Power as well as money must be handed to the recipientsby Tom Dichter / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Can a sclerotic, half-century-old foreign aid system change? That question is now being asked by its primary clients—the people of developing countries. Between 2011 and 2013, in a study for the United States development agency USAID, my associates and I spoke to more than 500 such people in nine countries, from Peru to Sri Lanka. The study suggests that change will be difficult, but that it must happen if aid is to become more effective.
We found several new trends among recipient countries: an increasing willingness to say no to donor conditions at the risk of getting less money; a growing negative reaction to training and to external assertions that “we’ll show you how it’s done”; a strong desire to take charge of the aid agenda—more and more people in developing countries don’t want to simply “participate” in the work of development (the buzzword of the 1990s), they want to set the agenda; and a rising cry for greater trust between donors and recipients.
While the major donors endorsed the notion of “country ownership” where the receiving country oversees the aid relationship, not the donor—a concept that implicitly embodies the above trends—as far back as the “Paris Declaration” of 2005, the recipient countries are tired of waiting around for that commitment to be fulfilled. They are beginning to invoke the inherent logic of country ownership: if “they” are to own it, then “we” (the donors) must cease to do so.
Working against country ownership is an old habit—dependency. Roughly half of the countries now receiving development aid have been receiving it for at least 50 years—such steady clients as Kenya, the Philippines, Haiti and Nepal. The legacy of that long record of assistance is not only the multi-layered archaeology of projects (a water system installed by one donor in the 1980s lies beneath a newer one installed by another in the 1990s, for example), but the sad phenomenon of dependency, or more accurately “co-dependency.” For both sides—the development industry and the development aid recipients—need each other.
In this co-dependent world, supply and demand are not as clear cut as they seem. Kenya’s need for water system…