PART 1 – What is the Issue?
As a member of the Board of Directors for Strømme Foundation, every 2-3 years, we get to take a field trip to encounter, learn and interrogate the organisation’s development interventions in their real-life context. In 2019, I had the privilege of travelling to Tanzania but the focus of this brief feature is our recent (September 2022) trip to Nepal.
As a rights-based development NGO that works towards a world free from poverty, Strømme Foundation (SF) operats in 11 countries in East Africa, West Africa and Asia. By 2021 it hadamong other initiatives, actively supported 540, 125 people including 243, 752 adolescents and children. The work involves: a) Creating livelihoods and job opportunities; b) Ensuring inclusive quality education and c) Building strong societies. The fourth thematic area underway is climate change and environmental protection. SF covers 5 of the UN Sustainable development goals (1- No poverty, 4- Quality Education, 5-Gender equality, 8-Decent work and economic growth and 17-Partnerships for the goals).
Okey, so what is the issue?
You see, for decades, (especially Western) development organizations have come under heavy critism for failing to bring about positive and tangible changes to their beneficiary communities despite billions of dollars allocated for this work. Development organisations are implicated in, among others for:
a) Creating jobs for themselves at the expense of beneficiary and local communities: The critique has been that most of the funds for development end up being used up by so-called development experts while beneficiaries recieve mere trickles of crumbs.
b) Adopting a top-down approach to development, communication and change – the criticism goes along the saying ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’. Often, perspectives to development are dictated from exogenous content and contexts while indigenous, endogenous perspectives and local knowledge are relegated at best and ignored at worse.
c) Promoting non-participatory and non-dialogical approaches to development: Many of these organisations may include a few ‘local’ stakeholders but these have been criticised as elitist, condenscending and unequal partnerships often perpetuative of hegemonic continuities exclude the very marginal and excluded members of communites such as women, handicapped, youth, etc.
d) Working in their own bubbles unable to create synergies with other development partnerships: The result has often been duplicated services, lack of sustainability and accountability.
So, in my field trips, I am often curious about such elements to development. In Part 2, I will share my impressions from the field on how SF initiatives performed along these lines (i.e. Failings of International Western NGOs).