The role of storytellers in development policy

Generally the aid policy has been based on donor’s conditions and interest through decades. Though all evidence show that the domination of donor countries perspectives in aids policies is a huge obstacle that still has to be overcome in order to provide a solid foundation for sustainable development.

The Swedish newspaper, Götebors Posten, published an important debate written by a few researchers from Gothenburg University, Professor Fredrik Söderbaum et al, on June 29th 2016.  In this debate they emphasized one of the major issues on aid policy within the framework of development policies:

“Policy framework fails to adequately take into account the poor people’s ability and power to themselves create the development they want for themselves, their families and their countries. Research on the driving forces behind development emphasizes people and their organizations and institutions – from trade unions to religious organizations and cooperatives to local history societies and diaspora groups – are the most important development resource and thus the main driving force for social change.”


This important issue has already been discussed internationally by many scholars during the last decades and are relevant to Sweden’s aid policy as well as other countries. Although the successful actions for change on this major issue have not yet been taken, there is further need to improve the next step of critical approach to the aid policy. Further critical approach on aid policy is needed to provide a profound and comprehensive knowledge on the power relations of the recipient countries. For instance one of the key issues regarding power relations in recipient countries are: whose voices are heard and whose voices are unheard in shaping in recipient countries? What are the diverse narratives or stories among the people?

The fact that there are greater socio-economic gaps and social injustice within the developing’s world compare to the rich world, should be taken into considerations by donors countries. Due to the great gap in socio-economic, social status and power relations in recipient countries, the voices being heard are often the strongest voices.


Thus, the constant question that should be asked in analysis framework and action planning should assume: whether or not the donors reach out to the civil society’s real representative? Have the donors reached all the storytellers and strengthen all the voices?  How could the donors reach the divers storytellers in order to include different part of the civil society in problem analysis, needs assessment and action plan?

2 replies
  1. Åsa Ljusenius
    Åsa Ljusenius says:

    Thank you Manijeh for reminding about the importance of the recipient perspective and specifically for raising the issue of whose voice counts. Since I know you are engaged in regional politics at home, wouldn’t you say that strengthening democracy at a local level is the answer to the question you are posing? I envision that in a well-functioning democracy, also groups with low social status have a space of agency to raise their voices and call for attention from both authorities and donors. Or am I missing a crucial link here? I recently came back from field studies in an old refugee settlement in Tanzania where the inhabitants had become citizens of Tanzania less than two years back and had voted in their first Tanzanian election only months earlier. Many of those I talked to said it meant a lot to them to be able to vote and be voted for. They had a list of improvements (getting tarmac roads, getting connected to the electricity grid and water pipes, etc) that they were ready to push for through political representatives.

  2. Manijeh Mehdiyar
    Manijeh Mehdiyar says:

    Thank you Åsa Ljusenius for your comment! Of course democracy is fundamental to reach all the voices! However, democracy is a dynamic and ongoing process that should be maintained in each context. For instance, even in the most developed democracies such as Sweden, there are still challenges to reach all the voices. Generally, this issue assumes varieties of parallel processes, both at the macro and micro level . For instance, long term democratization at the macro level -as you mentioned – is one of the major contributor to “whose voice counts”, but it is long from enough. For instance a main challenge for me as healthcare local politicians in Sweden, is still the challenge to reach all the voices for creating health equity in my community..


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