‘Making Aid Agencies Work’ is a book I’m publishing in spring 2019. What right have I to tackle the title’s challenge? My publishers and I finally came up with the title yesterday after months of discussion while the book itself was being written. It’s an audacious claim and there are many better placed to advise than I am, so what do I bring to the feast?
The answer lies partly in the subtitle: ‘Reconnecting INGOs with the people they serve’. My experience, interest and research are all about how people learn and act. Through a million miles of travel to see aid agencies in action, through working shoulder to shoulder with them and through researching their history and development I’ve shaped my thinking. How can aid agencies unshackle themselves from the treadmill of providing services, often filling the vacuum left by reduced social spending, and live up to their website front page claims to end poverty and empower people?
Is there really a problem that needs solving? Early this year there was certainly some very bad press about major INGOs. As I was writing this book several people asked whether I was just piling on the pain. Plenty was being written already about problems with INGOs. My answer is that the issues which surfaced this year represent the tip of an iceberg and one has to dig into the history and economics of INGOs and the surrounding political scene to understand what lies below the surface of the water. Once you do that, I argue, you find that there’s a whole structure out there which disconnects INGOs from the people they serve. How can that structure change? The book focuses on the roles of learning, knowledge and power and I’ll outline some of its thinking in further posts. Of course you can read the book when it comes out next spring!