Call edition 2012

A new edition of the Prize of the Belgian Development Cooperation has been launched. This call is open until March 31st, 2011. You can read in the regulations whether you comply with the criteria for participation.

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Social Capital and Project Performance in a Third World Context/Exchange mechanisms and social networks in rural Nicaragua

Nadia MOLENAERS researcher laureate

°1967 Belgium
Licence in political sciences, 1994

Social Capital and Project Performance in a Third World Context/Exchange mechanisms and social networks in rural Nicaragua

Social capital may have become one of the sexiest issues in recent political and sociological research. Still, the way in which Nadia Molenaers presents it, really brings in a breath of fresh air. Although, from a personal point of view, she has become closely involved in the development issue in Nicaragua, her work remains sharp and distant. At the scientific level, it is literally so in-depth that also the less obvious networks come to the surface. In her doctorate thesis she compares the social capital of two very comparable villages which reacted in a remarkably divergent way to a same offer of micro-funding. Once more, and this time through figures retrieved from a scientifically very sound basis, Putnam’s thesis is confirmed, i.e vertical, clientism-based networks are a restraint on the economic and democratic development. Horizontal, open networks, on the other hand, which are managed in trust and reciprocity, foster development. The success of development projects is, therefore, also determined by the networks already available, which also define the processes of structural exclusion. Through their present increasing appeal to the local NGOs, the donor agencies run the risk of perpetuating existing exclusion patterns, of which the poorest are always the first victims. Or, as phrased by Nadia Molenaer’s promotor: ‘Her thesis can be read as an important and subtle differentiation in the naïve belief in the open, egalitarian and democratic character of civil society. If NGOs operate in a context of asymmetric and exclusionist networks, they will reproduce these proportions, also through the development projects in which they are involved (…) She advocates an in-depth analysis of the existing networks, before setting up a proper co-operation. Seen from a social point of view, this seems to me a highly relevant and, in the framework of development aid, exceptionally practical recommendation.” Relevant it surely is, its practicality still remains to be seen. Indeed, such an analysis takes a long time, and in the mean time, you cannot possibly be on the sidelines. In any case, this work is certainly capable of applying critical footnotes to our current policy. It is, among others, for this very reason that it deservedly receives the Development Co-operation Prize.

report by Steph Feremans, Attaché, Secretariat of State for Development Co-operation