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diálogos, propuestas, historias para uma cidadania mundial

Southern know-how

Scientific knowledge and social practices: what we owe Southern countries


05 / 2002

  • A Brazilian psychiatrist started caring for his patients in the Pirambu de Fortaleza ghetto by inventing in the field a community therapy method inspired by his Indian origins and the situation of the poor families he worked with. After a few years of experience, he ended up obtaining results. The rumour of his success spread, drawing several students and professors to the scene. In 1998, the head of Grenoble’s psychiatry service decided to use this knowledge to modify the methods of treating alcoholic patients. And that is how a therapeutic approach developed in a Brazilian ghetto has helped improve psychiatric therapies in France.- France’s first black mayor was elected in Saint Coulitz, a small Brittany village. Born in Togo, Kofi Yamgnane became alarmed about how his adopted country marginalises elderly people’s social and political life. As a result, he decided to try creating an Elderly Persons Council, inspired by the councils of village wise men common in Africa. The idea has been emulated, including in medium sized towns, which have established advisory councils of elders associated with the municipal councils. And that is how a traditional African practice, reinterpreted and adapted, has helped revive the concept of participative democracy in the country of Human Rights.

  • In Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, the Grameen Bank has swept aside the old prejudice that one can only lend to rich people. The collection rate on loans granted to the neediest families for business creation projects is one of the best in the country. Several organisations that wanted to adapt this principle to the French context were able to take advantage of this experience to develop original forms of business creation aid for disadvantaged individuals. And so it is that a success known around the world can lead, not to an identical reproduction in rich countries, but rather renewal in a debate that had been marking time.

Cycle rickshaws in Toulouse

One could also cite, in agriculture, the semi direct practice or, in the lodging field, the collective self-construction method. One could speak of the Chilean university that developed a technique to avoid filling in purification stations that is now used in France. One could mention the rural Scottish organisers who went to Sahel to get organisation and diagnosis methods used successfully in their country. Or even the Asian cycle rickshaws that go up and down Toulouse streets.

Whether it involves transferring ideas or updating the debate on original solutions, South to North exchanges of know-how and experience shake up prejudices that believe that Northern countries have skills and Southern countries have needs. These exchanges run counter to the usual direction of scientific and technical cooperation, but not against the direction of history. Indeed, in the past there were numerous cases of Southern practices and know-how irrigating Northern countries, be it in the cultural and recreation field, social and economic practices, architecture or medicine. Just a few centuries ago, the great astronomers and hydraulic engineers were Arabs, but who admits their considerable contributions to our culture? Why do we prefer to glorify our Greek and Roman heritages?

For Mohamed Larbi Bougherra, the negation of Southern countries’ skills and the omission of their contribution to our history are misfortunes of our colonisation. Based on the concept of shortcomings and the need for civilizing works, this process has been used to justify military, economic and cultural domination. Deeply embedded in colonising societies’ imagination, it has even taken root among colonised peoples, who are rarely aware of the richness of their know-how and their culture.

Yet, for cooperation participants in Northern countries, the recognition of Southern countries’ know-how and capabilities is an essential prerequisite for a reciprocal relationship (i.e.; where each party gives and receives, where no one dominates the other and where each party’s dignity is preserved). It is also a great reservoir of technical, economic and social resources and testing. Whether it is based on traditional practices or recent strokes of genius, Southern know-how is chock-full of inventiveness. Sometimes it leads to real innovations and solutions adapted to small or large problems. Travellers, VSO workers, migrants and other border crossers: it’s up to you to participate ...

A handful of French and Mexican NGOs have based their cooperation relationships on reciprocity by jointly establishing in the 90’s an exchange programme on the fight against exclusion and poverty. Shunned by public authorities, this initiative nonetheless led to several mutual exchange visits and resulted in a common platform that renewed cooperation practices, which until then had been "one way." Two other innovative cooperation experiences are described in this book, which aims to create a discussion about reciprocity in North-South relations.


cooperação Norte Sul, parceiro



Source : from the book "Savoirs du Sud, Reciprocity in North-South relationships network", Charles-Léopold Mayer Editions in "Dossier pour un débat", 1999 (France), 105, 115 p.



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