The Guardian article, feels like a challenge to the Development NGO sector and we encourage you to read it in full. We have drawn out a few quotes from the piece to highlight the key arguments. We offer up a few perspectives (not a defence) from a small UK Development NGO that enables climate change adaptation in Nepal's mountain villages.
Global poverty remains intractable: more than 4 billion people live on less than the equivalent of $5 (£3.80) a day, and the number of people going hungry has been rising. Important gains have been made in some areas, but many of the objectives set by the millennium development goals – to be reached by 2015 – remain unfulfilled. And this despite hundreds of billions of dollars of aid.
This is an uncomfortable truth, not just for the Development NGOs who have been running projects in the developing world for several decades, but also for their supporters and donors. It begs the question: Why, if we have been giving billions of dollars in aid for over 40 years, are more than half of the world's population still living on less than £3.80 a day?
Aid projects might yield satisfying micro-results, but they generally do little to change the systems that produce the problems in the first place. What we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.
A critique of TGT funded projects, which are by no means unusual in the NGO world, would likely point to this weakness. We have produced numerous very satisfying 'micro-results' especially for those communities we directly engage with. These are very valuable to those who benefit, life changing in some cases, but not not enough. We are doing very little to tackle the root causes.
Donors increasingly want to see more impact for their money, practitioners are searching for ways to make their projects more effective, and politicians want more financial accountability behind aid budgets. One popular option has been to audit projects for results. The argument is that assessing “aid effectiveness” – a buzzword now ubiquitous in the UK’s Department for International Development – will help decide what to focus on.
Aid effectiveness is something we are very aware of. Many TGT projects are education focussed, either through our Higher Education Programmes, or through interventions like Farmer Field Schools and Climate Change awareness. And we of course want to be effective. The success of these sorts of programmes can be measured by metrics such as the number of new crops farmers can grow and sell; our partners report on these regularly. But, aid effectiveness for education programmes can be a little bit intangible, the results are hard to measure and quantify, especially in the short term.
More tangible in the minds as donors are projects that involve installation of physical infrastructure. This is why so many NGOs use fundraising calls such as '£30 a month buys a coffee pulping machine' or '£10 a month provides a rainwater harvesting pond.'
But the real problem with the “aid effectiveness” craze is that it narrows our focus down to micro-interventions at a local level that yield results that can be observed in the short term. At first glance this approach might seem reasonable and even beguiling. But it tends to ignore the broader macroeconomic, political and institutional drivers of impoverishment and underdevelopment. Aid projects might yield satisfying micro-results, but they generally do little to change the systems that produce the problems in the first place. What we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.
It seems impossibly difficult for a small charity like TGT to strike at the root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change, but there are ways to respond as we have previously discussed. We need to work out a way to do it and then bring others along with us in common cause.