Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Making Change

Sometimes one reads something that just resonates. That's how I feel about this piece by J at WhyDev?

Especially this bit:
Whether you’re local or expat, whether you’re on the tail end of the cold chain, injecting babies with live vaccines all day or, or whether you’re sitting in a cubicle editing the notes from life-saving meetings, you need to understand that you’re part of a machine that makes changes in other people’s lives. It can be intrusive. It can be invasive. It is audacious. 
There appears to be rising chatter in the online aid world about "listening to beneficiaries" (which, frankly, should not be getting play as a new and original idea). While, of course, partnering with the people you're trying to help is necessary to ensure success and sustainability, I cringe every time I read something which implies that the local people really have all the answers. If things are great just as they are, or even if the local population has all the answers and just needs a little funding, aid workers should get out of the way. The one and only justification for aid workers is that they bring some particular knowledge or skill to a situation that would not otherwise exist. This does not mean that the aid workers are more important that the local people. It's not a value judgement. The local people don't have to have all the answers. They're the ones in the situation. They're living the situation that they want changed (and if they don't want it changed, again, aid workers should go home). The aid workers, on the other hand, do have to justify their presence. If they're not there to change something, if they're just there to acquire an understanding of the situation, it's a problem.

Right. Rant over. Go read the post.

2 comments:

  1. "The one and only justification for aid workers is that they bring some particular knowledge or skill to a situation that would not otherwise exist."

    This is the world as it should be. But in the world as it is a lot of aid programmes (and therefore aid workers) are primarily protecting interests (of donors) and governing money. And this is why despite the fact that the principle of accountability to the people they are supposed to benefit is old news, it does not happen enough. I absolutely agree with your point about the all too common, naive "communities know best" rhetoric, but I don't think everyone who is calling for accountability is actually saying that.

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  2. Agreed but I'd like those who are saying it to stop.

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