New Internationalist

Questions to ask about an aid project

Issue 082

Despite all good intentions, massive government-to-government aid just doesn’t seem to be able to reach the poorest of the poor in the Third World. However, small-scale projects aimed at correcting underlying inequalities can be successful. But what criteria do we use to evaluate such aid?

Here, the San Francisco-based Institute for Food and Development Policy raises eight key questions for judging aid projects. On the following three pages we look at two projects that come close to fulfilling the criteria. Flora Moon explains why the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee has enjoyed success and acceptance and Steve Seaborn reports on a Botswana weaving cooperative that challenges some traditional barriers.

1 Whose project IS it? Is it the donor agency’s? OR Does it originate with the people involved.

2 Does the project define the problem as a technical or physical deficiency (e.g. poor farming methods or depleted soils) that can be overcome with the right technique and skills? OR Does it first tackle the under­lying social, economic and political constraints that stand in the way of solving the physical or technical problem?

3 Does the project strengthen the economic and political position of a certain group, creating a more prosperous enclave which then becomes resistant to any change that might abolish its privileges? OR Does it generate a shift in power to the powerless?

4 Does the project focus only on the needs of individuals? OR Does it help individuals who are now powerless to see their common interest with others and so lead to unified efforts through which cooperative strength is built?

5 Does the project merely help individuals adjust to their exploitation by such external forces as the national government or the international market? OR Does it encourage an understanding of that exploitation and a resistance to it?

6 Does the project, through the intervention of outside experts, take away local initiative? OR Does it generate a process of democratic decision-making and a thrust toward self-reliance that can carry over to future projects?

7 Does the project reinforce dependence on outside sources of material and skills OR Does it use local ingenuity, local labour and local materials, and can it be maintained with local skills?

8 Will success only be measured by the achievement of the pre-set plans of outsiders? OR Is the project open­ended, with success measured by the local people as the project progresses?

The first critical measure of an effective development project is whether the outside agency sees its role as going into the Third World to set things right. Or does it see itself as a supporter of local people who are already doing something to help themselves? The role of Western sympathisers is not to start the train moving but to remove the obstacles in its way especially those originating in our own countries. We can provide some fuel for the train too - if it's needed.

The approach a voluntary agency takes will depend on the nature of the host government. In Third World countries allowing freedom of move­ment and speech, it's possible to work through legal organisations. When the government is itself an active and central part of the redistribution of resources and power, it is possible to work directly with the government. In most countries, however, where the government is brutally repressing movements for change, it is necessary to work discreetly, supporting directly local efforts to build alternatives.

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