The Foreign Service Journal - November 2017

58 NOVEMBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL is happening “on the ground.” So people find reasons to fly out to Senegal or Timor-Leste or Haiti to “monitor” a project. And when a capacity-building training program is launched in, say, Bangkok, the heads of the training module design unit will fly out to introduce themselves. These visits are a burden on the host country. In Tanzania in 2006, there were 541 “donor monitoring missions”—visits by for- eigners to check on things. The Tanzanian government responded by declaring a “mission-free period” every year so that civil ser- vants could get some work done. Yet no one asks if the many donor missions are really necessary, and one of the reasons for that is that the visiting supervisor’s time generates overhead. In a sense, waste in the foreign aid world contributes to “profit” rather than reducing it. And of course the constant presence of foreign personnel—from the chiefs of party to the project evaluators to the training consul- tants—sends the message to the developing countries that “we” are important and needed. In 2015 there were 524 American nongovernmental organiza- tions registered to do business with USAID (see , VOLAG 2015). Interestingly, up until the early 1980s, most of these NGOs saw themselves as outside the aid industry; to them, the World Bank and USAIDwere adversaries, not partners. But Save the Children, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps, World Vision andmany others evolved, in grow-or-die fashion, to become multisector entities that today resemble nothing as much as big corporations. World Vision, which topped $1 billion in operating expenses in 2015, has 31,000 employees, and is involved in everything from health to water supply, agriculture and education; its CEOmakes more than $500,000 annually. CARE, founded in 1945, claims on its website to be working in 90 countries in 880 “poverty-fighting” and humanitarian aid projects, and reaching more than 72 million people. Its operations topped $533 million in 2014. Save the Chil- dren U.S. had an operating budget of $678 million in 2015, working in “Emergencies, Health &Nutrition, Education, Hunger & Liveli- hoods, HIV/AIDS, Child Protection, Child Rights and Governance.” Its CEOmakes about $500,000 a year. In the case of the large NGOs mentioned above, 40 percent or more of their income derives from government contracts, grants and agreements. And for the 524 NGOs registered to do business with USAID, on average 12.5 percent of their operations are tied to U.S. government money. In addition, they depend on a steady streamof contributions from individuals, people who believe that their gifts do a great deal of lasting good. What Is to Be Done? In short, there has been no contraction of the aid industry footprint in the developing countries, no sign of any movement toward “working ourselves out of a job.” Moreover, the pipeline for new “development professionals” to work in the industry remains robust. There are thousands of American young people getting degrees in any one of 45 master’s programs offering develop- ment aid–related degrees (fromAmerican University to Yale). One such program claims that it “educates young professionals to play increasingly responsible roles in the health and well-being of the world’s poorest citizens.”The idea that such roles ought to be played by the people of the poor countries themselves seems to be ignored. Can anything be done to reform this system?There are some steps to take, but they all require political will—on the part of the aid establishment, the will to face up to working itself out of a job; and on the part of the recipient countries, the courage to say, help us, but only on our terms, and that, too, with a light hand. We want your goodwill, your ideas, your advice; but we want a clear exit strategy from you up front. The OECD donor countries need to make the concept of country ownershipmeaningful by beginning a gradual but steady decrease in aid for development. A first step in this direction is to decouple humanitarian assistance and development assistance; the important distinction between relief and economic development needs to be reasserted. And all assistance, both humanitarian and development-oriented, must shift to a “tough love” approach, where for example, no aid is given unless a significant contribution is made by the recipi- ent country—and not just bricks or labor, but real money in large enough amounts to go beyond tokenism. As for the cohort of contractors, the message needs to go out that the days of outsourcing large development aid projects are coming to an end, and these firms need to look for work elsewhere. Finally, the international NGOs need to come clean with their supporters about what contributes to economic development and what merely takes the edge off extreme poverty. Q Because foreign aid has become a big business, a kind of aid-industrial complex, using “sales” as the core metric, self-interest does not enable change: indeed, it prevents it.