Session 4 : Aid

In the world of development, Aid is a means to an end. It is the main channel of support for development and reconstruction which the West gives to the ‘rest’. It appears in different names and with various conditions, loans, grants, budgetary support, to mention a few but the foremost purpose is to bridge the poverty/inequality gap in the world.

Disbursement of aid has survived the past five decades, and like the development theories, has seen different phases in this 50year period, but the question we need to ask ourselves is, how effective is aid? Is it the only channel to the way forward? Has the poverty/inequality gap been bridged, has it solved developmental problems by influencing the economic growth of poor countries?  What is the world’s response to aid? A quick glance at the ‘aid business’ shows that it is currently at a stage where its effectiveness is the major topic of discussion. A seemingly divided front here, where some are of the view that aid has served a good purpose, others strongly address the ineffectiveness of it.

According to the USAid, countries like South Korea, Costa Rica and Chile, have been transformed to the level where they no longer rely on aid, they have grown their way out of poverty with the help of foreign aid but not solely on foreign aid. Structures that help development in this way include strong institutions, human capital and private sector development (Shah 2011). Lack of these structures results in the total ineffectiveness of aid as seen in Africa. Systems for disbursements and monitoring of aid are not effective, resulting in aid not serving the targeted purpose. As Andrew Mwenda rightly summarise it, “Development aid equips African rulers with easy money….” (Global Philanthropy)Easy money becomes misused money which most often than not, cannot be fully accounted for.  Has aid reached its target then? No! Diversions in the aid process, due to lack of proper structures, has left millions still struggling at the bottom line.

It is indeed sad, considering the amount of money pumped as aid to poor countries, with little to show in achievements. Is the aid business being done right? On a global scale data shows that aid has failed in reducing poverty and increasing economic growth but does global measurement of aid present a true picture to the world? I am of the opinion that in many ways aid has to some extent been effective on various platforms, that is aid with the focus on humanitarian needs, bringing health, education and clean water and sanitation (general improvement in lifestyle) to remote communities especially through the work of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other development channels. It is true that millions are still languishing in extreme poverty, and one would expect that with the amount of money pumped into foreign aid a fairer world should have been created by now, this sends signals that if results/improvements are not being seen on a large scale, something is not adding up.

As in the case of development theories, it is obvious here that the grand theories approach to studying the effectiveness of aid  creates a rather blurred image to the world, post development theorists approach at looking at context specifics  will create a better image of the effectiveness of aid, not that I disagree that aid has been ineffective, true, in that the main  purpose for its disbursement has not been fulfilled, but in other ways, depending on the name it bears at the time of disbursement, it can be said to have been effective.

Aid and its effectiveness is complex and have generated many arguments, it involves different stakeholders and charts different courses in its bid to reach its target, but current world concern is the approaches to aid and their effectiveness.  One such trajectory was  the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) a set of goals by the United Nations to be achieved by 2015 aimed at poverty reduction and basic human needs development. These MDGs ushered in a new phase of developmental achievement, they were more goal oriented, advocating for accountability, measurability and responsibility for global development. One would hope that with this new strategy the global scene of poverty and inequality was going to change drastically, but were the MDGs over ambitious? The current levels of poverty and inequality leaves much to be desired. With four years to go it is worth looking at various stakeholder responses to the MDGs. Aid recipients (Africa) needs more aid (what happened to all that previous aid?) in the midst of the struggle to meet terms and conditions of the fulfilment of MDGs, thus a call to donors to increase aid and stick to their commitment. Donors are now calling for transparency and accountability from both donor and recipient countries, institutions and organisations while development historians/ critics are certain that the whole aid process needs rethinking. ‘For aid to be effective in the future, the aid apparatus (in terms of how aid should be delivered, to whom, in what form and under what condition) will have to be rethought. (Global Philanthropy, 2006). Is this a call to a new era in aid and development? This call for change can be heard from all directions, business men/entrepreneurs (Bill Gates (Creative Capitalism), Richard Branson (Enlightened Capitalism) organisations, development theorists, both donor and recipient countries, ordinary people on the street and through the voice of that poor child crying to the world for help to have access to basic human needs. What is the answer to this call? Is it the next big thing?

It is also worth mentioning the evolving nature of development approaches. Has the MDGs worked in isolation of other development approaches? It is worth noting the interconnectivity in the strands of development approaches. Looking at the MDGs through the lenses of development theories, it can be concluded that they align best with the modernisation theories and still bear some semblance with dependency theories in achieving these goals, neoliberals however cannot feature much here, these goals cannot be achieved solely on their policies. The general outcome is that all these policies fall short at achieving the targets set for poverty reduction and creation of a fairer world. The world is awaiting a new approach to tackle developmental challenges; will it be a completely new approach or another evolution from previous strategies?

It is interesting how this study on aid exposes the layman to the scope of aid. Prior to this unit, my knowledge of aid was limited to NGO’s and Bilateral and Multilateral relations between governments and of course some relief and humanitarian assistance. Delving into this topic has indeed broadened my knowledge of aid and its complexities and the different responses to aid. The ‘rest’ needs help but aid has to be rightly channelled to be effective. Millions of people still lack basic human needs, and with world population reaching 7 billion and over, the world has to work fast at reducing poverty and inequality levels. With this sense of agency building up one gets the feeling that both and development are struggling to make the necessary impact. It is both sad and thought provoking to see so much money channelled to poor countries, only for it to be misappropriated and not reach its intended target or serve its specified purpose, thought provoking because you begin to wonder whether the West has got this aid business all wrong in some places and what is preventing poor countries (Africa) from achieving the objectives of aid.

Like the development theories, aid is also evolving, the current state of aid needs rethinking in every aspect from aid commitment, to disbursement, to recipients and to aid workers on the ground, if aid is to be effective then aid processes have to be restructured to  yield measurable and better results. Do aid organisations need to work together? Some level of agreement among donors can increase aid effectiveness. Recipient countries also have a part to play in bringing up their systems and structures to make this work, and in short every stakeholder has a part to play to turn the current era of aid round. The role of the aid worker becomes relevant in this scenario then, every aid worker is crucial in implementation of the aid, and for aid to be effective a lot is required of the aid worker on the ground. At this point I think of what I would do differently when eventually I enter into the world of development and aid. I lean more on Easterly’s argument that aid workers need to be specialists and not generalist. Aid workers need to specialise in their field to be able to push for effective implementation and not move from country to country with general ideas as to how aid can work. As an aid worker, generating local solutions will serve the community better than proposing big ideas. (Easterly 2006) Though the concept of aid in itself is way bigger than the development worker, a specialist worker can be more influential in making a difference. Making a difference whether big or small is what aid and development is all about.


Easterly W., 2006 ‘The White Man’s Burden’  Penguin Books, USA

Grieg et al (2007) Challenging Global Inequality: Development Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Basingstoe: Palgrave Macmillian

Shah. R. (2011) ‘Embracing Enlightened Capitalism’ USAID Public-Private Partnership Forum, Washington DC.  [Accessed October 31st 2011]…/bill-gates-2008-world-economic-forum-creative-capitalism.aspx [Accessed October 27th 2011]…/sir_richard_branson_and_enlightened_capitalism [Accessed November 1st 2011] [Accessed October 31st 2011]



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