Processes of Development: The Bahá'í Approach
The most important successes of Bahá'í development initiatives are qualitative in nature. With an emphasis on grassroots action and evolutionary growth, Bahá'í development projects complement the many other elements of Bahá'í community life. Development activities are an integral aspect of Bahá'í efforts to create a pattern of living that releases individual potential and simultaneously promotes the collective good. The systems of belief and administration underlying the Bahá'í program of community building uniquely integrate the moral and the practical, provide a unity of conception that allows for great flexibility of application, and above all arouse and maintain motivation.
Typically constrained by the limited resources of the communities in which they operate, Bahá'í projects are primarily focused on exploring new models of social change that encourage individuals, communities and institutions to develop cooperative methods of participation and decision-making. Specific endeavors designed to improve human well-being flow directly from the application of these models.
Upraising the quality of life through the systematic application of Bahá'í principles is, in some sense, the very definition of Bahá'í development. There are six main development processes that form the basis of a pattern of action by Bahá'í communities around the world:
In general, social and economic development activities best begin with a relatively simple set of actions at the grassroots. The desire for change must come directly from individuals and communities and cannot be imposed from the outside. As experience is gained from action, grassroots initiatives can naturally grow in complexity. A tutorial school, for example, can in principle become a center for activities such as health education, family counseling and reforestation, but in most cases, it will start simply as a school focusing all its resources on the children it proposes to serve. Although simple, well-defined projects have the greatest likelihood of success, to raise local action to a reasonable level of effectiveness may eventually require that development initiatives extend beyond the village level to regional and national levels.
Development is not a product to be delivered by the "developed" to the "underdeveloped." Rather, it is a process in which individuals and communities in all parts of the world, regardless of the degree of their material prosperity, become the principal actors in defining, analyzing and solving their own problems. While concrete action in any project should be directed towards visible improvement of some aspect of life, the success of a development initiative is ultimately measured by its impact on the capacity of a community to address development issues at increasingly higher levels of complexity and effectiveness.
A people's ability to participate fully in its own process of development entails a number of interrelated elements. Generating and sustaining an integrated set of social and economic activities relate directly to the development of specific capacities at the personal and group level. Certain key capacities include learning how to take initiative in a disciplined and imaginative manner; adopting methods of decision-making that are non-adversarial and inclusive in nature; thinking systematically in understanding problems and searching for solutions; replacing relationships based on dominance and competition with relationships based on reciprocity, collaboration, and service to others; encouraging recognition of the essential nobility of human beings; fostering rectitude of conduct at all levels of society; and developing the skills and commitment necessary to generate and apply technical knowledge.
Learning to apply Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to individual and collective life is the centerpiece of Bahá'í social and economic development. This learning takes place at all levels and involves all the members of Bahá'í communities, whatever their capacities and experiences. It entails not only study, but a systematic and ongoing process of consultation, reflection, and action designed to bring about consistent patterns of change. Such a learning process can occur in a very simple manner at the village and local level, but with greater sophistication at the regional and national levels. In this regard, every Bahá'í development project, regardless of size, endeavors to become a center for learning concerned with promoting material, moral, and spiritual well-being.
Development of Human Resources
Intimately related to learning and building of capacity is the development of human resources. Training methods--which foster participation and an open attitude toward learning--principally involve individuals and groups at the grassroots, but can also include professionals and students from other regions and countries. In this way, a worldwide process of learning is encouraged. That development ideas and projects are not imposed from above, and that institutions should respond to the aspirations and initiatives of communities at the local level, are established characteristics of Bahá'í development. However, the application of these principles does not preclude the possibility of utilizing proven and well-conceived approaches to training developed at the national or international levels. Thus, project sites may be seen as locations where training is provided for an increasing number of individuals from all parts of the world and from all sectors of society.
Contributing to the Advancement of Society
The application of the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh to social and economic development is part of a larger process of creating stability and prosperity in human affairs. Development activities offer opportunities for the Bahá'í community to become directly involved in the life of society. Bahá'í projects are thus designed to engage and benefit all the members of a community and not only Bahá'ís. Collaboration with organizations and leaders of thought concerned with social, moral and economic advancement is an important component of Bahá'í development endeavors.
The world's experience has shown that fragmented activities in different fields do not bring about development. The knowledge that should be brought to bear on development problems does not fit into a single discipline. The integration of efforts across various fields, such as health, education, agriculture, and environmental preservation, is essential for real progress in a region. Such integration can be achieved when simple grassroots initiatives evolve to more stable and complex stages of operation. In Bahá'í development, the concept of integration also pertains to the integration of material progress and spiritual development. Social and economic development activities are therefore an expression of faith in action.
Underpinning the Bahá'í approach to development is the belief that every culture and segment of humanity represents a distinct heritage that must be encouraged to flourish and contribute to an emerging global civilization. The Bahá'í commitment to social change and progress derives directly from Bahá'u'lláh's vision of humanity as one people. Fostering unity of purpose among individuals, groups, and institutions is consequently an essential characteristic of all Bahá'í development pursuits.