Interesting debate here at LSHTM last night: “Does development assistance help or hinder?” with Rifat Atun, Imperial College London, Andy Haines, LSHTM and Nuria Molina, Save the Children.
Everyone agreed that there was a need for greater accountability in the aid industry. Which led to the inevitable calls for more governing bodies, and impartial seers.
But what, then, of the idea that poverty is a lack of choice? All of this planning is just another imposition on poorer (less powerful) people. The aid industry has huge power – through NGOs or governments – and is not inclined to give it away to the people. A selfish bureaucracy reigns.
Would it be so terrible to side-step the bureaucrats and give the money directly to the people who need it? Not top down, literally a monthly or yearly living allowance in their pockets. Without all that schmoozing to do and wasting time fighting at summits, aid agencies could focus on attracting people’s custom by offering the best services. Investors might invest in promising start-ups who could show innovation in the field of helping people. The people who are supposed to be gratefully receiving the benevolence of the aid industry would have, for the first time, a position of power and a position to choose. The aid agencies would answer to them.
Radical? Right wing? Not really. This is about shifting power from the richest to the poorest people in the world. While we’re falling over ourselves to please donors, do we ever stop to think about how we’re pleasing the people we claim to want to help?