Switching the Poles - a disruptive look at development cooperation

Development cooperation is exhibiting a trend towards equal partnerships. ITM goes a fundamental step further with its ‘Switching the Poles’ philosophy: allow your Southern partners to take matters into their own hands. Dozens of organisations have already done so.  

Development aid as a money tap that rich countries turn on to help poor countries as they deem fit is a thing of the past. We’ve been taught that you shouldn’t give people a fish but instead give them a fishing rod and teach them how to fish or — even better — teach them to make the fishing rod themselves. But even that is too paternalistic. 

Sustainable development work helps countries with limited resources decide themselves what kind of future they want, how they can achieve this future and how they can maintain it if the assistance is ever cut off. That’s ‘switching the poles’: moving control to the South. ITM has been investing in the medical and scientific knowledge of its Southern partners for years. We believe this is the only way to create a sustainable, better future. Switching the poles is an initiative spearheaded by Prof. Bruno Gryseels, who has been the Institute’s director since 1995. Gryseels signed the first framework agreement between ITM and the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation in 1998, which has been financing our partners’ capacity building ever since. 

Switching the poles is also a matter of self-interest. Throughout the world, health challenges are in part determined by climate change, globalisation, urbanisation and landscape disruption. These phenomena don’t stop at a country’s borders. With our Western lifestyles we export lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes to the South. Vice versa, tourists and migrants bring new infectious diseases back to the increasingly warm North, which is becoming more and more appealing to exotic insects. It’s quite possible that we will need the medical experience of our Southern partners soon. And that’s when the poles will really have been switched.

See also switchingthepoles.itg.be