Aid or Trade?
Our recent conference on “new voices in development” has succeeded in reviving the discussions in Ireland on how best to assist developing countries.
“At Dóchas, our aim is to ensure that Ireland’s development efforts have the greatest possible impact on global poverty. We are keen to ensure that we address the multiple dimensions of poverty, and we think the diversity of approaches and philosophies represented by the “new voices” in global development is vital if we want to help end world poverty. At the same time, we think there is a great need for professionalism and quality standards, and we encourage cooperation and debate among the many organisations that are active in this field.”
A second reason we hosted the conference related to the need to discuss the opportunities and challenges of engaging Irish businesses in the global efforts to eradicate poverty. It was this dimension that was picked up in the Irish Times article prompted by our conference.
For our part, Dóchas has always maintained that fighting poverty is about much more than the work of aid agencies, and indeed more than a question of aid.
We said so in the Oireachtas, we told the Government, and we have published research on the issue of “policy coherence for Development”. And the theme was also picked up by some of the discussions in the Irish Times.
But the question of whether poverty is best addressed by the private sector or by NGOs has not yet been answered. In recent times, some promising initiatives in this area (eg. Traidlinks and Value Added in Africa) have sprung up in Ireland, taking inspiration from the UN Global Compact.
And, in line with the growth of corporate social responsibility and philanthropist thinking, many Irish companies have begun to consider how they can assist development processes. This is of course great news.
At the same time this new corporate engagement prompts us to highlight what is perhaps one of the biggest lessons learned by NGOs in the past 40 years: Good Intentions Are Not Enough.
The Millionaire Mission TV programme showed clearly that sometimes even excellent business minds can’t think beyond a very basic charity model of engagement. And in turn, NGOs are often guilty of reducing the role of corporates to that of donor. As a result, much corporate involvement in global development is not much more than hype or symbolic gestures, and much NGO involvement has focused on unfair trade rules and the negative effects of multinational corporate practice.
What is clear, at this stage, that an awful lot more thinking and discussion is needed. Dóchas has tried to outline some of the issues from an NGO perspective. And we have encouraged our members to document their experiences and the lessons they are learning.
For if we are to find a constructive way forward, it is clear that what we need is to find a new mix of knowledge, experience and accountability, and that we need to move beyond concepts of aid as charity, towards development as a right, and aid as an obligation.