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Changing the system…from the ground up

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"‘The system’ whereby foreign donors give handouts, and not sustainable initiatives that are drawn from the needs of the communities, is a problem.” ~R.M., Zimbabwe

This post is a continuation of the small series I started in August entitled “Changing the System,” which pulls together quotations from about 150 of my former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances around the world who responded to the question I sent out earlier this year when I started how-matters.org:

If you personally could do one thing to change “the system” of foreign aid and development assistance, what would you do? (See post “A Question Resonates”)

My interest is in surfacing issues and solutions from different voices about the way forward in development policy and practice. Think of this as my own informal mini-Listening Project, though without the research framework.

This set of ideas is grouped around a theme of “from the ground up.” As you review these ideas on what to address (and sometimes how), consider the following questions and please include a comment answering:

1) What could have the most impact?
2) Which is most feasible?
3) Which idea is most unrealistic and why?

Now is the time to be corrective, restorative, and imaginative, with imperative and profound effect. Let’s get serious about how we will transform the development industry and generate the next steps to fix these problems that continue to plague us and perplex us.

***

1) Whose priorities?

I would change the system of support on basis on donor priorities to that of beneficiaries priorities. ~M.M., Malawi

I would ensure that recipients of any assistance are involved in defining the forms and nature of assistance that reach them, rather than just being targets of aid. ~I.M., Zimbabwe

Recently a community was able to raise enough internal money for a generator, electric keyboard, speaker system and they regular petrol requirements to keep the whole thing running while they wait for a donor to provide a well so they don't have to walk 7km to the nearest unclean water source. What the community gave for the whole sound system was enough to have paid for a well to be dug, outfitted and maintained for a while. The community is banking on the fact that someone from the outside will pay for a well, but they know they won't get funds for the party equipment. ~H.L., U.S.

Get rid of most of the programmatic restricted funding and allow communities to identify their own priorities. ~D.K., South Africa

2) Who’s really in the driver’s seat?

Let the intended beneficiaries of development take the driving seat from identifying their only priority developmental issues, to planning, designing, implementing and monitoring. Let the beneficiaries define the priorities and let the donors be accountable to beneficiaries for quality, appropriateness or adequacy of the assistance delivered. ~C.D., Swaziland

I have realised that the whole line up from a community facilitator up to the chief executives of big corporate NGOs—the master served is not the person who needs the support but the one who gives the support. I would re-wire the system and turn it the other way round. ~E.M., Mozambique

I would make the system bottom up - make INGOs more accountable to the needs of communities rather than the other way around. Have INGOs base their funding agendas on what communities tell them. ~J. B., Zimbabwe

The so-called development assistance: whose interest is given priority--the people? the government? the donor? Development assistance must be [centered on] people’s needs rather than the political agenda, which is happening under the table… The system must avoid the intermediaries that bring the money back home. Let it focus on utilizing local resources. The system must [prioritize] people’s potential to change their lives, not donors’ money. ~M.G., Ethiopia

I would ask the beneficiaries what is that they want...Why should current USAID be made up and enforced by a group of people that never leave their desks? That never leave the United States? Plain and simple – listen to the people they know what they need, not some suit drinking Starbucks in his cubicle. ~D.S., Palestine

3) Who’s most in need?

Most aid does not actually go to the poorest that needs it most. There are a lot of people and organizations that are actually and seriously in need of foreign aid to assist them to sustain themselves, but it has never been easy to have access. I truly believe that if the aid goes direct to the people who need it most, who are the most vulnerable, mostly for education, shelter, nutrition etc, then things will change from generation to generation. The rich don’t even need this aid, but they are the ones who are benefitting from it and the poor comes last. ~E.M., South Africa

On what can be done to change the systems of aid, I think the most important thing is the improve[ment] of wellbeing of ultra poor people from the rural communities, so that they can remain within their birth places. ~E.M., Malawi

The foreign aid system needs to find ways of reaching out to the poor of the poorest in the remote rural areas. One way is to ask people to recommend projects that are in remote rural areas, and to look for local volunteers to assist the illiterate folks doing the development work. ~D.D., South Africa

4) Invest in local organizations.

Let the foreign aid and development assistance go directly to the grassroots organizations. This is the only way such assistance can reach the people it is intended for. ~F.N., Uganda

I would ask for improved level of resources to community and accountability of how resources are utilized on sustainable desired change. ~W.M., Kenya

I work primarily with local nonprofits that would benefit tremendously from a relationship with USAID, but they can't even get in the door! It’s frustrating. And the contractors really aren't interested in what is actually happening in the field. They just want to check off deliverables that have been established in some conference room in Washington DC. Why can't local groups benefit directly from direct foreign aid? ~A.M., U.S.

ldentify grassroots organisations with grassroots structures and sustainable home grown empowerment models, support them and build their capacity until such a time they can operate as NGOs or national movements. ~S.C., Zimbabwe

I would like to encourage foreign aid agencies to invest in WOMEN and help them to strengthen their organizations. Do so with lots of grassroots organisations. It is time for indigenous, local organisations to take care of their own problems... ~T.T., South Africa

5) A final thought…

Listen, listen, listen to what beneficiaries want, but REALLY listen, and then do it. I think we really forget to listen most of the time... ~F.T., Argentina

***
This post originally appeared at:
http://www.how-matters.org/2010/10/10/from-the-ground-up/

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Comments

jadefrank's picture

Fantastic!

Hi Jennifer,

This is so insightful - I love all the wonderful quotes you pulled together - which creates such a powerful testimony to how beneficiaries of aid want to be supported, or how they think their communities would best benefit.

Thank you for sharing your research here on PulseWire, a community that supports the voices of women and our allies worldwide to do just this - speak for ourselves on issues that affect us daily. This is so relevant and I look forward to sharing it with others.

You might also consider posting this in Sharing Solutions - our library of innovative solutions to everyday problems.
http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire/solutions

And I hope that you will continue to utilize your journal to share your work and ideas with our community!

In friendship and solidarity,
Jade

pussycatmeows's picture

wow!

As a sociology major with a women's studies bent, I really appreciated the onformation you shared from so many people and places. I loved it! The previous comment "insightful" is true. and you are helping us again to listen. Thank you. Cat

Idealists foolish enough to throw caution to the winds have advanced mankind and have enriched the world.-emma goldman

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