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Is development aid racist?

Here we are sharing an article written by  Syed Mohammad Ali  published in ‘Express Tribune’ on August 11, 2016

Faced with multiple and recurrent development challenges, it is important to keep questioning whether prevalent approaches to international aid and development are indeed the most effective ways to alleviate and address the suffering of millions of people around the world. The institutional architecture for the delivery of international aid has become increasingly sophisticated over the past 70 years. In addition to espousing increasingly ambitious aims, and garnering ever-larger resources, a greater number of stakeholders have also come to the fore in trying to achieve varied development goals. These development stakeholders include multilateral and bilateral development agencies, which work with an increasing number of government agencies, as well as multitudes of non-government organisations within both developed and developing countries.

This gradual growth in the number of development partners does enable fairly complex development interventions to be launched across different parts of the world. For example, multilateral development agencies like the World Bank or UN agencies, and bilateral donor agencies of richer countries like the Canadian International Development Agency or the United States Agency of International Development, individually or jointly, finance development efforts around the world. International aid is routed through governments of developing countries directly, or given through international NGOs, which in turn work with national NGOs, and their local community based partners. This aid in turn funds projects and programmes designed to address a range of socio-economic issues (from improved governance to gender empowerment), and to provide varied social services (education, health or water and sanitation facilities) in different parts of the world, with very different ground realities.

While the above scenario demonstrates the growing complexity of the global development sector, this complexity does not automatically imply that the manner in which development efforts take place has been perfected. There are, in fact, several important issues which need to be addressed in order to make the ongoing multi-stakeholder development efforts more effective. Perhaps, the most important of these issues concerns the lingering challenge of how best can development aid can be used to address problems which have most relevance to poor and marginalised communities in different places, each with its own unique circumstances and challenges.

There are growing demands for accountability and transparency from both ends of the international aid system. Faced with ever-greater requests for aid, major multilateral and bilateral donors want to know exactly where their money is going. At the same time there is a growing demand demonstrate accountability and to give a greater say to the recipients of aid.

Currently, the international development model is primarily driven by the need to quantify and report results. Qualifying for an aid grant to undertake development work requires extensive documentation, including project appraisals, assessments, projections and estimations which many locally based organisations feel hard-pressed to fulfill. These underlying imperatives have led to the creation of large NGOs, mostly headquartered in the global north, which excel at ‘accounts-ability’.

There is ample evidence showing how international aid delivered via locally based NGOs is often quicker, cheaper and also more culturally appropriate. Yet, local and national NGOs are often bypassed by the international aid system. Almost all aid funding continues to flow to the large international development agencies and organisations. The World Disasters Report estimates that only 1.6 per cent of aid given in the times of humanitarian crises is directly given to local NGOs. Moreover, the number of organisations sharing the annual aid flows is also declining. Only 10 INGOs received 36 per cent of all the funding provided to the NGO sector during this past year.

Many local NGOs have begun to accuse the international aid sector of being racist and of being monopolised by a handful of northern-based NGOs. Local NGOs are also demanding increased direct funding, instead of having to getting project based funding through international NGOs. Unless local NGOs are given more funding directly, they will not be able to build their own institutional capacity. Besides providing direct funding, there is also need to pay more need to locally based NGOs while formulating aid policies, so that they can also have more of a say in how aid should be channeled to meet the specific needs of local communities in different parts of the world. 

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

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