New Internationalist Issue 285 / November 1996
The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist
From this month's editor
So it was with some confidence that I set about the research; the usual round of telephone calls, meetings with experts, visits to libraries and bookshops, trawls through the continuous stream of paper that arrives at our office from every corner of the earth. These days there's the Internet to consider too, though for me it's still more a question of surfing in hope than arriving at any decipherable destination.
Before too long I was ready to go with the magazine itself. I outlined a few of the usual points about 'good' and 'bad' aid, sharpened them a little with references to the latest 'crisis', blunted them again - the byways and distractions of a discussion are an irresistible attraction for me - and set off. Perhaps I felt less sense of adventure than I sometimes do, but at least I had firm ground beneath my feet.
What I had forgotten was that if you start off with a foregone conclusion you're liable to go astray. I'd decided to compile a feature for the magazine based on interviews with a cross-section of informed opinion, from Mexico to Ghana, Zimbabwe to India. Such calls still don't come cheap; time differences, language problems and the quality of the line can have a deterrent effect.
In drawing up my original plans, I had not fully tested out my ideas at the receiving end of aid, in the South. Spurred on by the fact that it was now high summer in the North and everyone was on holiday, I made a point of trying to put this right. And before very long I had, I felt, little alternative but to change my ideas and produce a different magazine altogether.
I realized that I had made a fairly basic initial mistake. I had been carried away by all the theories of aid and development, the plans, the projects, the prescriptions. What I should have been thinking about was not theories and things, but people. That's easy to say and extremely difficult to translate into practice. One then has to begin somewhere else, with a sense of equity and solidarity between people. This, in the long term, is the only solid ground we all have beneath our feet.
for the New Internationalist Co-operative
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