Can Voluntary Aid Agencies Help?


Corbett's note: The question below came up in my class. Somewhere I found a paper on the subject which seemed to address the question in a worth while manner. I summarized the article below. If anyone knows the source I'd love to know where it was I found this.

You have talked about aid as if it only comes through governments. That is just not true. Americans contribute as much money to overseas relief and development work through private, voluntary agencies as they do through official AID programs. Can't the many small, non-governmental organizations be more effective exactly because they do not have all the conflicting interests you mention in regard to official aid?

As we examined voluntary aid projects around the world, we felt ourselves in a quandary: Which organization or project should we recommend to our readers? Soon we realized that the most useful contribution we might make would not be to provide you with a catalog of critiques of all the voluntary aid organizations (an impossible task!) but to share with you the questions we found ourselves wanting to ask any development project.

Eight Questions to Ask a Development Project

  1. Whose project is it? Is it the donor agency? or Does it originate with the people involved?
  2. Does the project define the problem to be tackled 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 address 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 who are also exploited, thus leading 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 call forth local ingenuity, local labor, 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 open-ended, with success measured by the local people as the project progresses?

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Bob Corbett