This year marks my twentieth anniversary of working in the humanitarian and development sector. One of the issues I grapple most with these days is whether international aid is still, fundamentally, a Western construct based on assumptions that are no longer relevant, or if it is a universal form of assistance that takes different shapes depending on the region of the world we work in. In particular, if international cooperation is truly universal, is it paying more attention to what Southern citizens and the people directly affected by a crisis think of the aid they receive across the board, or is citizen engagement just another Western trend?
There are plenty of studies on civil society movements – how they start, grow and make citizen voices heard. Much less do we know about what happens at the other side of the negotiating table: how do public officials interacting with civil society representatives decide to respond to their requests? What drives bureaucrats’ decisions and why?
I have recently started a new job with the International Rescue Committee, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that specialises in humanitarian aid in countries affected by conflict and natural disasters.Coming back to the humanitarian sector after over a decade, I am struck to find that many discussions about the efficiency and effectiveness of aid replicate what has been said in development circles for years. One issue in particular is at the heart of discussions old and new: the challenge of ‘localising aid’, that is, helping local civil society organisations to better respond to a crisis through increased capacity and more direct funding from donor governments. Having agreed globally in 2016 that we should indeed localise aid, the humanitarian community is now tackling the big question: are we seeing any real change?
The development literature of the 1980s and 1990s gave considerable attention to participation in development – engaging local people, the “beneficiaries”, in decisions relating to their own development. This school of thought quickly drew criticism as the question was asked: what are they participating in? Of course, the answer was frequently that participation was little more than mobilising people in implementing an outside agenda, however well-meaning that may have been.
When we advocate human rights broadly, it is easy to rally support around them. Who doesn’t want to be a defender of freedom or protection? However, advocacy becomes a lot more challenging when we single out specific groups of people whose rights are under threat on a daily basis. We still periodically need to remind ourselves and others that ‘women’s rights are human rights’, for example. And not everybody who supports human rights in general is ready to stand by the rights of other gender-based groups, such as gender and sexual minorities, otherwise known as LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people.
“How do you measure social change?” As a consultant, I am often asked this question when I evaluate programmes or campaigns that are meant to produce some sort of social progress in the global South. I guess the underlying dilemma is about whether we can quantify qualitative changes, such as better dialogue between aid donors and civil society organisations. Is there a way to measure quality with numbers?
It has already been a year since the adoption of the “Grand Bargain”, a global agreement made at the World Humanitarian Summit to save up to a billion US dollars over five years by reducing inefficiencies in how humanitarian aid is provided. How well are we doing? Are things actually changing where they are supposed to? Is humanitarian aid becoming more efficient and effective?
I continue to explore how developing countries go about increasing their tax revenues as a way to escape from poverty, reducing the need for aid and other forms of international co-operation. In jargon, we call these efforts domestic resource mobilisation. This time I have spoken with Huong Nguyen, Non-Executive Director of the Vietnam Initiative Social Enterprise (VNI), a leading Vietnamese think-tank based in the country’s capital, Hanoi...
Strengthening a developing country’s finances by increasing its tax revenues, rather than depending exclusively on aid, is widely seen as the way forward in the development community. Yet, few people actually know first-hand what it takes to generate support for increasing tax revenues in a developing country – particularly at community level...
In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about ‘social accountability’, which is what happens when citizens directly engage in dialogue with public authorities to demand more rights or better services, and authorities respond with appropriate action. When managed effectively, social accountability brings concrete solutions to real issues even in the toughest contexts, such as some of today’s humanitarian crises...
This year’s International Women’s Day is about gender equality at work. A fitting theme to remember where and why we mark this day – it all started with a female garment workers’ strike in New York in 1908.More than a century later, working conditions for women have dramatically improved, yet they are still worse than for male colleagues...
A couple of weeks ago thousands of people gathered in Nairobi for the second High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), an international alliance aimed at improving the way aid and other forms of development co-operation can help people living in poverty in developing countries.
You may have not noticed – and this month there are plenty of good reasons why – but there is a massive campaign to ‘orange the world’ going on right now. Every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the UN organises sixteen days of worldwide activism against gender-based violence, symbolised by the colour orange. Orange hats, orange t-shirts, orange banners, orange-lit monuments – you name it...
October last year I started my blog. I decided to call it Kiliza, from the Swahili word for ‘listen’, to focus on what I think development and climate change professionals should do more than anything else if they actually want to help people living in poverty in the global South. Back then I believed, and still do, that for development and climate change policies to be effective it is important to first understand what people from the world’s poorest places say about international co-operation, the environment, and development and climate change themselves.
I know, I know. In my last post I said I’d be back in September and here we are, already in mid-October. Not that I haven’t tried to write something sooner. I actually wanted to refocus on climate change discussions and see whether citizens from the global South have anything to say about the historic agreement reached in Paris at the end of last year.
The dust has settled on the World Humanitarian Summit but many of the issues discussed at the conference a few weeks ago still dominate the headlines. The devastating impact of the Syrian conflict on civilians. The endless influx of migrants and refugees into Europe. The increasing gap between funding needs and shrinking aid budgets. Is there really something we can do to improve humanitarian aid despite this worrying picture?
About ten years ago I used to work on a demobilisation and reintegration programme for former child combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The job of reuniting these children with their families and helping them find an alternative to holding a Kalashnikov was already a major challenge in itself. Rarely would it get more complicated than when a global personality would come visit the children in the interim care centres where they were staying or publicly launch a new initiative in their favour...
The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is over, with mixed results. For those, including me, who were hoping the discussion would tackle some of the root causes of humanitarian crises, like the lack of political solutions to fundamentally political problems, the conference was a missed opportunity. At the same time, the summit turned out to be positively surprising, focusing the attention on issues that are normally sidelined in global discussions or, even worse, labelled as ‘charity’.
On 23-24 May the city of Istanbul hosts the world’s first-ever humanitarian summit. About 5,000 leaders from government, business and civil society will gather at the UN’s request to agree more effective ways to address some of the most challenging crises on earth. Why this meeting now? And will it really make any difference to the millions of people affected by natural disasters or conflict around the world?
My second guest post is by Clinton Robinson, an education expert who has managed to capture an underlying dilemma for the development community in just a few amazing paragraphs. What assumptions do we make when we label countries as ‘developed’ or ‘developing’? Does it make sense to do so in today’s world? Should we just talk about people living in poverty anywhere? After reading his piece I hope you, too, will start questioning the standard language we use to describe how we ‘help’ other communities.