Communication is the solvent of all problems and is the foundation for personal development –Peter Shepherd
Prolific American playwright and essayist Arthur Miller once described a newspaper as a nation in dialogue with itself. More importantly, the quality of dialogue helps shape the country’s future. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a national development process without communication playing an important role. Communication plays a decisive role in promoting human development in today’s climate of social change.
As the world revolves around greater democracy, decentralisation and the market economy, conditions cause people to start steering their own course of change. But it is vital to stimulate their awareness, participation and capabilities. Communication skills and technology are central to this task but at present, they are often underutilised in many ways. Policies are needed that encourage effective planning and implementation of communication programmes to steer national development overall. Communication, practically in contributing to national development, can also be seen in the lenses of:
- Capability: Consultation and dialogue between state and citizens can, in principle, improve public understanding of and support for government policies and encourage citizen ownership of reform. Without the support of the public, governments often lack the capability to get things done.
- Accountability: Access to information and government transparency are, in theory, vital for enabling citizens to monitor and hold government to account for its actions. There is significant evidence that transparency can reduce opportunities for corruption.
- Responsiveness: An informed and politically active electorate, in theory, strengthens the demand for governments to be accountable. There are several examples where communication processes – e.g., debate through the media, public information campaigns, social accountability mechanisms – have encouraged government responsiveness to citizens’ demands and resulted in better public services.
But what are the essential roles of communication in the modernisation of the nation? As developing countries reach major crossroads on their road to modernity, we need sharper answers to this question. Some essential roles are discussed in this feature.
Foster meaningful dialogue among different sectors of society.
Most developing countries have a diverse society. Likewise, they often have a complex set of socio-economic and cultural stratifications that befuddles most foreigners. On one hand, we may have a segment of the country’s elites plugged into the Internet, iPads, iPhones and MP3s which are continually updated with the latest in technology and world events. On the other hand, we may have large segments of citizens who do not even have access to electricity or modern conveniences. They are deprived of access to the mass media, and thus, ever silent in the process of national dialogue. This great divide, both in terms of access to information and contribution to knowledge, generates social and political tension, not to mention horrendous economic injustice.
This cannot go on. We, in the field of communication, need to exert our best in bringing together the diverse cultures in the developing world into a mosaic with distinct parts or a fully integrated rainbow of colours that every citizen is proud of.
Nurture a shared vision for the country’s future.
Communicators are leaders. They help others see opportunities and current realities with a new lens, and thus, enable everyone to act in harmony. Every citizen is an actor and object of development. Everyone either contributes to nation-building or sadly serves as a drag, generating friction and causing a huge waste of scarce resources and energy. Perhaps, only when citizens of a country have nurtured a true shared vision, transcending personal agendas, can the process of national development reach the tipping point for accelerated growth. Indeed, a country may develop only when its leaders realise the wisdom in the principle ‘power shared is power multiplied, not power diminished’.
Harness non-material and material resources to realise the national shared vision.
There is growing recognition in the developing world that we have seriously neglected the value of non-material resources – leadership, discipline, teamwork, self-efficacy, creativity, harmony, etc. In a sense, we have overplayed the importance of money and machines and undervalued social capital. Yet, as we see development efforts struggle despite access to huge amounts of money, we begin to appreciate the value of non-material resources. Robert Fogel, 1993 Nobel Prize winner for Economics, aptly said that non-material resources are more important than material resources.
- One, we don’t need parliaments or donor agencies to allocate them.
- Two, they increase with use instead of getting depleted.
- Three, it is easier to transform non-material resources to material resources than vice versa.
- Four, like creativity and human ingenuity, non-material resources are practically limitless.
- And lastly, non-material resources reside in every human being. Indeed, communication is an essential component of non-material resources.
In a nutshell, communication is a bond that brings a nation together, yet respects the multiplicity of perspectives that are essential to the search for truth and meaning. A nation consists of individuals with diverse needs but bound together by a common dream. It is in the reconciliation of multiple perspectives, with the call for collective action, that developing nations can move forward with greater determination and impact. It is perhaps the search for dialogue, shared vision, and merging of material and non-material resources that will allow us to find the driving force for development.
In our quest, it may be useful to reflect on the multiplicity of approaches to development. Perhaps, it is man’s folly to assume that there is only one correct answer to every question. Or as aptly said by a wise man, “the belief that there is only one truth and that oneself is in possession of it seems the deepest root of all evil that is in the world.” True communication can wipe out that belief.
So, fellow communication professionals should listen deeply to one another and hear the silent voices of people in our respective countries. Sometimes, meaningful communication involves the ability to also hear what is not being said.
About the Writer
Ebenezer is a Development Communicator with experience in International Development Consulting, SME co-creation & development research and innovative financing.
You can reach him via [email protected] & [email protected]