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Putting Donors Out of Work

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

This post on development vs aid effectiveness got me thinking a bit about the concept of making oneself redundant, to paraphrase blog author Paul McAdams. "Is everyone involved in development 'working their way out of a job'? Or are some NGOs, CSOs, or donors comfortable in their roles, entrenched in their positions and unwilling to change, even at the risk of eliminating their own work? I suspect the answer is not a simple matter of saying yes or no, but far more nuanced," he writes.

It is a nuanced question, and particularly so in the realm of good governance, where solutions rarely present themselves in the form of quick fixes. Yet conversations around governance reform effectiveness sometimes seem to presume a perpetual role for the donor, which in this idealized model inserts technical assistance with surgical precision to create reforms out of whole cloth. Civil society, when it is included in the conversation on governance reform, is typically (if tacitly) envisioned as either a conduit for donor ideas and action or a 'partner' advising on donor and national government policy plans - rather than the driving force behind reform itself.

This element - the importance of local populations coalescing around, enacting and owning their own governance reforms - frequently goes missing from the various conversations around governance reform effectiveness. The inherent prominence of the p-word - politics - in this formulation sometimes pushes its serious consideration off the table. Yet by helping citizens gain the skills they need to manage their own complex governance reform processes, donors are likely to wind up less involved in politics, not more. Moreover, true effectiveness in governance reform requires the active participation
of the governed. Donors must recognize that part of their role is to empower local populations with the skills needed to build coalitions, manage political and policy processes and consolidate change, and thus put themselves, eventually, out of business.

Certainly, donors and international assistance NGOs can and do play a constructive role in supporting good governance. Targeted technical assistance also has an important role to play. In the end, though, it is up to the citizens of each country to themselves demand and effect change. And isn't that, ultimately, the essence of good governance?

Photo Credit: OECD (on Flickr)

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