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Thought of the Moment

August 20, 2010

The aid industry has created a system that conveniently defines corruption so that expats can live a good life within the rules, whereas locals on far smaller salaries and with larger family commitments frequently get branded as corrupt for breaking these rules. In my experience, Afghan villagers do not share this narrow legalistic definition of corruption. When a project fails to deliver benefits to the poor, and the expat project manager at the same time lives a life of (locally) unimaginable luxury on designated poverty alleviation funds, villagers logically conclude that the project is failing due to corruption: instead of helping them as originally promised, the NGO is only helping itself. NGOs’ arrogant attitude – “we’re accountable by our own standards so we don’t need to tell you where the money goes” – does little to change this perception.

That’s Till Bruckner, guest posting at Aid Watch.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt H. permalink
    August 30, 2010 11:36 pm

    Oh my God, this completely captures my experience in Jordan. I nearly vomited when I went to a UNHCR cocktail reception with tuxedo-ed waiters and more Hermes than the Parisian flagship store. Meanwhile the Jesuits were looking for the funds to cover a social worker’s and a therapist’s attendance at a few sessions with Iraqi children. Then again, when you are hiring expat workers, you want to pay them comparable to what they would receive in the US, at least from a USAID perspective. I think the aid worker pay scale (and how they vary according to nationality) serves as a disturbing reminder that inequality pervades, and that aid work isn’t immune from the assumptions and perspectives present in other fields/industries.

    • August 31, 2010 12:06 am

      Matt, so good to hear from you! Fun to know that you’re reading along here.

      It’s such a difficult issue, and no easier when it’s for the church, since we obviously don’t want to promote any kind of warped prosperity gospel. Do you know of anyone you think is getting it right?

      And what are you up to? Still in Jordan?

  2. Matt H. permalink
    September 1, 2010 2:19 pm

    Well, I’m in the US for another 24 hours. Return to Jordan tomorrow to begin a job as a magazine editor for 2 publications, while hoping to freelance on the side to get some cash/travel/cover the stories I love. It is a year-long contract, so come visit whenever! I have a couch and a coffeemaker; what more could one ever need.

  3. Matt H. permalink
    September 1, 2010 2:24 pm

    But to comment on anyone getting it right? Hmm, not that I know of. The volunteer model works, but usually the volunteers are supported through other sources – eg Fulbrights, study grants. I really admire the Peace Corps and its way of doing things – of all the aid workers I have met in Jordan, I think the PC people do an excellent job of mingling with the community, living in comparable situations to those around them, and still offering a meaningful, if tempered, push for changes.

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