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Aid vs. Development

“Is the blogging cloud about to burst?” asked Duncan Green on his Oxfam blog yesterday. With the closure of Aid Watchers and several others of note, he ponders the relevance and sustainability of do-gooder blogs in the “save the world” space. So much to consider. Here’s the one item that caught my eye:

“I was shocked when Bill Easterly and Laura Freschi announced that they were closing down the popular Aid Watch blog due to Chinese meal syndrome – they wanted to stop snacking and free up more time for longer research pieces. Interestingly, they also cited the urge to move from talking about aid to talking about development.”

Flipping to the Guardian, I then read this piece about USAID Director Raj Shah entitled, “Our aid work is for the American people.” It’s a profile and summary of Shah’s leadership to improve America’s premiere assistance agency. In it, I was taken by this:

“On such subjects (referring to oral rehydration) Shah is a powerful advocate for aid, but question him on controversial aspects of US development policy, such as subsidies to US cotton farmers that will hit west Africa so badly, and he becomes vague – an indication of how USAID can find its work undermined by other government department polices such as on trade and agriculture.”

Why is it so easy for us to talk about aid and not development? More importantly, why are we disconnecting the two?

Aid is, just as one would expect, an immediate response to disaster, crisis or conflict. It is urgent and tangible, able to quell suffering and assist those in need – at that moment. It’s the now.

Development is the future. And, as we all know, the future takes time. (Winning the future may take even longer.) Getting there is unpredictable and requires planning and patience, especially when working to revitalize countries and communities that have suffered through disaster, crisis or conflict. While material resources propel it forward, it is anchored entirely in leadership. Therein lies the problem.

Aid, something concrete for an individual or government to administer, is an act, not expectation. While it can and should be part of a larger development solution, it is often isolated from the harder work development demands. And development demands a lot. Ending poverty, hunger or disease requires more than material goods. It calls for effective policies and governance to create the framework that allows countries to thrive. A practical approach that is infinitely difficult, though not impossible, to achieved in a political world.

Ah politics and the complicated subject of vested interests, constituents and policy. We won’t open up here. But we will throw open the discussion: How can we consolidate aid and development not only into a single discussion but also into an approach that helps developing nations grow beyond the challenges of hunger, poverty and disease?

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  1. Nancy Bacon says:

    Well put– aid is transactional in that we are giving them something to ease an immediate need. Development gets more into transformational work intended to change the circumstances that cause poverty in the first place. But development can mean different things to different people, as some take an “economic development” approach and others work with the full fabric of society. I would go one step further… moving from aid to development to social change that is locally led with the financial and technical support provided as needed. Social change leads to a structural shift in the institutions and systems that keep poor people poor; changing how the economy, political structure, education system, etc. work will lead to longer term poverty alleviation.

  2. Jim says:

    “How can we consolidate aid and development not only into a single discussion but also into an approach that helps developing nations grow beyond the challenges of hunger, poverty and disease?”

    and creates a stable climate and restores biodiversity? And works for peace.

    Too many siloes– not enough integrated thinking.

    “Serious” people break problems down into micro-meaningless micro-problems. Make a salary by getting grants, and use part of that money to publicize how wonderful they are. Meanwhile, the next generation inherits melting icecaps.

    Corporation take the profits and externalize problems.
    Nonprofits take the grants from corporations, and externalize any problem they didn’t get a grant for;
    and in the process, create and ignore other problems.

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