Although more than $2.3 trillion was spent on foreign aid over the last five decades and development assistance has become an industry valued at around $60 billion annually, billions of people are suffering from extreme poverty and millions of children are dying from easily curable diseases (Dichter, 2003 ; Easterly,2006). The poorest countries have been receiving foreign assistance for several decades under the tutelage of development business players by the means of structural reforms and development projects (Birdsall, 2008). However, they haven’t managed to escape from poverty trap which causes a lack of basic health, education, and infrastructure necessities (Sachs, 2005). As Dichter (2003, cover) does, we have to ask this question: Despite all good intentions and idealism why has international development assistance failed?
The answer to this question is hidden in the strong sense of development term. This term has a power “to charm, to please, to fascinate, to set dreaming, but also to abuse, to turn away from the truth, to deceive” (Rist, 2008, p.1). It is hard to resist the temptation to be part of a group which has a big plan of eliminating poverty entirely (Rist, 2008). With the seduction of this notion, the West, developed countries, has the idea that they “are the chosen one to save the Rest” (Easterly, 2006). For reaching this utopian goal, the West devises big plans and achieves only a few of the aims and objectives. Unfortunately the West continues to draw up a new big plan and the plan continues not to meet the high expectations (Easterly, 2006).
One of the proposers of big plans, Jeffrey Sachs (2005), holds the Western countries, especially the USA, responsible for this continued failure. According to him, these countries haven’t provided adequate foreign assistance to the poorest countries and distribution of these adequate sums “are driven by political considerations, not by economic need” (p.85). Against Sachs’ political-oriented analysis, William Easterly (2006) emphasizes that underlying reason of not making poverty history is having a big plan. The essence of Easterly’s argument is that “[s]etting a prefixed (and grandiose) goal is irrational because there is no reason assum[ing] the goal is attainable at a reasonable cost with available means” (p.11). He doesn’t deny that development business players “can do many useful things to meet the desperate needs of the poor and give them new opportunities”, while he claims that they “cannot end world poverty” (p.11).
Besides perspectives of Sachs and Easterly, Dichter (2003) claims that development assistance has become an industry; and as a consequence of this transformation, development efforts have begun to rise but the effectiveness of these efforts have fallen. His point is that development assistance with its self-perpetuating and covenant based working method, $60 billion cash flow, “own special jargon, institutions and careers” has been professionalized (p.110). He defines professionalization of development as follows:
[T]he ways in which the people who “do” what has become the “work” of development have come to think of themselves as trained professionals; the ways in which the language of development reinforces specialized knowledge, and how these tendencies have created another set of imperatives that is counterdevelopmental (p. 226).
On the other hand according to Dichter, being an amateur, the opposite of the professional, “does not mean that you are not good at your work” but it means that “you are not a member of an exclusive club and not to be paid” (p. 231). In other words, he is saying that being an amateur is defined as “loving what you do” (p. 231).
Parallel to Dichter’s point of view, I also think that the underlying reason for the failure of development assistance is its professionalization. I agree that professionalization of development does more harm than good. Therefore, development assistance should not be professionalized. This is because the basis of existence of development assistance comes from moral values rather than business necessities.
The main moral value fueling development assistance is moral duty of giving hope to sufferers from poverty and cruelty. Hope is the first step for success. If sufferers do not have any hope and if they do not believe that the poverty and cruelty will finish, then they will not put their efforts, they will not try to get over this situation and they will wait to receive things from others. In other words, if sufferers do not hope that good days will come in the future, then they will not struggle for these good days. In this situation, the development assistance will not be successful at all, no matter how much money is spent, how much effort is put and how big a plan is implemented. In addition to this, development assistance which is originally derived from virtuous feelings will turn to a technical responsibility. This is because, in development assistance, helpers sacrifice many things; they give their efforts, money and expertise in order to help sufferers. However, if sufferers do not have any hope then they will see these given things as responsibility instead of aid. They will not believe the sincerity of the donors. For this reason, they will consider the development assistance as necessity for donors by saying that foreign professionals receive more money than local professionals, West countries both satisfy their needs and humiliate poor countries by introducing big plans which declare the poverty of these countries. This approach of receivers will result in crowding out of both donors and amateurs who work with a less amount of money. All of these things have adverse effects on the success and effectiveness of development assistance. Therefore, it is very crucial to give hope to sufferers in order to make them work collaboratively with foreign helpers and by this way fulfill the effectiveness of development assistance. Giving hope cannot be achieved by professionalism, cannot be learnt from books or cannot be formulated in big and professional plans. Giving hope can only be achieved by amateur feelings and efforts. Thus, development should not be professionalized.
On the other hand, if we take into account that professionals earn money from this work we can easily understand that development as a moral imperative is better than development as a business. Professionalism depends on the principle of career. Thus, the ones who choose development as a career provide his basic needs by this work. In this situation, there occurs an irony because if these people reach their ultimate goal which is ending the poverty in the world, then there will not be a reason for existence and a living source for them. From this point of view, we can come up with two results: the first one is that professionals do not believe that poverty in the world will end and the second one is that professionals make their expertise necessary for receivers or in other words professionals create dependence on their expertise in order to survive in the development market. These two results explain why development should not be professionalized. If professionals do not believe that poverty in the world will end then they cannot give hope to sufferers and as I mentioned above, this means that their assistance will not be successful. On the other hand, if professionals create dependence on their expertise, this means that they do even basic things themselves instead of teaching so as to maintain their jobs and show the projects successful. Contrary to professionals, as stated in the story of starfish, amateurs try to save as much as he can rather than evaluating and planning how to save all of the starfishes and how to afford its costs. Amateurs do not expect any praise while doing their jobs. Moreover, amateurs focus on succeeding itself, whoever does it is not important for them. In addition to this, although amateurs think that they will not be successful, they try to teach local people the work.
Working according to the needs of local people can be considered as another reason why development should be done with amateur feelings. As we know, professional world is static rather than dynamic. There is a bureaucracy, a lot of procedures or plans and also heavier donor pressure for professionals. Hence, it takes a lot of time for them to keep up with changes. In contrast to professional, amateur is dynamic and open to new things. There are fewer mental and bureaucratic limitations for them. Therefore, amateurs can easily behave according to the needs of local people and they can easily make necessary changes immediately. For this reason, in order to be successful, amateurs should handle the development assistance instead of professionals. This is because; not taking into account local needs while making plans will probably result in a failure. To illustrate this situation, we can give the Do-It-Yourself Foreign Aid example (Kristof, 2010): It is a global problem in underdeveloped countries that women cannot go to work and girls cannot go to schools during their menstruation periods due to the lack of affordable sanitary pads. Although this problem is very common and it causes significant costs by reducing the productivity rate, it has not been realized by professionals. One of the amateurs named as Elizabeth Scharpf has found this problem and come up with a simple solution that is producing and distributing economically affordable sanitary pads. This example shows us that some simple things related to development can be understood by amateur spirit. Women’s participation to social life and girls’ attendance to schools are core aims of development plans. In spite of this, not realizing this problem which has a significant costs and which has a simple solution, indicates that professionals are not effective in development as it is believed.
In conclusion, from my point of view, if amateur spirit is encouraged and supported, the development assistance will become more efficient and effective than today. As we know, development is originated from moral imperatives such as equality and philanthropy. Thus, these moral imperatives should be used in order to be successful. The more financial sources are given to the amateurs, it is clear that the more wanted results will be fulfilled. Therefore, instead of donor engagements and project limitations, we should take actions by determining the real needs of local people. Also, we should transfer our expertise to local people, teach them what we know about development and make them believe that this expertise is important for their future. If we do these things, the poverty in the world may not end at all but a huge number of people will live in a better condition.
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Birdsall, N. (2008). Seven deadly sins: Re?ections on donor failings. In W.Easterly (Ed.), Reinventing Foreign Aid (pp. 515 – 551), Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Dichter, T.W. (2003). Despite good intentions: Why development assistance to the third world has failed, Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Easterly, W. (2006). The white man’s burden: Why the west’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good, New York, NY: The Penguin Press.
Kristof, N. D.(2010, October 20). D.I.Y. foreign-aid revolution. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
Rist, G. (2008). The history of development, (P. Camiller, Trans.). New York, NY: Zed Books.
Sachs, J. D. (2005). The development challenge. Foreign Affairs,84(2), 78-90.