THE DEPENDENCY SYNDROME
by Phil Bartle, PhD
When community members lack attitudes of self reliance, what needs to be changed?
The "dependency syndrome" is an attitude and belief that a group can not solve its own problems without outside help. It is a weakness that is made worse by charity.
Why do we fight against dependency?
If an outside agency, be it central Government, an international NGO, a mission, comes to a community and constructs a human settlements facility (eg water supply), it is natural for the community members to see it as belonging to the outside agency. When that outside agency goes away or runs out of funds, the community members will have no motivation to repair and maintain the facility, or to sustain the service.
In order for the facility to be maintained and sustained, the community members must have a sense of "responsibility" for the facility. That sense of responsibility is sometimes described as "ownership" by the community.
Unless the community as a whole has been involved in the decision making about the facility (planning and management) and has willingly contributed to the costs of its construction, the sense of responsibility or ownership will be missing. It will not be effectively used, maintained or sustained. It is impossible to build a human settlements facility or service and not expect that it has to be repaired and maintained. That is like trying to eat once and for all.
As their populations grow, governments are getting access to fewer and fewer resources per capita every year. It is simply no longer feasible for communities to be dependent upon central governments for human settlement facilities and services. The same with international donors: rich countries' governments, the UN, World Bank, international NGOs, simply do not have enough resources to give to every poor community, no matter how worthwhile the cause, around the world.
Whereas it was once thought that community self reliance in itself was a good thing, it promoted grass roots democracy, human rights, self development and human dignity, now it has gone much farther than that. If communities cannot become more and more self reliant and empowered, they simply will not develop and so poverty and apathy will eventually destroy them.
Counteracting dependency is your prime goal. Dependency in the community must be reduced by every action you take. When training a community organization how to obtain resources, the animator must keep that prime goal in mind and act accordingly. A donor agency should try to avoid giving the community anything for nothing. That encourages dependency. Always encourage community members by stating that they can carry out the project themselves and you are here to offer them some skills and tips, but the work must be done by them. Applying this to financing a community project, you must never offer to obtain project inputs for them. The methods on tis web site are called the Community Empowerment Methodology; specifically designed to fight dependency.
You as a mobilizer, can give them guidelines as to how to raise money and other resources, how to ensure that accounts are kept transparent and simple, and how to translate non-monetary donations into financial inputs, but you must always emphasize that the actual obtaining of the resources must be done by the community or its community based organization (eg executive committee) working on its behalf, not you.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle