For me, one of the most fruitful aspects of ‘field trips’ such as last week’s visit to see Oxfam’s work in the Philippines is the exchange it sets up in my head between the academic literature and debates I’ve been ploughing through in the UK, and the reality of our work on the ground. A good trip confirms, improves or adds to your thinking, and occasionally shows you that you have got it all wrong. This was particularly true on this occasion as our staff and partners in the Philippines are both real thinkers (one guy passed a long car ride by listening to a lecture on Hegel on his laptop ‘for fun’) and activists (more on that tomorrow). The quality of discussions in a Manila seminar on active citizenship and food justice was truly impressive – nuanced and open minded, with no sign of the dogmatic, fissiparous Left I saw on my last visit in 1998 (when I had to give the same lecture twice because different fractions refused to sit in the same room). First some (relatively minor) new insights from all these interactions:
I’ve got a paper I want you to read, particularly if you work for an NGO or other lobbying outfit. Not because it’s good – far from it – but because reading it and (if you work for an NGO) observing your rising tide of irritation will really help you understand how those working in the private sector, government or the multilateral system feel when they read a generalized and ill-informed NGO attack on their work.
The paper in question is from a reputable institution (Manchester University’s Brooks World Poverty Institute) and authors (Nicola Banks and David Hulme), and is about ‘the role of NGOs and civil society in development and poverty reduction’. Here’s the abstract:
There’s nothing like the impending threat of giving a talk to make you mug up on an issue, usually the morning before. Today’s exercise in skating on thin ice (the secret? Keep moving. Fast as possible) was a recent talk to some Indiana University students studying the developmental role of the state while enjoying our splendid British summer (ahem).
I gave them the standard FP2P spiel on Active Citizens and Effective States (powerpoint here - just keep clicking), but then got into the different roles INGOs play in countries with different types of state. The big distinction is between stable and unstable states, but there are lots of subcategories (middle v low income; democratic v autocratic; willing (nice) v unwilling (nasty); centralized v decentralized; aid dependent or not). But my recent crash-and-burn experience of trying to come up with a typology was salutary, and I won’t try and repeat the exercise.