The news is never lacking in articles and commentary on the next popular development model. There are a plethora of models out and about these days, but only a few ever reach the lime light. The focus for the past few years has been on microfinance and in particular, funding microenterprise through small loans. There’s endless chatter about the small loan revolution, about how cash resources that were previously unavailable can turn everyone into an entrepreneur. But what about the models that are not in the lime light at the moment. What about models with a spin on microfinance or a different solution altogether? And what about all the questions that no one addresses? Is microfinance the silver bullet for the long term, just part of the puzzle, or a short term answer masquerading as a long term solution? What’s the real goal and will that fix the brokenness in this world?

There are generally two approaches in the development world. There’s the top down — trying to develop government infrastructure and participation in the global market. Then there’s bottom up — grassroots, starting at the individual and community levels trying to empower people and provide the resources that might be missing to pursue change on your own. What’s the aim? In the long term, where are these different approaches headed. So many development organizations and initiatives jump on these bandwagons, but their missions are dragging their feet. The long term goals are well-worded and fit with what the rest of the world is clamoring for, but fail to take into account all the entanglements involved in the pursuit of sustainable change. They fail to actually consider whether they’ll make it in the long term or not.

When you focus solely on the government and infrastructure, the solution is usually found in a cry for aid and policy shifts in a weak-kneed system. Sometimes the aid helps build roads and hospitals. Sometimes it gets siphoned off into the pockets of those carrying big sticks. And the policies float in the air like they usually do. They can make big shifts fast, stem off inflation, maintain trade relations, and open up business opportunities with foreign firms. The problem is that more often than not, the foreign firms, with more resources, funding, and more advanced technology, hold a strong advantage over the national businesses. They creep into the market, hire either foreigners, or nationals at whatever costs they deem fit, and the profits rarely seem to trickle down to the lower echelons of society. The money stays at the top and the divide between richer and poorer grows deeper. Is the end goal to increase GNP? Is the end goal to say that a country has increased it productivity and is involved in foreign markets? Does that mean a country is developing? If so, what does it mean for all those at the bottom, still trying to find enough to eat on a daily basis?

On the other hand, grass roots development focuses on the individual and community level. By providing resources, trainings and opportunities to those at the bottom, they hope to make a change, a shift from the daily struggle to a life that is a bit more consistent, a life where you don’t have to die from treatable diseases or worry about the yield of next harvest. But, without the back up and adaptation of these practices by the government, how far reaching is the hand of a community? How well can these grassroots systems be maintained without the support of the government? If the government doesn’t see the need or difference these programs are making then with one fell swoop can’t they destroy these efforts? Is the goal to change the lives of individual by individual in a tenuous play for how long you can get by unnoticed? Or is the goal bigger than that, empowering the people enough to ask for these programs, resources and opportunities from their governments? Making the powers that be realize the benefits to their country from an internal and external view point so that they pass policies and start their own programs to strengthen their country down to its roots?

Neither of these approaches is fool-proof. If you want to change the world, you can make a change at the top or the bottom but you’ll have to meet somewhere in the middle. It really all depends on your definition of development. It’s time we stopped looking at the models just in the newspapers and the efforts boosted on celebrity shoulders. We need to look deep and look hard for models that know their mission and are willing to change and adapt to make long term impact. We need to look for models that foresee the entanglements from their approach and prepare, models that are willing to share their successes and use the successes of others in order to make sustainable impact. Nuru is still young, but I believe we are headed there. We want to learn from others, impact society on all levels, and move from community to community helping nationals to make changes that will last and spread.