SWOT Analysis

in the Age of Aquarius

In Manatuto, East Timor

28 May 2003 -- Hera, East Timor

So, here I sit typing on my 1000 dollar computer on a bed that cost a buck and a mattress that cost two, in a house built out of cement twenty years ago, living with a family that makes a hundred bucks a month.

Today, we discussed a situation evaluation model termed SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Weaknesses. It is a very simple structure, with little overt direction imposed. It basically simply provides a format for putting together ideas and encouraging the participants to explore ways of overcoming weaknesses, avoiding threats, and building on opportunities.

I was struck, toward the end of the session, that this is really all we can do here: encourage a positive, pro-active, forward looking attitude to people, and encourage them to find the connection, to take advantage of the opportunities, to put into effect the practices that will pull themselves out of the devastation they've experienced. We can't give them development, we can't give them success, we can't give them riches. We can only help them make the connections themselves, to see the avenues whereby they can find the path to success as they define it.

Repeatedly, I am struck by the beauty of the American system of entrepreneurship with all its flaws: people are encouraged and allowed to pursue their own ideas for making money. Admittedly, we have a plethora of obstacles likely to block all but the most persistent innovators--these obstacles, of course, are there to prevent abuse of the system, promote social justice and environmental sustainability, and they are all together insufficient--and we make it easier for people who already have a million bucks to make another million than for someone who doesn't to make a few bucks. But, development is an incredibly complex process, far too complex, I am convinced, for a model to fully capture. By necessity, simplifications reduce an intricately complex process to a manageable approximation, eliminating the beauty, the dynamism, and the capacity of the system for true evolution.

Take the local governance debate here. The constitution that the Constituent Assembly approved, calls for "decentralization" of power to the "local" level. Now a panel of experts is discussing how best the local communities can use power. It seems to me they are starting too late, if assuming that only by concentrating power in a few hands, can they give power to the local level. Why are these few people deciding what locals must do? There is another beauty of the American system: we allowed local governments incredible autonomy in establishing their operating procedures.

What I wrote today, was: a planned free market. That is what we could shoot for, planning an economy that would respond to community interests, avoid the worst examples of greed, avarice, and cultural/environmental destruction, while promoting the freedom of people to create--the only real way to develop in the long run.

I just now had a glimpse of what my old friend, Rob Liversidge, used to talk about: the network age, the water age, the dawning of Aquarius. Information flows, dynamism, constant change, genuine evolution, freedom, all are only possible in a system whereby people are free to cooperate, whereby individuals take responsibility, and whereby they are rewarded for service, not for avarice.

Development organizations, international aid foundations, and other well-meaning people--myself included--are all trying to bring the best components of the systems used in more developed countries; and they all aim to limit the realization of the worst components. The "best" and "worst" of course entirely subjectively defined. Unfortunately, as I see it, they are all importing the basics of a system that will inherently pit wealth against poverty exacerbating wealth discrepancies, pit profit-making against the environment with an inevitable looser, pit those in power against those out of it.

So where am I going with this? We'll see as the years go by.


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