Op-ed in openDemocracy’s Transformation site

Provocative title: “Foreign aid is a waste of money–unless it’s used for transformation“. Provocative strapline: “Simplistic stories of saving children trap aid agencies inside a self-defeating logic”. And a nice theme from the book: local reformers as the unsung heroes of foreign aid.

The ongoing outcry about sexual misconduct in charities and international organisations is breathing much needed fresh air into the global aid community. However, there’s little indication that this particular scandal will have a meaningful impact on how foreign aid supports development and social change.

After all, there have been plenty of aid scandals in the past, but instead of helping donor publics to develop a better grasp of the challenges involved they’ve reinforced a survival logic that focuses on quick wins instead of longer-term institutional, economic and social transformation.

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Devex Op-ed: It is time for the aid community to abandon its siege mentality

As the #Aidtoo movement continues to unfold, some in the community are remarking on the speed and ferocity with which the public mood has turned against aid. Wondering how much of the outcry was opportunistic or downright malicious, they have met criticism with defensive cheerleading. It is an all too familiar pattern for our industry, rooted in a siege mentality. A mentality that is easy to understand and relate to, but that may no longer be a viable strategy for protecting our sector…

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The banality of certainty (Book excerpt)

Value for Money (VfM) sounds eminently reasonable. It represents the kind of due diligence we expect from modern liberal states: accountability to taxpayers’ demands that governments keep an eye on how public funds are spent, assurance that these funds are, in fact, employed for their stated purposes, and transparent management of public funds are all necessary for avoiding corruption and waste. In that light, VfM is not only reasonable but perhaps even morally desirable.

However, not all areas of public policy are equally amenable to the same calculations and standards of proof. When procuring bricks to build a school, for instance, we can easily compare the costs and estimates of different providers in order to choose the most economic, efficient, effective, and cost-effective option. As we move to less tangible goals, however, the simple logic of VfM begins to unravel, and at a certain point the demand for hard evidence does not necessarily lead to accountability. And, as we know, many development assistance goals are of the less tangible variety. Continue reading The banality of certainty (Book excerpt)

A dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants

While writing Why We Lie About Aid I enjoyed the singular advantage of standing on the shoulders of pretty gigantic intellects. If you check out the back cover you will find endorsements by four big names in development debates: David Booth, Brian Levy, Nic van de Walle, and Tom Carothers. Instead of copying here their praises for me, I though that the right thing to do would be recognize the efforts that made my book possible. Continue reading A dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants