Making Aid More Effective: Base it on People Power!

13/10/2011 at 6:38 pm 10 comments

At the end of November, leaders of rich and poor countries from around the world will gather in Busan, South Korea, to discuss how they can make aid more effective.

As set out in our earlier blog posts, this is an important meeting, as it tries to set a course for Governments on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The meeting in Busan follows up on early summits on this issue, in particular the 2005 Paris Declaration and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, which were organised as aid donors realised that the current donor landscape is not conducive to delivering on the MDGs.

The 2005 summit started from a very technocratic point of view, and formulated a set of principles and mechanisms for greater donor coordination: the idea was to make “overseas aid” more effective. The 2008 summit, rightly, broadened the discussion, and looked at how to get better at bringing about “Development” (not just do aid better), and how to get “civil society” involved. At the Accra summit, Governments realised that to “make poverty history”, the international community must do more to address the root causes of poverty.

Since then, NGOs and citizen groups from around the world have been working together to articulate their view of what “addressing the root causes of poverty effectively” means. These discussions resulted in the formulation of the Istanbul Principles on Development Effectiveness and the Siem Reap Framework for Action – both documents well worth a read.

What these documents say, in essence, is that “Development” cannot be delivered from the outside, and that “Poverty” is not merely a lack of money, food or shelter.

“Poverty” is not a lack of material goods:

  • To be poor is also to lack control over one’s life and resources.
  • Poverty is not simply a matter of scarcity: it is the result of human interaction. People keep other people poor.
  • Poverty is exclusion – from social, economic and political processes that affect one’s life.
  • Poverty is political – reflecting inequality and injustice.
  • Poverty is indignity. Poverty is the denial of access to the resources, capabilities, security and power that people need in order to realise their human right to live with dignity.

And the inverse, “Development” is the continual provision to the well-being of a country’s entire population and of all individuals: This term refers not just to economic development or, narrower still, economic growth. Development is about reversing poverty and inequality, increasing the choices and opportunities available to the poor, and protecting their human rights.

“Overseas Aid”, then, is not just about service delivery. Rather, it is about bringing down the costs of, and the barriers to, participation in essential services (health, education) and in economic and political life. For Development is essentially a political process whereby poor people are empowered to claim their rights.

The role of NGOs in this process is to enable participation in political and social processes (at home, and abroad!), and to support citizens in their efforts to breach the monopoly of power and end marginalisation of large sections of the population. In stead of focusing on delivering the services that poor people cannot obtain, NGOs should try and ensure their access to those services, and to jobs, and to protect people when they are seeking to claim their right to those.

The NGOs that work in this way will not be the “whites in shining armour” so loved by Western media. In stead, they will be Facilitators, Transition Managers and Behind-The-Scenes-Supporters. Such NGOs will make it their mission to be embedded in local civil society, and to provide the “enabling environment” for local citizens’ initiatives to reach their goals.

Effective NGOs should be connectors & bridge builders: between citizens, governments, companies, academics, consumers. Rather than running their own, stand-alone, projects, these NGOs seek to work through alliances, hybrid networks and coalitions.

And these NGOs should be supported in their work. As a recent OECD study has pointed out, when it comes to supporting NGOs, institutional donors make all the right noises, but actually don’t fund the type of NGO work that they say they like! And they don’t really help to create the space for NGOs to do that work, either (Reality of Aid study). Similarly, most citizens donating to NGOs are more interested in the level of administration costs than the real impact of the organisation they support.

It seems that when it comes to NGO work, donors want to pay for “life saving” projects, but not for the type of programmes that bring about real, lasting change for poor people.

If the upcoming Busan summit can address that issue, then it will really have made a contribution to the international “aid effectiveness” debate.

Entry filed under: Development Effectiveness. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Reviewing Ireland’s development policy – the major issues World Food Day – Time to remember the politics of Hunger.

10 Comments Add your own

  • [...] aid donors realised that the current donor landscape is not conducive to delivering on the MDGs. Click here to read remaining article. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

    Reply
  • 2. Colleen  |  02/11/2011 at 4:20 pm

    I absolutely agree that the role of NGOs is to facilitate, be a behind-the-scenes guide and bring in others as much as possible. (particularly those that don’t intend to become an institution that is around for the long-term). Although not mentioned specifically here, that role is particularly important when it comes to engaging the private sector to make sure that the activities and programs of NGOs and development agencies are enhancing rather than undermining the competitiveness of an industry and business sector.

    The challenge in this, and I suppose the challenge particularly to donors, will be to see the value in that role given that the results will be less attributable, less easy to plan and fit into a log-frame and generally less easy to communicate and measure.

    If you have ideas on how to overcome this and other challenges that arise from what could be a dramatic shift in development thinking, I’d be interested to hear them.

    Reply
  • [...] In the Huffington Post, meanwhile, Ben Phillips argued that better aid can help save the world, and NGO representatives had their hopes pinned, as they did in Accra, that the “traditional donors” of the European Union would save the summit, and save the emphasis on the role of citizen action within the overall “Development” process. [...]

    Reply
  • 4. Blake Marshman (@blakemarshman)  |  20/01/2012 at 2:05 am

    I definitely agree that NGOs role is to create interaction between impoverished groups of people with the common goal of allowing these people to escape poverty by their own means. In the world that we live in, the bigger dog eats the smaller dog. Unfortunately, this comes at the cost of many human lives being hypothetically “eaten” and denied resources, capabilities, and security. The emphasis therefore should be based on people, and not funds. If a large enough number of people feel strongly about an injustice, they usually do something about the problem or find a leader to rally behind. NGOs should be working with governments and politicians that feel strongly about the injustice that poverty creates. These operations might take time to breach these “monopolies of power,” but in the end it’s the only solution. Also much should be said for educating the youth that they can overcome, or at least fight poverty. Too many hopeless people exist in these type scenarios.

    However, I do understand that for someone to donate a large amount of money to a behind the scenes operation that slowly digs a group out of poverty, is much more difficult than if they saw pictures of food being handed out or toys given to children.

    The people power that you speak of, needs to start with the youth. A child is born with hope. Politics and power should never take this hope away. NGOs should focus on the youth movement and I believe that they would see amazing results. Training the youth on ways to escape poverty is the only way to end this trend.

    Reply
  • 5. Musings About Poverty » Naeema's Notes  |  30/04/2012 at 10:02 am

    [...] the five principles above that I borrowed from the Docha Network Blog, the last one resonated the most with me. In retrospect, the tour group I was with probably did [...]

    Reply
  • 6. Quora  |  05/07/2012 at 1:16 pm

    Where should one donate money to have maximum humanitarian impact in the world?…

    Language is important. ‘Humanitarian’ refers to a particular way of responding to emergency situations. Your question, however, seems to look for programmes that do more than ‘save lives and livelihoods’. And that is where it gets interesting, and …

    Reply
  • [...] about sustainable development without becoming ‘political’. This Dóchas blog post argues that poverty by itself is political, and this article makes the case that a fairer Ireland requires a fairer world, [...]

    Reply
  • 8. sahabat perubahan jatrova  |  26/02/2013 at 8:34 am

    Poverty and politics can not be separated, but more can not be separated again is how the poor and the children who are less fortunate are both getting the attention of individuals, groups and governments.
    Establish and assist small groups to train air feels much more business benefits to alleviate poverty.
    Companies that have economic memonopili it’s time to make a step-by-step program on CSR, CSV and Social Business.

    Reply
  • […] is not simply a matter of scarcity, but a matter of distribution of, and access to, resources. And “Development” is about reversing poverty and inequality, increasing the choices and opportunities available to poor people, and protecting their human […]

    Reply
  • 10. Padma Drago  |  10/04/2014 at 9:17 am

    How to effectively aid in a rural village:

    -Establish a bi-gender village “Elder Council”

    -Make a village internet education centre where villagers can self-educate about methods of self-sufficiency, methods of permaculture gardening, earthbag house construction, spirulina cultivation, etc.

    -Provide minimal investment such as plastic earthbags, so they can begin construction on whichever communal projects the Elder Council deems is most important.

    -Provide translations of youtube educational videos.

    -Provide some expertise guidance (one web page would suffice for all villages), recommending a tested system

    (eg,, starting with algae production and earthbag construction initial investment is minimal, and future construction is funded by algae profits.

    eg., compost production is near-zero investment since most Indians burn everything that can be burnt, and is the basis for any other plant cultivation.)

    If villagers can start turning a profit after two months, with only a $20 investment for a small spirulina pond, then they can start taking care of themselves immediately. If the children have access to the internet they will educate themselves about all needed technologies, cultivation methods, energy production, etc.

    See the “One Laptop Per Child” experiment in Ethiopia, where they left tablets in a village and illiterate children learned to read without any direct human assistance.

    Reply

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