Author Brianna Russell
Graduate Student at USF in International Studies
Foreign Aid Horror Stories: What can be learned from them?
As an humanitarian and international studies student; I, like most people, look for ways to help those in need and hope that my efforts make a positive impact. Recently I came across this article on foreign aid disasters. The article talks about seven of the worst (although there are more) foreign aid schemes that had the opposite of intended effects leaving the country worse off than it was before. The schemes that stood out the most included the “One Million t-shirts for Africa” project headed by Jason Sadler. This project proved ineffective because giving away free stuff is first of all, unsustainable, and secondly assumes that the recipients want these t-shirts. In reality, dumping free or unwanted goods into less developed countries damages their local market economy creating a revenue decrease for local manufacturers and business owners. The same result happened with TOMS shoes as noted in the article. By shipping free goods to these peripheral countries it creates a rift in their markets and does nothing to solidify their prosperity in the long run. Where is the transfer of knowledge? Or the transfer of economic growth in this situation? Why don’t they manufacture the shoes in-country? I’m sure most of these organizations mean well but there are more effective ways to help people out of poverty. The first way is by asking them what they need, not assuming bags of t-shirts, shoes, or wheat is going to solve their problems.
Well-known author and former World Bank Research Economist, William Easterly, identifies a paradox of how imposed free market reforms do not work in developing countries. It serves to endorse my statement that external, top-down solutions are not the best ways to go for international development. He states that, “free markets work, but internationally imposed free-market reforms often don’t. The reason being top down solutions overlook the bottom-up perspective and how western markets don’t function well in low-income African societies. Markets everywhere emerge in an unplanned, free, adaptive way. I think even Adam Smith would agree with this free hand of market evolution. Therefore, the free market emerges from the bottom-up through complex institutions and social norms that aren’t so easily identifiable from an outsider or through a western lens.” (White Man’s Burden by William Easterly: 60-61).
After reading this article on the 7 worst international aid ideas, I was struck by the misguided altruism and paternalism that seems to run rampant in international development. FYI- International Development, broadly stated, functions to promote better, i.e. more equitable, standards of living economically and socially for every man, woman and child. Each one of those solutions held against this definition is a marked failure. In contrast, Mama Hope and other local, on-the-ground organizations that care more about making-a-difference than marketing-a-difference, are making significant progress delivering on the promise of International Development.
Mama Hope does not assume what a community needs, nor do they send market destructive goods that destabilize the economy. Instead, Mama Hope works with preexisting local institutions to design projects that the people want and will be able to manage and operate without international dependency. By working with 100 percent local labor and local community leadership, the people these projects aim to assist are able to provide better standards of living for themselves. In this way, the solutions last longer and continue to grow and adapt as the community dynamics change. Sustainability and self-sufficient projects are at the core of Mama Hope’s philosophy; they identify with the people and their ability to create their own solutions. Larger organizations, including the World Bank, lose that sense of locality when creating projects they believe solve the world’s problems with blanket solutions or . . . t-shirt and shoe solutions . ..Mama Hope is about sharing resources, cross cultural exchange, and working to assist in the building up of local African communities.
Learn more about the story of Mama Hope:
Mama Hope works in close partnership with local African organizations to connect them with the resources required to transform their own communities. So far, we have achieved our mission by funding the completion of schools, health clinics, children’s centers, clean water systems and food security projects impacting more than 76,000 people.