We love to use the words “partner” and “partnership” in cross-cultural and development work, but do people on the other side feel like partners or means to an end? Do we really want partners, or do we want locals to help translate and implement our ideas and projects? We need to honestly ask.
If that catches your attention, see what Vinoth Ramachandra wrote this week. He’s writing about Christian mission, but it’s a short step to apply these thoughts to development work as well. Here’s something to wet your taste.
It is troubling that mission has been reduced to what we (the relatively well-off) do in other cultures and places, and does not seem to apply to what the poor can do for us and what we can do for them where we are. Those who live in the poorer South are constantly at the receiving end of “packaged” gospels, discipleship courses, leadership seminars, church-growth “gurus”, even sermons and “worship” DVDs from rich churches abroad. The latter have no desire to learn from others and, ironically, have little impact in their own societies…..
“Partnership” has been a buzz-word…cynics will say that it is simply a disguise for neo-colonial mission. Like
I’ve been reading When Helping Hurts, a book about how many international aid and development efforts end up harming the recipients.
This isn’t a new idea, but I think this is the first book to address the issue from a Christian perspective. Christians play a huge role in relief and development work around the world and in their home countries, mostly with the best of intentions, but the sad truth exposed in this book is that many of their efforts have more negative effects than positive ones. The positive message is that we can do better and be part of genuine development and change; but it’s not going to be quick or easy.
[Update: To be clear, negative effects are an issue across the board, not just in Christian aid efforts.]
I had a conversation once with someone who asked why I would criticize well-meaning people. My short answer: Because they hurt other people. I think people who really have good intentions want to know this and change course.
But how can this be? How can professional agencies created to help people in need become complicit in their suffering and injustice? How can a caring student in Texas start …
“…development is the gradual emergence of a problem-solving system” (William Easterly)
Development isn’t the same as targeting aid to solve problems. The truth is, when international aid hinders or delays locally initiated and developed solutions, then it is counter-productive to development. International aid needs to work itself out of a job, but will the institutions behind international aid let that happen?
He starts out with The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, a well known book calling the wealthy nations to give more — much more — money to stimulate development in the poorer countries of the world. He casually slips in that Jeffrey Sachs helped the countries of the former Soviet Union in their painful (some would say “misconceived”) transition to capitalism, indicating the direction the rest of the article will take.
The next three books come from a variety of sources, but they all share a common belief that international aid isn’t working and giving more isn’t the answer. I’ve read the first book, The White Man’s Burden, by William Easterly. The other do are on my wish list at Amazon: Africa Unchained, by George Ayittey and Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, by Dambisa Moyo.
Thomas ends with a reluctant swipe at Bono and his very popular ONE Campaign. I love U2 …
It’s popular to talk about increasing international aid. People want to help, and we especially want to help the poorest of the poor. But what if the money we send sometimes hurts the ones we intend to help? What do we say when African experts say aid organizations thwart the poor and undermine efforts to hold corrupt governments accountable? Who will step in?
If this piques your interest, read William Easterly’s important book, The White Man’s Burden. It is a must read to balance the calls to save the world by giving more and more money. William Easterly is not against international aid. He wants aid organizations to be held accountable to produce positive results. He points out that NGO’s and their workers have their own self-interests (to grow as organizations, to receive more donations, to gain recognition, etc.). Their real “customers/clients” (who must be satisfied) are not the aid recipients but the rich donors (who “pay the bills”). Easterly’s well researched book (and now blog) make a …