Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.
-Lawrence J. Peter*
Lawrence almost assuredly wasn’t speaking about development and sustainability, but he eloquently states my uncertain position as to the pros/cons in the development and aid industries that I’ve been initiated into with Peace Corps.
A post over at Waylaid Dialectic describes the three roles for aid out there today and discusses the on-the-ground realities:
- Development aid – the ideal, sustainably transforming countries
- Band-aid aid – improving people’s welfare in the absence of systematic change, makes no pretence at changing societies
- Keeping it together aid – tries to keep states together and functioning even if it’s not transforming them
…it’s [the] aid that most aid agencies and politicians talk about. This is also aid that rarely, I think, succeeds on its own terms. It turns out that development is too complicated, aid too cumbersome, and the ability of external agents to effect change too weak, for this type of aid to succeed often. Not often isn’t the same as never – it probably sometimes works. But success is less common than one would think from the rhetoric of aid. And I think we kid ourselves much of the time regarding the potential for[this type of] aid to work, and end up wasting money.
I’m a big fan of the second type of aid. This, I think, can work — and it’s probably where aid has had its most major success in improving welfare. The main argument against it is that you have to give it in perpetuity, or at least for a long time. But, hey that’s what we do with our own welfare state. No one in New Zealand says “we’re funding a health service now so that one day we won’t have to have one”. I’m comfortable with aid as a global social safety net, as part of a global social contact of sorts.
And while I agree type one aid is the ideal, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong or evil about type two aid when done right. So while I will always strive for true sustainable development, I am open to the idea that bringing in outside aid and/or expertise that is potentially only sustainable for the short to medium term can still be a good thing. What do you think?
* If this and his other quotes are any indication, I think Lawrence and I would have been friends.