19 December 2014
Category : Entrevista
James Midgley is a Professor of Public Social Services at the School of Social Welfare, University of California, Berkeley. Originally from South Africa, he studied at the University of Cape Town and the London School of Economics. He is especially known for his contributions in the area of social work and social policy in developing countries and is considered a pioneer in this field. James Midgley has a new book called “Social Development: Theory and Practice”, which he presented at the FIIAPP.
What is the purpose of this book?
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a textbook for students in upper-level and graduate courses. I’ve taken some of the practical projects carried out in diverse countries around the world as examples. Everything from community projects, to asset-building projects and education projects, starting at the preschool level, and I’ve tried to describe the work. In addition, I’ve tried to provide some theoretical bases to explain how practice is linked to certain conceptual theoretical perspectives. That’s the purpose of the book and the reason why it’s called Theory and Practice.
On a practical level, how is social development done?
The book has five or six chapters devoted to different strategies for putting it into practice. The first strategy I cover involves human capital projects, which include education from preschool to university, also including health. There’s an entire chapter on community projects. It also deals with the topic of employment, job creation. There’s another on how to utilize resources, and another on the practical side of social protection, cash transfers, which many governments are now using, like Brazil in its “Bolsa Familia” project to provide money for families with children. I also talk about planning.
All of these practical strategies should go together in a system that we call “National Planning” to be used in combination with coordination mechanisms and to make countries more effective.
Which countries or regions have made the most progress in social development since their beginnings, and which still have a long way to go?
I believe there are basic principles that allow countries to succeed. First of all, to make progress in social development, countries with strong governments are necessary. The government has the capacity, the political commitment and the means to promote the social needs of the population. The majority of the most successful countries have been democratic, with a western-style democracy, and they are receptive and responsible with their population.
There are some countries that are raising their populations’ standards of living. In the first group we would include very small countries, certain islands like Mauricio and countries like Costa Rica, which have less population and therefore an easier time. But in some of the larger countries we’ve seen significant improvements in living standards, such as in the case of Chile or Brazil. Including countries where there is a high level of poverty and the government is making a commitment and the standard of living is improving.
The World Bank has published data showing that in South Africa the poverty rate has declined significantly while equality has improved; there is some research on Brazil that shows these same results.
These are just examples, of course there are other countries where the story is not so nice, for example South Sudan was a country with many opportunities, but it turned into an independent country where the members of the political elite started to fight among themselves, took up arms and started killing. There are countries with many disadvantages because they have poor agricultural development and some disasters are occurring, for example the Ebola virus, which is causing huge problems. A good example is Liberia, where they have terrible armed conflicts, deaths, poverty… and we go to them to study how to tackle the Ebola crisis.
In my opinion, this is a constant problem and there is no magical solution to the problem; we have to try to improve constantly.
In the introduction to your book, you say that “social development proposes a gradual social change”. Where is social development now?
In general, there are differing opinions on this. There are people who think that everything is going terribly and others who think that everything is great. In my opinion, it’s a mixture of the two, nothing is that wonderful or that awful.
The year 1995 was a very important time with the “World Social Summit for Social Development”. The conference held in Copenhagen hosted 117 presidents and ministers from all over the world, and they signed an agreement to create what are known as the Millennium Development Objectives. It’s sounds crazy that all the world leaders actually got together to solve the problem of poverty, but it happened. They united and said we’re going to reduce poverty and improve the health and situation of women, of education, and the results now, 15 years later are pretty positive.
There’s no magical solution, but we can see some improvement. So I’m optimistic, but not thinking that there are no problems and that everything is ok. We have to keep trying to fight to improve conditions for people all over the world.
What role do public administrations play in social development?
My opinion is very critical. There are people working on social development who say that development has to come from the people and the community, and I agree with that, but people can’t do it without help from the government. The government has great power to obtain resources and plan, so, in my opinion, I think the community and the government should work together. That’s why there has to be some type of democratic participation and operators so that the local community is represented and can participate, but for this you have to have a good government.
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