COMPASS 2015: a faith perspective

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CAFOD’s participatory research project, COMPASS 2015, engages with the perspectives of poor and marginalised people and communities as a resource for formulating development policy after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. The research involved 1,420 participants from 56 different communities in four countries – Philippines, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Bolivia – and guides CAFOD’s policy priorities in the global debate.

But what does this mean from a Catholic perspective?

Professor Tina Beattie, theologian and member of CAFOD’s theological reference group, has reflected on COMPASS 2015 through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. The final COMPASS report, ‘Setting the post-2015 development compass: Voices from the ground’ tells us a lot about different communities aspirations for wellbeing and suggests pathways for the implementation of key values in the post-2015 development agenda.

Access the full paper here: A theological reflection – COMPASS 2015 and CST

Professor Beattie highlighted the value of grounding CAFOD’s policy work in people’s experiences and aspirations. Too often discussions of social and economic justice become idealised and disconnected from the real lives of people. It also reminds us that there is a greater question at stake: what it means to be human.

In the post-2015 debate, most focus is on the content of the new framework: the goals, targets and indicators. COMPASS 2015 illustrates that policy cannot be a purely intellectual exercise, by showing what a truly human life is. Professor Beattie articulates this as ‘the liberty and energy to seek and enjoy beauty and goodness in community with others, rather than being enslaved, exhausted and isolated by deprivation and violence.’

Pope Francis has called for ‘a Church which is poor and for the poor’ but that does not mean thinking of people living in poverty as a faceless, uniform group. COMPASS 2015 makes a commitment to celebrate the diverse voices of participants, rather than merging them into anonymity for a single, linear narrative, reminding us of our responsibility to listen attentively to each individual. Addressing poverty eradication is an exercise in complexity and diversity, and reducing this to a limited number of goals and targets in the post-2015 process is an ongoing tension.

Solidarity, subsidiarity, participation

Professor Beattie drew on these core values. When missing, we experience a feeling of poverty which undermines our ability to flourish.

Solidarity is rooted in the idea that humans are essentially relational; we cannot flourish except in relationship with others. While often in modern thought, the individual is represented in opposition to society, Professor Beattie highlighted that this is a false dichotomy, as the individual cannot flourish unless part of a just society with laws and institutions which serve the good of each and the good of all. Solidarity calls for recognition that the good of each individual is strengthened when it contributes to the good of us all, beyond ego, greed or selfishness. Solidarity also goes beyond ‘charity’ based on sentimentality or pandering to the guilt of the rich to obscure the demands of social justice. This challenges the political landscape in which the post-2015 debate takes place, where ODA can be motivated by charity rather than solidarity.

Subsidiarity is the principle by which decisions are made at the appropriate level, and that the institutions and hierarchies within a society do not undermine the ability those dependent on them, but instead support them to create opportunities for solidarity. This challenges the idea of ‘top down’ development, where what is decided in the UN headquarters is imposed on peoples and communities around the world. COMPASS 2015 reinforces this message, as people across the research locations called for access to and control over productive assets so that they can become artisans of their own destiny and determine their own development. This is not only about the distribution of land and resources but the dynamics of power and privilege.

The ability of people to participate in the decisions which affect their lives is central to people’s sense of wellbeing throughout the COMPASS 2015 research. For people living in poverty,

“national governments play a key role in development, and call for new forms of accountability and monitoring. Governments are often the key actor to whom they address requests for support. However, this does not mean they are handing over all responsibility – people still want to be consulted and to participate.” (p.40)

Throughout the report, the extent to which development benefits people is intrinsically linked to the extent to which the political process is participatory, accountable and free from corruption. This shift from passive beneficiaries or recipients to active participants is crucial. In COMPASS 2015 people ‘identified their direct participation as a crucial fact in their ability to be heard and achieve more transparent and accountable governance. People understand their fundamental role in development and are willing to take part in it.’

As one woman in Uganda observes:

“The people whom I think are responsible for bringing about change are the very people who live in this community because we are the ones who know our own problems. So we should bring heads together and share ideas that will bring change to our community. An outsider cannot easily know our problems.” (p.48)

The environment

Another element that came out in discussion was environmental stewardship. Throughout COMPASS 2015, people express their increasing vulnerability because of changing environments. In Bolivia, traditional agricultural is undermined by shifting weather patterns, meaning that income from farming often no longer provides dignified living conditions. In the Philippines, communities explained how Typhoon Sendong in 2009 wiped out years of hard-won progress. As the impacts and threats increase, addressing climate change must be foundational to our work.

There is rich food for thought from the theological reflection on COMPASS 2015, whether it is about challenging a top down development process so that the voices of people around the world can be heard, enabling people to participate in the delivery and accountability of their own development, or understanding the responsibility of us all to live within our means so that others may have the opportunity to merely live.

Read the full paper here: A theological reflection – COMPASS 2015 and CST

The post-2015 is a space for debate and confrontation about some of these key issues, and I highly recommend taking the time to read Professor Beattie’s full reflection on COMPASS 2015. Thoughts, comments and personal reflections welcome below.

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