Macalester Abroad: Research and Writing from Off-campus Study

Publication Date

Spring 2007

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One out of four of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty. Twenty percent of these poor live in sub-Saharan Africa. Seventy percent of the absolute poor live in rural areas (Mikos 2001). These statistics paint a picture of a world in tremendous need of development. South Africa is no stranger to this development crisis. Approximately fifty percent of the country’s population lives in poverty, unemployment rates are 26.6 percent and HIV/AIDS is the cause of an estimated 1,000 deaths per day (USAID 2006). This paper focuses on development solutions, investigating whether or not participatory development approaches are effective strategies and identifying the strengths and weaknesses as well as the methods implemented by organizations using these tactics.

The creation and evolution of development theory is first discussed as well as the current thinking and ideas on development paradigms. After a detailed analysis of development theory, I place South Africa in context, explaining the country’s development strategies post-1994 and showing how they have transformed throughout the first decade of democracy. I then focus on a rural development NGO in Cape Town, the Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT), using it as a case study to critique the implementation of a participatory approach to rural development. Finally, using this case study (in the context of the South Africa), I identify successes and challenges associated with the implementation these methods. With these objectives in mind, I hope to answer my research questions and discover effective development strategies.

SCAT’s mission is to: “improve the quality of life of people living in rural communities with the aim of them living in a vibrant and sustainable environment” (SCAT Strat 2007). To do this it uses four strategies: institution building, capacity building, mobilizing resources, and developing intellectual capital. SCAT partners with over 50 local development agencies (LDAs) across South Africa in isolated rural communities, working in conjunction to realize sustainable progress. SCAT’s tactics include: grantmaking, fieldwork, and the process of becoming a learning organization, each of which is instrumental in its success. By listening, linking, and learning, SCAT, and other organizations like it, can transform the process of rural development in South Africa and together create lasting and effective change.