I recently questioned in this post if Rule of Law (ROL) programs, as practiced, are really just a resurrection of the Law and Development Movement (which I also blogged about here). My reaction was a pragmatic one: While I am interested in these debates and intend to continue to follow them, my belief is that there will not be one true solution, and I seek solace in the practical differences I make to people. Still, from my humble bottom-up grassroots beginnings in the development world, in recent years I find myself focusing increasingly on strategic and institutional issues, governance and legal/judicial reform work, and high level policy and law. Definitely top-down. And at the 1000 foot level it is sometimes different to see if we do make any impact at all.
Recently, however, The Asia Foundation, with funding from the ABD, published a paper suggesting a bottom-up approach: ‘Legal Empowerment: Advancing Good Governance and Poverty Reduction’, in Law and Policy Reform at the Asian Development Bank, by Stephen Golub and Kim McQuay Manila, 2001 (Full document at the ADB's website.) This article speaks to me, in light of my past experiences in the field, with NGOs like the one mentioned in the paper. Moving away from top-down ROL via institutions, the article uses disadvantaged groups as the focal point of asking: How can legal services and related activities increase their control over their lives? This also intersects nicely with Sen's 'freedom' concept, as well as the 'Rights Based' approaches that many prominent grassroots focussed NGOs- like CARE and Oxfam- have adopted.