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Folk Songs From the Aid Industry

Last week, in a flash of pique, I dashed off a blog entry welcoming the funding cut to a Canadian aid industry association which had been mostly funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).  I highlighted the absurd circular relationship whereby CIDA gave money to the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) so they could then turn around and lobby CIDA to spend more on aid (via the CCIC and its members).

When the post went up, I re-read it and cringed.  I said to myself “Yup. This is going to make me very unpopular.”  But being stubborn (and not a little bit lazy), I left it up.  To my surprise I quickly received several messages of support and a few phone calls. The founder of a Canadian NGO I greatly admire sent a note of congratulations for my “bravery” which actually made me very nervous ( I asked myself “Christ, what have I done?”)

Some readers from overseas pointed out that the exact same thing was going on in New Zealand until the government there also decided aid money should be spent on aid and not an industry association.  Others (hat tip to Cynan Houghton) made the comparison with the UK and the US, where similar organizations are almost entirely funded by their member organizations and not by the governments they are lobbying.

A couple days later the Ottawa Citizen newspaper offered to run the piece in their weekend analysis section under the headline “Cuts to aid a good idea? ‘Dialogue’ amongst yourselves“.  I hesitated for a moment, and I confess I toned down some of the language (though I inexplicably left in the bit about my secret stash of desk whiskey).

Once again, I braced myself for the angry letters. They didn’t come.  Instead, my inbox filled up with more emails of support, people offering to volunteer, and CIDA employees who had thought funding CCIC had always been ridiculous. Compared to anything else I’ve published, this drew the most people out of the woodwork. I spoke to former political staffers from both the Liberal and Conservative parties who had worked in the CIDA minister’s office.  They shared the exact same frustrations with the cozy relationship that Canadian NGOs had developed with the government.

I think it is clear that there is considerably more broad-based support in the general public and in the Canadian aid industry for aid reform than would appear obvious on the surface.  The current debate is being dominated by the usual suspects (like CCIC) who have only one slogan “Spend More!” But I am willing to bet there are far more out there would would rather be shouting “Spend Better!”

For the “Spend Better” crowd, I offer you the little ditty below.  It was sent to me by someone (thanks Peggy!) who saw the Citizen piece.  Apparently this circulated a few years ago. Enjoy.

“Donors Refrain”

Beneficiaries here I come
A donor with a tidy sum
Farther Christmas is my name
And spending targets are my game
That all will gain that is the notion
You get cash, we’ll get promotion

Help me be a good provider
Open up your mouths much wider
What I bring is sure to please
Sacks with stacks of free goodies
All you have to do is take em
Evaluations… huh, we can fake em

Make disbursements that’s a must
Where they go we will adjust
Take the lot and quickly spend
Financial year is near its end.
All that a matter is spend the budget!

Retained consultants will report
Contractors acted, as they ought
None of the structure was defective
Monies spent were cost-effective
All the data that’s obtainable
Shows your project to be sustainable.

Shun that mean facilitator.
What he will bring will be less and later
PRA is but a con,
Make your own map, they’ll move on
Their approach will make you sick
All they can hand you is a stick

Participation too’s a mess
You do more they do less
What good calling you just actors
Better cash from benefactors
You, the poor should never spurn
Gifts you do not have to earn


Donor we reject your song
Top down targets are plainly wrong
Floods of funds as in your verse
Corrupt, spoil and only make things worse.
KEEP YOUR MONEY, we will show
True development is from below

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Peace Dividend Trust and Shannon Sortland, Scott Gilmore. Scott Gilmore said: My article decrying NGOs and govt donors cozy relationship attracted unexpected support and even a folk song: […]

  2. Fascinating review… I really substantially liked the references to other blogs as I haven’t found lots of info on this topic. Thank you!

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