Sustainability (Fridays): Condescension in Aid Work
Especially with respect to Africa, there has been some type of 'aid' for centuries. In the past aid used to come in the form of religious missionaries spreading both good-will and good-actions, but also...religion. Modern-day aid, however, has become much more secular. This aid has come in the form of private organizations (NGOs) through governments' fixed direct investments and through international organizations like the World Bank and the World Health.
And while it probably existed in the past, resentment towards both secular and nonsecular aid seems to be crescendoing recently. Dambiso Moyo wrote a whole book on the subject, called Dead Aid. There are scores of articles and editorials (including this dramatic reading by Djimon Hounsou) condemning the practices of a given in its current form. And a common theme seems to be the growing backlash against the condescension of aid workers and their use of aid work work as a form off tourism. But there's also the creeping sentiment that aid itself is unsustainable and that the 'charity' based models fail to correct the structural problems.
Without wading into that larger debate, let make a couple of points. First, the condescencion argument is absolutely right on many fronts. But the most egregious is where there are talented staff within a country and NGOs prefer to bring expats to do the same job. And propagate this error by not sending a sufficient number of these talented hires from their home country to NGOs projects in other countries. There's ample evidence that diversity itself adds value to the human workforce of any organization and adding individuals who've grown up in countries where aid is given can only augment the a team.
The other point to make is a slight push-back against the de-valuing of aid. Supposing that the aid workers aren't condescending (or that there's sufficient diversity within the NGO), there's a role for short term/goal oriented projects, especially in the health sector . For example, mass vaccinations during a measles outbreak or acute treatment of a cholera epidemic can overwhelm local resources. And what's needed is a temporary fix - an NGO with sufficient medical/logistic/admin capabilities to assist a defined population for a defined time period. One could argue that what's really needed is for better structural improvents in countries' vaccination programs or in the water safety - and that's right. But there's also a value for that kid at risk for measles or that woman suffering from cholera to get the appropriate treatment right now.