Time to listen

There are too many aid beneficiaries in the recipient countries and there are two few initiatives listening to their views on foreign aid. Time to listen is a rare exception. Research results were in summarized in a book which was edited by, among others, Mary B. Anderson (also known for the ‘do no harm’ concept). Interviews were conducted in developing countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mali, Mindanao (Philippines), Myanmar/Burma, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thai-Burma border, Thailand, Timor-Leste, US Gulf Coast, and Zimbabwe.

Authors of the publication and the researchers (‘more than 400 Listening team members’) do believe in the merits of international assistance and do not recommend their book ‘for isolationists and cynics’ (p3). They interpret and evaluate their respondents’ views actively throughout the text warning the reader to avoid generalizations. “It is important to listen carefully to what people did and did not say. When people named dependency and powerlessness as impacts of international assistance, they were not claiming that their societies were in all respects increasingly dependent and powerless. When they noted that aid contributes to intergroup tensions, they did not claim that they inevitably would therefore go into conflict. When they noted their frustration and sense of disrespect from the processes of international assistance efforts, they did not say that all aspects of their lives were frustrated” runs the argument (Chapter 3, p31). However, reading the hundreds of opinions quoted in the book, most of them reveal frustration regardless to the topic (donor agendas and foreign policy goals, impacts of aid, reporting, participation/ownership, corruption, etc). The respondent’s views, experiences and perceptions, even if unintentionally, reminds to the critical arguments on the history, nature and implied disadvantages of foreign aid (see among others, Escobar 1994, Rist 2003, Bull and Bøås 2010). But unlike the post-developmentalist authors, the Time to listen initiative (the CDA project in general) encourages changes and transformation within the system: ‘the externally driven aid system’ should be replaced by a ‘collaborative aid system’ (p138; and Chapter 11, Conclusion) since “[p]eople want not to need international assistance … [people] want, therefore, from international assistance is a system that supports indigenous processes so that outside aid will be unnecessary” (p135). Well, first replace the word ‘people’ by ‘children’, ‘international assistance’ by ‘parents’, then delete the word ‘international’ and you will get pretty close to describe a parent-child relationship.

Anderson, M. B. et al (2012): Time to Listen. Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects http://www.cdacollaborative.org/media/60478/Time-to-Listen-Book.pdf

Escobar, A. (1994): Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton University Press

Rist, G (2003): The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith, London: Zed Books, 2003

Bull, B. and Bøås, M. (2010), International Development. Vol IV. Sage Library of International Relations

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