The Most Important Question You Must Ask About Aid Organizations

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I don’t ask this with any sarcasm. I am asking this as a very serious question:

Can anyone name me one Aid organization that has had a huge, tangible positive effect on any community in Africa?

No doubt on an individual level, they manage to help folks who otherwise wouldn’t go to school and live another day via market surplus…er, sorry I meant food aid. But here’s the thing, if you ask me why I am sitting in Australia today in 2008 without any fear that I’ll be beaten for being black or for making a living I can tell you it’s because of:

a) Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Steve Biko, The Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee amongst others for putting the idea of Africans being equal human beings not only in the public psyche but in various laws.

b) The Mau Mau, Tom Mboya, Dedan Kimathi amongst others who managed to cause enough pressure in the British empire to force them to give us a little bit of freedom.

c) The Westerners who marched for the 8 hour work day and the unions who fought for decades to earn workers rights throughout the Western world.

But for the life of me, I can’t think of any organization that comes from a rich country or is run by a rich man or rich organization a.k.a. a movement that isn’t grass roots that achieved some huge social change. And so I turn the question over to you? Can you think of any? What can we learn from them?

No Comments

  • By akiey, May 31, 2008 @ 9:31 am

    Mwangi, such an Aid organization may not exist (yet) bcoz we Africans are yet to get out of the mentality that we can only do so much for ourselves. The day we set up and run our own organization, i.e. 100% founded and run by Africans to solely help Africans in need without all the machinations of politicians and greedy businessmen is when I think we would have a meaninguful & lasting impact on our societies.

  • By Mwangi, May 31, 2008 @ 9:38 am

    @akiey: As always I fully agree. I read an article, Lord knows where, that talked about how Western governments deliberately put their own people in placs of power, managerial and otherwise, post colonialism as a way to reinforce their superiority.
    My question extends to all Aid groups, even ones started by Westerners. I really can’t think of one that has made a huge impact. The reason I act is because if we want to serve Africa we should chose activities that have the highest impact and so far it appears as though 80% of all socially progressive impact is from the grassroots and almost nothing from Aid groups.

  • By Ernest Maina, May 31, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

    Mwangi, I think the “AID organisation”, surpisingly run Africans for Africans, and that has of late surpused all the donors may be the Afrcan Diaspora. This people that are scratching their own itch seem to exceed cash crops like coffee and tea for economies such as Kenya as foreign exchange earners. The impact on the ground is I think even greater because the recepients (mostly family) are not focused in the Major cities.

    I find this ironic since I have always wondered why real AID organisations did not show more business focus as a way of creating sustainably empowered communities. For cash poor communities I always thought the following argument was a no-brainer – if you make x products of kind y we will help you export them to cash rich country z (donor country) and once you have the manufacturing infrastructure and diversify to other products, give us our money back and you are on your own. But I guess humanity abors simplicity.

    I guess the single thing that will help Africa bridge income disparities with the west the most may be the aging of the western populations!!. Yes, they need your black hands to fill in for the retirees and sometimes to literally take care of the retirees.

    I would like to see the effect of the re-embursements on entrepreneural activities, but have not come across such publications, yet.

  • By akiey, May 31, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

    Mwangi, could the impact from the grassroots level be becoz such organizations at that level are more genuine and better focused to understand the needs of societies and how to address them? We often hear allegations of some aid agencies being there not to provide lasting solutions but rather to make cosmetic changes/improvements in people’s lives but in reality, they’re ensuring continued employment for their workers.
    How true that is could be seen when any ONE aid agency as you’ve asked actually succeeds to make real, lasting impact.

    We can’t as a continent that is so rich in human resources, intellectual resources and natural resources keep receiving aid whether from outsiders or from local people indefinetly. There’s got to be either:

    a) A turning point or b) A tipping point

    The first one in my view would be a proactive one that involves everybody’s efforts. The second one could be as a result of ‘a’ combining with an act somewhat beyond/outside people’s expectations such as Africa’s populations getting serious with bad leaders & booting them resulting in better policies & more efficient management & distribution of resources, promotions based on merit, food security, etc that may cause a little harm in the short term but bring about lots of longterm good to all. So me thinks…

  • By Judas, May 31, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

    This is a good question. But why are you always apologizing e.d ‘i don’t mean to be sarcastic, etc (when you clearly aren’t)? You need to grow the eff up.This is also a good change from the self-denigration that you normally engage as an African. Btw, in reply to your previous post, Asians are the meanest people on the planet, alongside African Americans and White people. If you’ve really mixed with people, you’d know that, and that Africans are truly the nicest people around. Asians are slaves in nature, even though they weren’t enslaved.(Actually europeans tried to make them work in plantations, alongside Native Indians, but they died off, and thus Africans became the must-haves for slaves, look it up. It pays to be weak sometimes). So grow the hell up and quit the self-denigration that no other race is known to engage in but Asians and Africans.

    Back to the question:

    It is a wonder that these ‘Aid Organisations’ are let into Africa for nothing but their own profit. These are corporations (read that again, corporations, people, i.e that exist for profit) and furthermore, run by a bunch of white people who are your former colonisers, haters, etc, doing nothing but earning a buck on the branding of the African people as the most helpless, useless people on earth, and thus earning a cool and free thirty bucks apiece from a whole lotta people on earth, tax free. In fact, a person I know whose paretns work for the company, are given monthy vacations with enough airfare money to pay for round the world tickets, I kid you not. Furthermore, it was discovered teh other day in Canada that World vision and many other organisations keep 80 cents of every dollar ‘ for administrations purposes’, with only 20 cents reaching the people.Furthermore, that 20 cents doesn’t benefit a child directly as you are made to believe, but goes ‘toward community projects’ i.e building a dam, building a pathetic school with timber gotten for about 10 cents a bunch, and recruiting local teachers who are paid next to nothing, or the govts are encouraged to pay them instead. After that piece of work, the corporation disappears, only returning to those low-esteemed Africans to take their pictures for sending to ‘donor parents’.
    This is why Canada is looking at reclassifying what a ‘charity’ is in order to remain tax-free entities. Why are they there, denigrating Africans only, most of the time? Cos Asians and other eastern european, central and south american countries (with Asia containing 2/3 rds of all the poorest people on the planet) have learned these secrets and do not let these people make a buck off their names- trust ignorant African leaders to do the opposite.

    So in answer to your question,this is why there is really no progress by any charity that comes in there to take African photos, and leave with them to get a buck from Westerners, and it is upto us,as Africans, to spread the truth.(You bet they won’t)

  • By Mzeiya, May 31, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

    I actually told my good friend from EU that Africa does not need the aid from the West and he was baffled which made me believe that they do not seem to understand exactly what it is we want. We need fair trading practices and not just aid. That is the only way you can lift up villages across the continent as opposed to sponsoring a few lucky individuals to study abroad only to come back and help their families only.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 1:59 am

    @Judas….starting a conversation by attacking someone isn’t the best way to introduce yourself man. I have answered this question a few times before but in short, I think way too many folks use the anonymity and the lack of accountability they have online as an excuse to release all sorts of negativity all over the Web. I want the Displaced African to be a place where there’s nothing but positivity in thought and in action.
    I intend on positing about this later: don’t you find it odd how positivity and optimism are taken as symbols of immaturity and delusion whereas cynicism and negativity are taken as clear indications of maturity and realism? Definitely something worth discussing in future…..anyway, welcome and hope you enjoy your stay.
    I actually do mix with people and I can tell you that going to a mixed race high school, few people treated me with as much love as the Asian kids did. I was the only African around and they took me in, hung out with me, invited me to their parties and so maybe you have a different experience but I have seen both extremes of Asian people, those who have shown me nothing but love and those who have done nothing but look down on me.
    The reason that I put the caveat about sarcasm was because usually when people ask that question they use it as a launching pad to begin attacking aid organizations…the fact of the matter is I have never conducted in depth investigations into aid organizations and all I know is all I have observed and hearsay and so I wanted to leave the question open to get as many POVs as possible rather than do what I naturally wanted to do….attack them. Let me hear what folks have to say.
    Everything you have said about aid organizations is pretty much what I have seen and heard about which reinforces my belief that aid organizations when it’s all said and done do a lot more good for the nations sending them and a lot more harm to the countries they are sent to..hmm

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 2:06 am

    @Ernest Maina: I have heard about the impact of the remittances people in the diaspora send home. The first thought that occurred to me is can you imagine how powerful that money would be if instead of different Africans send it just directly to their individual homes and families they took part of that money and invested it collectively in community projects, our ability to rebuild or create true long lasting progress in rural communities throughout our great continent is huge.

    Ernest, I wondered the same thing too, especially after I first heard about the work that Fidelis Wainaina does, I couldn’t help but wonder, why don’t all AID organizations simply copy and paste that model adapting it to their own situations…..even though Fidelis has long since passed, last time I heard the constituency that she worked in is still a self sustaining banana producer and if we can simply do that for enough constituencies in Kenya we will have eliminated any material barriers to success and can continue Africa up the self actualization barrier.

    Interestingly enough, my mother runs a disability and aged care industry and she is the second African to get into the industry with other Africans also seeming keen… could be an area where we specialize and make good money…perhaps?

    Personally I think the reimbursements are a huge opportunity to do AID and community development the way it should be done…..don’t just send money to school just your kids, come together with other folk from the same constituency, build your own school and run it through reimbursements and include things that can make them more self-sufficient in the syllabus…as an example.

  • By Ernest Maina, June 1, 2008 @ 4:18 am

    Mwangi, Yes a more enlightened way of thinking would be to use remittances to jumpstart community, everything from bore-holes to schools to solar lighting. This is really where things work less on autopilot and more a organised community effort on the ground becomes necessary.

    I think this is where a business plan comes in handy so that the management of the ‘village 2030 project’ does not fall to the oldest grandmother in the village who just happens to have bore the most ‘boys’ who are now remitting ‘like crazy’.

    Seriously though, I think the next phase requires microfinance entreprenuers in Africa to step up and champion their causes for funding for community transformation but business based projects, and then show progressive results to attract further over time for funding from the diaspora. A little challenging because there is a chicken and egg problem in there especially regarding vetting prospective managers, as well as developing project proporsals that will generate interest from enough prospective micro-investors, but it can be done. Brings us right back to the institution building issue.

    Less iffy would be investing to expand businesses that are already doing work in the community, though I imagine this option would probably favour the more urban areas or less needy rural settings.

    IMO, governments in Africa need to consider a system for matching dollar-for-dollar private investment in needy areas especially when the investment provides a service that the government was supposed to provide in the first place. Sevices such as running water or even electricity in very remote locations. This alone would spur a lot of ‘remittance AID’.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 4:28 am

    @akiey: I definitely think that plays a huge part and I think another thing is that grasroots movements tend to be formed by the people experiencing the problem themselves meaning they actually have emotional drive to get things done.
    Aid organizations, not always, but a lot of the time appear to be driven by either guilt or fear and rarely seem to want to know or care what the people at the grasroots think or care about.
    Me thinks its on all of us to now consciously work towards creating a turning point where people actually have the opportunity to be self actualized and don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll have something to eat that night while at the other end of town farmers are dumping produce because they are having problems selling it.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 4:32 am

    @Mzeiya: I think that is one of the most important unspoken issues within the Western world – the inequality of trade. People just can’t seem to understand that the West didn’t get where they are by free market enterprise but by subsidies, trade protection and all sorts of measures meant to prop up the Western economies at the expense of others…..people focus way too much on the Google stories and the Oprah stories (which are great) without taking a moment to wonder why the WTO talks keep collapsing and just why the measures that intelligent organizations such as World Bank and IMF seem to make us poorer and AID organizations don’t leave us any better.

    I couldn’t have put it better myself……change the whole system or improve it so all boats can rise up, don’t just toss some pennies at a kid who can only help himself and his family and exclaim that what you’re doing is working………..

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 4:36 am

    @Ernest: I think at the very least a great thing to do would be to investigate models and initiatives that are working throughout Africa and support them with their work because out of hundreds of millions of people in Africa, I know for a fact that Fidelis Maseno project probably isn’t the only one successfully bringing about community wide self-sufficiency. I agree that perhaps a great first step would be to just find folks doing good work on the ground and not even necessarily give them money, even brain power, time and an extra pair of Western educated minds…..that is definitely something worth doing….and if anyone is already doing it, please get in contact with me I’d love to hear about it.

  • By Mwangi, June 1, 2008 @ 5:15 am

    Check this out. Pretty much goes in line with what we’ve been discussing:
    LA Times Article

  • By Ernest Maina, June 1, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

    Here is a comparison between the micro-finance giant Grameen Bank and its East African Incernation, KREP Bank. I think Kreps existance is testimony to infrastructure building that is going on at the grass roots to develop business oriented services to the poor and rural folk, that regular banks ignore but who do not need or want traditional ‘AID’

    PDF Report

    Now if only the top politicians would see things the way the Krep guys do, we would use the word ‘AID’ a lot less.

  • By Mwangi, June 2, 2008 @ 5:17 am

    @Ernest: Thanks for the report. As we have expressed throughout this post, it appears as though (as far as I can tell) most meaningful change comes from the grassroots, to wait for the government to be the cause of change appears to be an exercise in futility.
    I intend over the course of this blog’s life that it becomes the platform for tangible projects being created and proliferated, for us by us.

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