Sep 30, 2010

Smart Aid

Until such a time that all people living in developing countries have access to quality education, full employment, clean water and sanitation, adequate housing – the basic means for one to better one’s life, we are going to keep hearing the call for individuals and organisations to open their wallets and provide help through any means possible.

In this raging aid debate let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Yes, there is good aid and there is bad aid. Instead of turning our heads away from the neediest in our societies, we need to be smart. Research the organisations to which you are sending your money. How is the money spent? What percentage goes to their overhead versus what is actually spent on the people that need it? And when you look at the projects they are funding, are they sustainable or are they just a flash in the pan? When the aid workers have left will buildings and equipment remain unused because no one bothered to train the local population on how to use them appropriately?

Another part this to consider, is this – what is the local/regional/central government doing to address the problem we are seeking to solve? Are they actively engaged and are we disincentivising them when we step in with our good intentions?  This one is a little more complicated but worth looking into nonetheless.

In a nutshell we should be looking at endeavours that give people a boost up the ladder to success in their lives. Just a few things to think about before jumping on the "let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps" wagon, not everyone has the boots to begin with. 


We need smart aid indeed. But we also need a shift in the cognitive frameworks with which we talk about international development. Now is the time to be corrective, restorative, and imaginative, with imperative and profound effect.

In working with large corporate aid agencies over the years, I continually experienced the limitations of large-scale, donor-controlled, project-based funding, recognizing the profound need for community-driven development initiatives that were genuinely responsive to local needs. I’ve also had the unique privilege to experience the impact and potential of alternative mechanisms that directly support community leaders and that, for me, highlight the way forward for the sector.

The web of local organizations and grassroots initiatives are still largely undocumented and unrecognized around the world, offers an opportunity for sustainable and large-scale responses to relief and development that even the most comprehensive and impactful macro-level, white-in-shining-armour efforts may never be able to accomplish. has already registered over 110,000 local organizations and movements working on a wide variety of issues in 243 countries. They estimate that they may well be over 1,000,000 such local groups operating across the globe.

Yet the sad reality continues; community-based organizations are not the drivers of development, nor the setters of priorities, nor the controllers of resources. While local non-profits may lack the accountability mechanisms and sophisticated procedures that would make them more recognizable or esteemed in the development sector, they have important competencies and strengths that distinguish them from other civil society actors, such as their resourcefulness, flexibility and community responsiveness--a new reality it's time to embrace.


you raise very poignant observations about community-driven development. This is indeed an oft overlooked segment of the development arena, and yet the work they do has high impact on the communities they serve. This is why it is ever more important to support their work.

Thanks for sharing!

Post a Comment