India, NGO’s and Smart Power

Parag Khanna wrote an article for WPR recently about the challenges facing India as it rises to global prominence. This post on Indian education (via Think Change India) adds some more color to the image. With over half a billion students, the sheer size of the Indian education system orients thinking towards top-down models. But as the post’s author, Neil Patel of the Siksha Foundation, suggests, that sheer size also renders the system more resistant to top-down change. Siksha offers a different model, typically NGO and decidedly bottom-up: microfinanced scholarships for individual students with team-oriented follow-up. In his post, he suggests a similar approach to the problem of teacher training that plagues the Indian education system.

I flag this in the context of the American debate about everything from stability operations to COIN to democracy promotion, which has increasingly emphasized militarized solutions to development problems. Even when these operations are integrated into an inter-departmental and inter-disciplinary approach, they remain in many ways top-down models of “heavy” development (ie. infrastructure, building and reconstruction projects).

The utopian vision of NGO’s as a way to transcend the nation-state has gone the way of the unipolar world, a relic of the particular euphoric moment that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. But there is still value to the “Small is Beautiful” approach, especially if it is integrated into an intelligently designed intervention toolkit. Human development is critical to reconstruction, and while safe drinking water and a school building are necessary components to it, they aren’t sufficient ones.