Connecting local responses around the world
Without sounding ungrateful one wonders if aid agencies or development partners are as effective in helping Third World countries in their course towards sustainable development. In Swaziland it began as an emergency response where food aid is concerned, but it later became an annual event. Some communities have become perpetual beneficiaries of food aid despite having received good rains, farm inputs, etc. They simply will not apply any effort towards producing their own food. This has resulted in unprecedented levels of dependency which will remain with our communities for years to come.
The dependency syndrome, to further clarify, is the attitude and belief that communities cannot solve their own problems without outside assistance. In this case, communities believe they cannot solve their own food insecurity situations without receiving food or grains and other inputs from donors. To achieve aid effectiveness, it is my opinion that there are better approaches that can be employed to make sure that our development approach is strategic. To use a common statement to best describe aid effectiveness, it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him the fish. It suggests that the focus should be building the capacity of the community to be self sufficient rather than relying on unsustainable donations and food distributions. In an effort to put this into practice, some NGOs have together with beneficiaries initiated projects such as cooperative schemes and other forms of income generating activities responding to community needs as they perceive them.
I recently visited a community based organization in Tanzania, Mwanza which, works with communities to enhance their livelihoods. They utilize income generating activities in their area and they believe they are more effective and sustainable than the handouts. The organization has over the years experienced a shift and a decrease in the number of drop outs in their community interventions because members see the value of being part of a community development initiative that does not only address their immediate need but has long term sustainable benefits directed to them. My visit with the organization confirmed that ownership through participation in change should is integral in the development process, and that it leads to the development of home grown solutions. It is worth noting that ineffectiveness of interventions sometimes is not about the type of intervention but rather the approach employed by the intervener and their perceptions towards the situation of the beneficiary. Intervention ideas not informed by the beneficiary community lead to ineffectiveness of aid.
If we continue to force aid onto communities because of ideologies born out of top down approaches we create and entrench a cycle of mediocrity on these communities. Instead of them being appreciative of our efforts, they will curse the day we were born as they will continue being trapped in the cycle of poverty. And more than anything our so-called development initiatives will not lead to any positive impact and yield the change we desire. I believe that aid, if not properly coordinated or informed by the intended beneficiaries, it does not bring community change neither does it bring development to those communities it is directed to. This therefore underscores the need for donors to work together with government, NGOs, communities and other development partners to forge and develop a strategic development response so we can realize aid effectiveness.
One chooses not to believe the “myth” that donor agencies have another agenda besides helping the poor and those living in the margins of society. One wonders if the aid we see is not pegged on benefits associated with vested interests in these poor nations. An approach in aid that does not integrate the voices of those who are beneficiaries of the aid is suspect because it is unsustainable and keeps people trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Aid effectiveness can be experienced when governments, NGOs, development partners and community members become partners in development. Partners who will respond to emergencies but keep their eye on strategic approaches to development – because as much as poor nations blame their governments and donors for their lack of effectiveness in service delivery – they are also in the larger scheme of things part of the problem – by creating a situation where they will completely be dependent on aid.