the decades, working with leaders from government, business, NGO and other public and private stakeholders, we have experimented with various metrics but again this is tricky business as you must evaluate quality and depth, not simply quantity and reach. True collaborative multi-sector partnerships require all involved to be mutually respectful and stick it out together before long-term affects can be seen. I have often found myself nurturing the commitment level of any one or more of the partners who may have been looking for a quick fix and want to abandon an effort if success does not come in the immediate short-term.

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  • A. Kapur August 11, 2009, 6:46 am

    Thanks for reading my article and for including it on your blog. The comments posted here are interesting. I agree that ongoing monitoring and following up is critical to the success of any development project. So, I have found, is getting the incentives right: unless the local populations actually want the project in question to succeed–unless they see a tangible benefit to themselves–no amount of follow-up or monitoring will be sufficient.

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  • Mira Kamdar September 16, 2009, 7:35 am

    This is such an important issue to me. I’ve written extensively about it in my two books, Motiba’s Tattoos and Planet India. I’ve written about the disappearance in France of the fabric of rural life, including the culture that is inseparable from it, during the 1980s in the Massif Central. This is an ongoing global phenomenon. I suggest in Planet India that a key to dealing with reconciling development with the wrenching apart of traditional cultures and societies is to redefine what “development” means. Classically, development means transitioning from an agrarian to an industrialized society. It means moving populations off farms and into cities. I would suggest, and there is much in the air right now along this line, that it is time to redefine development, radically. We simply cannot keep going on the linear, teleological path of industrialization / urbanization. We are running out of resources, our industrialized agricultural land is suffering from over-use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, we are running out of water, etc. Michael Pollan is one of my heros on this. William Bissell at FabIndia is onto some interesting ideas in the Indian context. There is much interesting thinking and efforts that are breaking down the traditional divide between rural – traditional and urban – modern: organic farming in skyscrapers or on each apartment’s balcony, for example. And speaking of the Indian context, I believe, and I argued in my last book, that India has immense cultural resources to come up with a way of developing differently which is both more suited to its own situation and to the global moment in which we find ourselves. Now, the interesting thing to explore would be the relationship between capitalism and development. I don’t think it’s automatic, and I think that Mao and Stalin’s heavy-handed efforts to develop their countries, e.g. to industrialize and urbanize them, prove that development thus construed is a separate animal from the economic and political system used to advance it.

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