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  • Ashwin Mahesh

Is decentralisation the way ahead?

"Can everyone lead?" The question can seem like a contradiction in terms, but increasingly around the world, people are asking whether the current model of "leadership by one person at a time" produces results much slower than a more widely distributed model for leadership and change-making.

Global development organisations are increasingly focusing on the role of 'agency' and'autonomy' of ordinary citizens to push for outcomes that they care about, rather than waiting for leaders to deliver results.

This model resonates with many of us who believe in decentralization, but for it to work well, we have to understand what it can do, and what support system it needs for it to work.

(a) The ideal of self-driven, local-driven, community-driven problem solving is becoming more widely accepted, and surely, it can help make the immediate 'local' habitat better for a lot of people. But each of these habitats also has a gate - both physically and conceptually - and understanding how to cross this gate will be important if we want all of society to feel empowered by this model.

(b) The answer to that question - how do we cross the gate? - is rooted in empathy, and this means that we must build empathy into the learning for our interest in problem solving. We must ask, "how do we help solve other people's problems?" and understand that the answer to that question is more vital to development, than knowing how to take responsibility for solving our own problems.

It would help, in such a model, if governments were also active in encouraging citizens to become active problem-solvers, and if governments accepted that there can be differences in the way citizens solve problems. Strait-jacketed, uniformity has been the defining characteristic of the nation-state, in both democracies and dictatorships, and that era is ending. While we seek to replace it with something that works better, it is vital to remember that it needs to work well not only for ourselves, but for others too.


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