Linda Cloutier is a certified teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique in Ottawa, Canada. Before becoming a TM teacher she worked for 20 years with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), an organization that administered Canadian foreign aid programs in developing countries. She worked in the areas of program management, planning and analysis.
I recently talked with Linda to get an understanding of what is involved in International Development.
Helen: Briefly, can you tell me what goals governments set when they decide to provide development assistance to a country?
Linda: The Golden Rules of development are “empowerment”, “local ownership” and “sustainability”. That is, the best solutions come from within not from outside. When local people feel involved and committed, their goodwill improves the results of the project.
Governments in developing countries have usually worked out an official development plan that identifies their country’s strengths and weaknesses and outlines the major areas of concern. High on the agenda in most cases are education, health, private sector development, environmental sustainability, and an array of governance issues such as improving the judicial system or strengthening technical and organizational capacities within the government.
For example, when I was in the Central Asian Republics, they (and all the other former Soviet states including Ukraine) were still dealing with the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. When that huge, highly centralized system crumbled, new, locally-grown ways of managing had to be created, social services had to be delivered differently, and the private sector had to become stronger. In Bangladesh, which is one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, the focus of the development program was different. A major concern there was and still is providing people with a basic education and adequate health care.
Helen: Looking at development from a human perspective, you said that the best solutions come from within and that the goodwill of the people makes a big difference. Is that really a significant factor?
Linda: It is. Time and again in development projects we noted that it was the strength of the individuals managing the project more than the exact details of the project itself that made it successful. It is surprising how one dynamic, clear-thinking person, or just a few, can inspire many more to produce their best.
One example comes to mind. It was a small project in Uzbekistan that had a big impact in the community. An ancient bathhouse in Bukhara used traditionally by the local women was about to be closed due to disrepair. This bathhouse, you need to understand, was not like a modern spa. It was a place for the many people without running water at home to bathe themselves and their children. It was also a place for women to have a health check, do baby massage, get counselling in times of trouble, find refuge in times of need, and, not least, to catch a few moments of respite from the daily routine.
One 72 year old lady saw the importance of the bathhouse for the community and took charge. She got funding for some basic materials from the Canadian development fund and talked the local men into helping with the rest. In their enthusiasm to repair the building properly, the men discovered the original heating system under the stone floors and set it back into perfect working order. The ancient bath is fully functioning again and is used by hundreds of women and children on a regular basis. One lady set all this in motion.
Helen: Transcendental Meditation is a technique that significantly develops the inner potential of an individual on the level of the mind, body and behavior. Could the widespread introduction of TM in a country become a tool to enhance development?
Linda: Something Maharishi said really struck home to me while I was working in development. He said that the individual is the “unit of world peace”. A forest is green only because the individual trees in the forest are green. Obvious when you think of it, isn’t it? This technique of Transcendental Meditation is a very empowering one. It gives individuals a chance to take charge of their own lives, their own circumstances, and to be a part of the solution for their own society.
There is a lot of evidence showing that people who regularly practice TM become more dynamic and clear-thinking. Research has demonstrated that TM can improve brain functioning and intelligence, improve creativity, and increase job performance.
TM is even being found to decrease crime and violent behavior when enough people in a community practice it together. Studies on this have been done in Manila, New Delhi, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. Statistically significant declines in violent crime were registered at times when large numbers of people were practicing Transcendental Meditation.
A very intriguing case occurred in Mozambique. In the 1990’s the country overcame a 15 year civil war, built political coalitions, increased in prosperity, significantly decreased child mortality and increased school attendance. Joaquim Chissano, who was President at that time, attributes this impressive turnaround to having introduced Transcendental Meditation to his government officials and to the military.
So yes, I think it’s entirely possible that widespread introduction of TM can lead to improvements in quality of life and more prosperity – the goals of development. Is it a coincidence that I became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation after retiring from international development? Not at all!
 Travis, F., Haaga, D.H., Hagelin, J., Tanner, M., Nidich, S., Gaylord-King, C., Grosswald, S., Rainforth, M., & Schneider, R. (in press). Effects of Transcendental Meditation Practice on Brain Functioning and Stress Reactivity in College Students. International Journal of Psychophysiology.  Travis, F. The Transcendental Meditation technique and creativity: A longitudinal study of Cornell University undergraduates. Journal of Creative Behavior 13: 169–180, 1979.  Frew, D.R. Transcendental Meditation and productivity. Academy of Management Journal 17: 362–368, 1974.  Hagelin, J.S. et al. Effects of group practice of the Transcendental Meditation program on preventing violent crime in Washington, DC: Results of the National Demonstration Project, June–July 1993. Social Indicators Research 47: 153–201, 1999.