Social Change In The Name Of Development (Questions)

In the territory of non-profit organizations, social change and social development have obtained rather progressive connotations; yet, while assembling the footage from Turkey into coherent forms, the specific implications of change and development pulled the puzzle pieces further apart. In the prospect of change, one must assume a differentiation occurs (either progressive or regressive) through time; “social” characterizes the type of change: behaviors, traditions, and beliefs. Social development, on the other hand, possesses the physicality of indication: buildings, schools, and roads – an increased utilization of human resources through time. Social development affects social change, as well as social change influences social development. Such affirmation, however, cannot be discussed outside the context of one major question: is this precise association and dependence on one another righteously progressive?

Ça?da? Ya?am? Destekleme Derne?i, as a non-profit organization, struggles to change social customs and traditions with the intent to magnify the reach of education, and further promote social development. In specific regions of Turkey, teenage girls are forced to marry at young ages, crushing any prospect of getting an education, or even establishing a professional career. From a Western perspective (influenced and altered through women’s rights movements), such social behavior might seem rather regressive; each and every individual should have control over personal choices. The thought, deeply rooted in Western ideologies, have come to dominate the practices of development. In this modern multifaceted world however, one’s truth will hardly ever coincide with yours or mine; hence, the constant quest for social change.

Consider the traditional Turkish families along with their customs and practices. From their perspective, the organization’s work might seem completely influenced by these ideologies, which absolutely differ from local beliefs. Their truth disregards the role of education and supports the submission of young women to predictable futures. Western societies have proved the importance of education in achieving development; thus, in this case, how can development be achieved without social change? But then again, how can one guarantee that Western ideals, which have worked in distinct societies, will prove themselves equally successful amidst traditional Turkish families? Who decides the righteousness of social change?

Take Sri Lanka, for example. While interviewing the organization’s president, he recalled the period when Future In Our Hands was founded – over twenty-five years ago. A Norwegian couple had moved to Badulla, central Sri Lanka, only to offer aid and assistance to a native tribe, which, despite all necessities, proudly preserved their traditions. In return, they expected tribe members to adapt to the outsider’s culture (as opposed to the other way around). Instead of a couple meals per day, the Norwegians wanted the locals to eat at least three times daily. Rather than barely covering their bodies, they expected tribe members to be fully dressed. The couple, in all of their good intentions, believed development would only occur if locals adapted to Western traditions – from the Norwegian’s perspective, superior than that of the natives.

The couple eventually gave up, left the country, and the organization was passed on to the hands of a local resident (currently the president), who understood the particularities of that tribe. They wanted the development, but did not desire the change. Conversely, both husband and wife believed social change to be more important than social development. The organization ultimately grew and brought development to the region, whilst still preserving the local culture. Now, imagine how many other peoples around the world suffer similar imposition and are not strong enough to sustain their traditions and practices in the name of development. Most of the aid comes from the developed world, along with its traditions, practices and ideologies. Some of this assistance also comes with a price – the price of social change. In these instances, is social change indeed progressive, or even desirable?

Attempts to provide an answer to follow.