Send out your bread upon the waters,
For after many days you will get it back.
April 2009. I tramp across the lawn with some file folders under my arm and knock on the door of my neighbors, Odd and Tullis Hoftun. Oddcalls me up to his cave, and I turn on the recorder. Here we’ve sat more than 60 times in the last three years. We have gone through eight decades on two continents. Underway I’ve been struck time and again by how rich this material is. What I at first take to be minor details prove to be doorways to whole new subjects for discussion. We branch out to development aid theory, economics, technology, politics, history, mission, and not least individuals, hearts, destinies. The conversation takes leaps and bounds. We laugh together. Derail each other. Get irritated. Find the trail again. Amidst it all, nuances and estimations interconnect like ablueprintfrom the memory. The units fit together in a mysterious way. Pull on one thread, and bells ring from all directions. We dwell a while on the starting point: the motivation for writing this book. The whole point -- for goodness sake -- hasn’t gotten lost in the fascination for technology and details?
Then Odd begins to talk about Africa. He tells about a conference on hydropower and sustainable development in Johannesburg. The background for Odd’s participation is the Andhikhola project, which was honored with the Blue Planet Prize the year before.All the development experts are there. Every single government in Africa is represented at the ministerial meeting that follows. Theconference planning teamhas defined the subject for him. What Odd is to do is to tell about his work in Nepal—as a practical example of the new, great trendy term in development philosophy: HumanCapacityBuilding.
Afterward Odd confirms - somewhat surprisedly - how sensational and unusual his message and methods actually are in this international development milieu.
- It dawned on me that what we’ve done in Nepal must have been missing on the African continent, he says.
For some reason or another it has been unthinkable for the foreign development agencies to build up local, national infrastructure and competence for hydropower development.In any case, there is nothing similar whatsoever to the combination of BPC, Himal Hydro and NHE any place in all of Africa — not even in South Africa. To build a national capability from the ground up? Who would have thought of that?
The big development banks like the Asian Bank, African Bank and World Bank are usually involved in all the bigger development projects in developing countries. They make demands that contractors and suppliers for projects have broad previous experience. The first to be weeded out, then, are young businesses from the recipient country. For there are no firms there who have documentable competence in, for example, hydropower plant construction. And if they do exist, they have very limited experience. If they do have experience all the same, it is still far from adequate to satisfy the demands of the big banks, when they have to compete on equal footing with suppliers from the whole world.
It’s precisely this vicious cycle that Odd has broken, by building up a family of firms through a series of hydropower projects. A former colleague of Odd from the hydropower projects in Nepalconfirms how unusual this Nepali example is. Now he works with hydropower development in Rwanda and Guinea. When he tells his engineering colleagues and project leaders there about the hydropower projects Tinau,Andhikhola, Jhimruk og Khimti, he is met with unbelieving stares: It is not possible to build a hydropower plant with so little money, and such primitive methods!
That it still worked and was possible is enough to awake rejoicing, and make even radical activists take pause: «As a young nature conservator in Norway I hated the hydropower construction,» tells Eva Bratholm in an article, after a visit to the Khimti-hydropower plant in Nepal. But now she looks at it differently. A dam can be really beautiful – especially when one thinks of what the electricity means in terms of development and changed lives for the inhabitants of the country. “Electricity is hard core development,” she writes: “From this perspective it is grotesquely unfair that 1.3 billion people live without electricity!”
Then perhaps the example of Khimti especially is worth studying in detail, which is one of the few examples where industry and official development aid have cooperated closely. This is 2009: The NorwegianMinister of ‘development and foreign affairs’declares that the “government wishes to stimulate Norwegianbusinesses to involve themselves more actively in the industrial sector of developing countries.»
Former Norad chief Per Řystein Grimstad points out that «From the Norwegian side we have a successful example [of this form of cooperation] through Odd Hoftun’s development of hydropower in Nepal. But [it is] at the same time an example of the fact that things take time, several decades in this instance.»
So then perhaps the main point of this book is to share Odd’s experiences as a hydropower plant builder?
No. The main point lies somewhere else: Not in the results of the work, but in the motivation for it. This was what Odd found a new expression of in South Africa: HumanCapacityBuilding. The discussion after his presentation give him an “aha” experience.
Well, but this concept describes just what he’s been working on for fifty years. The goal in everything he has done, from teachingnew apprentice boys in the use of hand tools, to the work of creating structures for industry and hydropower development as kind of ‘society construction’, the aim has the whole time been to build up proficiencies and attitudes. To build from the bottom up, with a minimum of resources, starting on a small scale, but allocating the time it takes.
In his presentation in South Africa, Odd emphasizes that it wasn’t as a result of a well-planned effort that the work developed in the way it did: «For human capacity building can’t happen through directives from above. Neither does it fit in as a part of emergency aid after disasters where the timeframe is too short. It is more like the courage and the faith that is needed to plant a seed. After that you water and fertilize, but otherwise for the most part you step aside, let things take their time and quite simply watch it grow. For both people and institutions are organisms that need to be allowed to find their own way and shape.» And he concludes; “human capacity building won’t happen automatically as a result of a strategy. It cannot be accomplished by pouring in money. Too much money is like poison for human development, exactly as too much artificial fertilizer can kill a tender young plant. The need is for people who have a strong faith that something is important! People who are willing to go out and start a process, and have the patience needed to see the ship into port. For it is people that it is all about.»
. . .
And so it is summer and Erik and Jannicke and the five grandchildren come from
Washington, and there are bright, long, playful days with laughter and games on the lawn outside at grandma Tullis and grandpa Odd’s. Tullis is in the middle of the muddle, Odd comes down from the loft once in a while, with his eyebrows far up his forehead.
And then comes the autumn, and Odd discovers that he has developed a “luxury problem”. The past few years he has gotten out a ladder and clippers in the afternoon when the weather is good and thrown himself into a battle with the blackberry thicket that lay in a tangle across the lawn. Hundreds of thousands of millions of thorns! He has actually managed to get the long, stubborn shoots to stretch their vines up along the sun-warmed rock wall at the back of the house. Of course it is against the blackberry bush’s nature. But it stretches upward anyway, and is now hung with big, black clusters of sun-ripened berries. It’s more than he can manage. He needs help from the neighbors to pick them—just help yourselves!