Development or Dependency?

"бутсы! бутсы!," they yell as they run down the narrow unpaved street toward me with arms waving in the air.  Skidding to a stop in front of me, the group of six boys proceed to ask for money, phones, cameras . . . and the ever-popular бутсы (soccer cleat).  When I decline, the boys proceed to tell me, "чй? дустиман." ("Why? You are my friend!").  This exchange goes on for the the entire remaining walk to my office.

The neighborhood boys posing with their new ball and jerseys.
Upon first glance, the causal observer might think me selfish.  Unknown to the casual observer, however, is that I had already bought the boys a soccer ball and jerseys, as their ball had multiple holes in it and they were unable to play.  I wanted these boys to be able to enjoy whatever short childhood they still had left and thought that this would give them the means to do so.  The best of intentions aside, I was misguided in my approach, for my gifts turned into a desire for more and a dependency on what they thought I could offer them . . .

. . . Not two weeks after I had bought the boys the new soccer ball, they came to me with the deflated ball asking for another one when before they had found ways to repair the old one.

Simplistic as this illustration may be, it got me thinking a lot about aid dependency.  For years, there has been a lot of discussion from scholars and practitioners who have questioned the effectiveness of international aid in its current form.  Does it create dependency?  Does it prop up undesirable governments?  Does the money actually get to the people for whom it is intended?  Books have been written about it, especially with regard to Africa.

In development, it is important to constantly be aware of the impact you are having on a community - both positive and negative.  Outright loans or grants to a government may be the easiest or the most politically viable option, but it also may be destructive in the end.  It is my hope that with all the talk of international aid reform in the United States, the new plans for the State Department and USAID include more of a focus on engaging local organizations with smaller grants, rather than large grants to governments and that there is a very purposeful review of every intervention that is implemented and its overall impact on the target community.

This is certainly not insightful or groundbreaking, but evidence in the field, such as the simple illustration above, certainly helps me to understand more concretely the challenges that the field of international development faces.  It is my hope that government aid and development agencies worldwide heed this evidence.

Relevant Article:
Draft QDDR Review:


Em said...

Funds are often necessary for change but it's so important to think through all of the unintended consequences (like dependency) that could result. I'm so thankful for you Clay, and all that you do to have a positive and constructive impact in this world. Happy Thanksgiving!