Why don't donors 'think and act politically' in their own countries?

October 19, 2016

A Myanmar aid worker asks why Western donors don't 'think and act politically' in their own countries. 
 

I just came back from the workshop named “Thinking and Working Politically” jointly organized by the DFIT, the British Council, the Asia Foundation and Pyoe Pin. After two days of the workshop, I got this idea to write about my thoughts for the aid industry.

 

Just for a day, let’s forget about the fact that I’m working for a donor agency…..

 

Forget about the fact that I’m here to help the civil society of my country ….

 

Pretend that I’m just an outsider who’s overviewing the aid industry of the real donors (who are always referred to as tax-payers), the donor representatives (who always thought themselves as donors), International aid agencies, and the local civil society actors.

 

We are talking a lot about policy advocacy (thinking and working politically) these days with the new democratic government in reign. The donor trend has changed and “thinking and talking/working politically” is getting hot.

 

The whole workshop was about theories, successful case stories in Myanmar and other countries, the constraints of both donor and implementer sides and how to persuade donors for flexible policies letting them understand the situation on the ground.

We’ve learned about 5 most important I’s to do the work on policy advocacy namely; Interests, Institution, Incentive, Idea, Individual. It was said from evidences that individuals should have enough interests to start working for a change.

 

There was this proof of how Theory of Change (ToC) worked for the implementing partners in tracking the policy advocacy processes, and how flexible it was to revise and update the ToC whenever it’s necessary. The participants discussed about convincing the donors to accept their ToC as the initial document of the project framework and later to develop a logframe based on this. Whenever the ToC is revisited and revised, the logframe and its targets/milestones are to be reset.

 

Some success stories were about how advocacy work was rewarded with higher rate of return of the project. It was a success because donors were thrilled! (stated by the presenter). What about the sustainability of the CSOs that worked hard in the process? Were they able to do that on their own afterwards? Once the project’s finished, it’s finished? What kind of support have they been giving to these CSOs after the project? These questions are still unanswered. Can we call that a successful case story for the CSOs???

 

Now, this is the portion I’d like to talk about. This is all about finding ways to please the donors or to bargain them because they have power! They have power because they have money! So, finally it all ends up in “Money makes Power”, the old cliché but still the noble truth. How can we ever cut this circle and turn the other way around? …..

 

The big donor representatives there in the workshop said the policies and procedures were necessary as they had to report back to the tax payers that their money has been used effectively (to ensure upward accountability).

 

I wonder if these donor representatives have ever used these perfectly tested (and worked) methodologies/ theories to advocate back to their parliament members or tax payers reflecting the constraints of implementing partners (including the CSOs) on the ground.

 

It would be a learning opportunity for us if these donor representatives could share how it worked with their trial on their policy makers. This would definitely ensure their downward and horizontal accountability.

 

Just look at the world around…

 

The shares in the UN budget, the US are the most generous donors and with that it comes their veto power to reject/vote in whatever way they want.

 

The owning of media by a couple of companies or the State including United States and other countries with only manipulated information given to the public although we are talking about the “Free Press” since long time ago.

 

This world needs another evolution in the aid industry, the evolution of donors (donor representatives) who advocate back to their policy makers reflecting the voices of the implementers.

 

We need individual’s interests for that for sure as the workshop highlighted again and again, it needs the interests of some insiders to change a policy or law.

 

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control…
http://elitedaily.com/…/the-worlds-10-largest-media-conglo…/
http://www.forbes.com/…/which-countries-contribute-the-mo…/…
http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/shleifer/files/media.pdf
Icke, David; And the Truth Shall Set You Free (21st century edition)

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