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Leading the Call for Sustainable Development

On a sweltering day in Georgetown, a handful of people huddled around a table debating no less than the future of their country.

"Should we privatize the sugar industry?" one asked. "The government is not in favor of this move." "How do we improve the education system?" another inquired.
"Economic development must not happen without protecting the rain forests," yet another said.

These people were not politicians, but members of civil society. They each represented a wide range of interests and causes, some of them the most experienced in their fields. The group was an advisory board invited by the government to help shape Guyana's National Development Strategy with support from The Carter Center.

Ken King was at the table. A former two-time Guyanese minister of economics and a development and career diplomat with the United Nations, King wanted to play another public service role that would leave a lasting impact.

For 18 months, King and 180 other people talked, argued, negotiated, and finally put on paper a national development strategy-a 10-year plan to advance the country that not only addresses economic needs, but also health, education, the environment, governance, and human rights. In a country deeply divided along ethnic lines, poor, and relatively undeveloped, the fact that people of many races could get together was a feat in itself, King said.

"There were blacks. There were Indians. There were Chinese, Portuguese, and indigenous populations. All the races and all the political parties were represented on the committees," he said. "We worked together amicably and harmoniously. The impact of that has been fantastic. People are convinced that we can get together and work for a common good."

The work of civil society groups on the national development strategy will benefit every Guyanese, King said, speculating that the participatory development planning process could provide a model for greater consensual governing as well.

The Carter Center's Global Development Initiative has pioneered the use of participatory processes in its work. While development plans traditionally have been crafted by select officials, the Initiative has brought civil society leaders to the table so their causes and interests can be heard. This innovation has put the Initiative at the forefront of the development community.

The cornerstone of GDI's approach is the development of a country-specific national development strategy. The strategy is a comprehensive vision for economic, social, and democratic development that represents a shared agenda of the future. Civil society is more likely to support a strategy to which they have contributed and that recognizes the concerns of all sectors of society on controversial issues such as governance, privatization, public spending, trade, and inequality. The Carter Center acts as a catalyst and facilitator in this process, drawing upon its neutrality and experience working not only with government but with the broad range of diverse interest groups.

The Initiative's pilot project has been in Guyana, a relatively undeveloped country on the northeastern coast of South America that is rich in natural resources. Its population and politics are fiercely divided along ethnic lines. Here, the Initiative is creating dialogue among communities on how to solve their country's problems.

Mozambique, Mali, and Albania also have solicited the Center to help them devise inclusive approaches to development planning that will build a solid foundation for the future.

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