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Localisation at the forefront of IDC inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid

On 13 January, a 12 page open letter from Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee, was published highlighting the findings of the 2021 inquiry into the philosophy and culture of aid. This letter precedes the much anticipated International Development strategy that is due to be released in Spring of 2022, and is clear in setting out a wide range of issues that face the sector and must be addressed in the upcoming strategy. 

Champion writes directly to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, urging her to take these findings into account and to avoid creating a strategy that relies upon an outdated and colonial system. She writes: 

“However, the system is based on colonial era structures that concentrate decision making power and resources in donor countries… My Committee is keen to ensure that the FCDO learns from the successes and the mistakes of the past as it puts together its new International Development Strategy and considers the impact its policies have on the countries and communities where programmes are delivered.” 

The letter touches on a wide variety of factors that global sustainable development and humanitarian actors encounter, with the predominant message being that localisation and a shift in power are absolutely necessary for the sector to be ethical and sustainable. Champion calls for more meaningful collaboration with individuals and communities who are the recipients of ODA (Official Development Assistance) or humanitarian assistance, and writes: 

“People with lived experiences should play a central role in the conception and development of programmes.” 

This theme continues into the examination of current funding structures, with Champion stating: 

“It is clear that not enough funding is going directly to recipient countries and local organisations who implement aid programmes”. 

If the compliance regimes are too strict and inaccessible, local organisations are either dissuaded from applying at all, or risk spending more time and resources trying to meet the demands of the donors than actually developing and delivering their own programmes and projects. 

Other issues raised by the IDC in this letter include the difficulties of measuring success, particularly when relying upon metrics and statistics that perhaps do not leave room for long term outcomes; the need for a cross-government approach; as well as the potential of a shift towards Global Public Investment as an alternative development framework. 

Whilst we welcome the findings of this inquiry, and support the issues raised by the IDC, there could have been more explicit exploration into the impact of racism, colonialism and power dynamics within the structure of development. The Alliance continues to advocate for the decolonisation of global sustainable development and takes the view that all individuals and organisations should be taking an active role in reflecting upon language, imagery and power structures. In the letter, Dr Cathy Ratcliff, CEO of EMMS International, and a Trustee on the Alliance Board, is quoted, suggesting: 

“We should stop using the term ‘aid’ and instead talk of ‘international cooperation’ to solve global problems.”  

This commitment to examining commonly-used language and terminology is a perfect illustration of the work that each of us in the development sector must undertake. Had this letter prioritised this commitment more, it may have been able to really have a progressive and positive impact upon the upcoming strategy from the FCDO. 

To learn more about the work we are doing to reflect upon language in the context of anti-racism and decolonisation, as well as to collaborate with us, click here

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