Aid Worker Voices

Off the radar: World Humanitarian Day

Our bandwidth is flooded
As I write this World Humanitarian Day -19 August- is just three days away, but in the minds of most in the US it might as well be, distressingly, never.

The events of the past weekend and reactions thereto in #Charlottesville, Virginia are dominating all social and network media.  And for good reason.  We have a president (lower case appropriate in this case) who, though quite capable of calling out and condemning countless targets, many trivial, has provided at the very least tacit support for neo-Nazis and all manner of white supremacists.

Though the memes have been entertaining, I find all of these events profoundly disturbing and I admit getting caught up in the emotions and feel a need to do something.

As a faculty member at a mid-sized liberal arts university privileged to teach sociology I commit myself to educating young minds about the power of analytical thought using empirical evidence -facts- as a basis from which to understand the world in general and events like #Charlottesville specifically.

I will do so, though, making sure they appreciate the connections between their world and the larger global ‘community.’  The massive, pervasive and utterly cancerous phenomena of ‘othering‘ must be addressed in detail and with historical context, and we will examine and attempt to understand all of the relevant social forces -economic, historical, political, technological and so on- that move our collective lives forward.

Connecting the local to the global
The end goal in my classes always has been to have my students make connections for themselves. At the top of my syllabi are these words:

“In contrast to those who suggest that we act as soon as the whistle blows, I suggest that, even before the whistle blows, we ceaselessly try to know the world in which we live — and act. Even if we must act on imperfect knowledge, we must never act as if knowing is no longer relevant.”
– Mahmood Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors (p. 6)

So, yes, for most in the US World Humanitarian Day will be a non-event, but at least for my students there will be discussions putting our current local US events into a broader context.

Here’s specifically how
By coincidence I start travel to Amman, Jordan 19 August -World Humanitarian Day- to further my research on local aid worker voices, this time in Jordan.  I will use this experience to open the eyes of my students by telling small stories and having them read, research, and then write about the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq and press themselves to make analytical and critical connects between the ‘othering’  there and that in the US.

My action here is a small and perhaps purely academic act, to be sure, but it allows me to believe that I am doing something.  I will press them as I press myself to do more, but always keeping in mind Mandami’s words.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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The future of aid is the end of it

The future of aid is the end of it: the bigger picture of aid localisation

Insights by Arbie Baguios

The World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 called for aid localisation. Although by how this phrase is often used one would think aid is yet to be ‘localised,’ when in fact, according to ALNAP’s State of the Humanitarian System report in 2015, 80% of the 4,278 registered NGOs worldwide are national organisations, and 87% of the 249,000 aid workers are local or national staff.

What the summit actually called for was to increase the share that local humanitarian actors receive out of the global aid budget. Despite local actors being the fastest and most effective aid providers, the Global Humanitarian Assistance report found that in 2016 they directly received a meagre 0.3% out of the USD 27.3bn global spend on aid.

Aid is already ‘localised’ – power within the aid sector is not.

Over the past few months, my colleague and I surveyed local aid workers from the Philippines to get their views on a range of issues including localisation. Responses on this particular question were evenly split: 33% thought aid work in the Philippines was quickly becoming localised, while 30% did not. One comment read: “While staff composition is becoming localized, key power holders are still expats and decision making is still with global HQs.”

Most other comments on that question rightly pointed out the issue about funding (e.g., “[B]ecause of the funding mechanism and availability, international organizations would still dominate…”). But true localisation of aid – that is, the localisation of power within the aid industry – is more than just about who gets the money (although it is a significant part of it). Sometimes it’s also about who gets the job.

All aid workers lives’ matter?
There are a number of issues on and around ‘aid workers’ – not least of which are the ‘local staff vs expat staff’ and ‘Global South aid worker vs Global North aid worker’ debacles.

These have been exhaustively debated in many places, especially online and including on our blog. When these get brought up on the Internet, I notice a predictable reaction: people get defensive. The next time this gets talked about on Facebook or Twitter, play bingo: spot that one guy who always use the most extreme example like Afghanistan or South Sudan; or the aid worker equivalent of, “My best friend is from the Global South!”; and even the outright dismissal of the problem as an insignificant cliché or a non-existent myth.

In our work, when a community member registers a complaint against our programmes, we are compelled to resolve the issue – regardless if it’s real or perceived. If someone said they feel a form of injustice because they were not included in the beneficiary list, a capable BenComms officer would handle this by explaining the beneficiary selection process and then telling them how the programme is helping their neighbourhood, too. We cannot say the injustice they feel is simply not true; instead, we listen, acknowledge, and address.

In the same way, until the ‘local vs expat’/’North vs South’ problem is systemically addressed within the aid sector, there will always be tweets and blogs and Fifty Shades of Aid posts that highlight and criticize the inequalities and injustices (real or perceived) between the two.

It’s time the aid sector acknowledges and addresses the elephant in the expat lounge. We can begin by asking questions and getting the facts.

Perhaps NGOs could publish the statistics on their staff: how many are locals vs expats? Of the expats, how many are from the Global North and how many are from the Global South? If one group is disproportionately (under)represented, why? Between locals and expats, what is the average pay difference and how is their pay calculated? What is the system or criteria used when a role is advertised as expat or local? What development opportunities do they provide to local staff who wish to move on to expat roles?

Maybe we could ask international NGOs headquartered in London or Washington or Brussels: what are they doing about the fact that they are an international NGO but are unable to get visas for international staff, particularly from the Global South? Have they tried to collectively negotiate with the home affairs ministries of their governments? We opine how it is increasingly difficult for expats to get visas in countries like South Sudan or Kenya (and in fact we form government advocacy groups to address this), but accept by default that, outside of the UN, it is virtually impossible to employ non-nationals in the UK, US or EU.

Until we have these data and facts which will enable us as a sector to come to an informed analysis on the issue – in short, until we finally systematically address it – I’m afraid most discussions will only be inundated by anecdotal evidence about how one time in Maiduguri this guesthouse was full of Kenyan expats.

But I’d like to believe the aid localisation agenda means something so much more than this. Beyond being about funding or staff, aid localisation is ultimately about the future of our societies.

A world vision?
In the aftermath of the Grenfell Fire tragedy in London, I volunteered at the designated assistance centre. The programme to support those affected by the tragedy is similar to many international humanitarian operations: the government has taken the lead and coordinates with civil society organisations to provide cash, food and NFIs, and medical and psychosocial support.

In the Global North, most small- to medium-scale emergency responses resemble international humanitarian work (such as cash transfers for fire victims in Canada or NFI distributions after floods in England) sans INGOs flying in and expats getting deployed. And ‘development’ issues like poverty, employment, education or infrastructure are sorted out by their national government, never UN agencies.

At a talk at the LSE, Dr Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, introduced the concept of ‘global convergence of aspiration.’ Through technologies like the Internet, someone from somewhere poor can learn to want the same things from somewhere rich. Think of a rural teenager wanting to enjoy the same nightlife he sees on Facebook from his cousin from the city; or a girl from Southeast Asia desiring to go to that same prestigious university in London her favourite YouTube star went to.

This ‘convergence of aspiration’ can be experienced not just on an individual level but on a societal level, too. Just ask any Filipino standing in line for hours for the train what kind of public transportation system they’d want to see in their country. I bet their answer would be somewhere along the lines of, “Just like America’s!” or “Just like Singapore’s!”

As a Filipino aid worker based in an HQ in London, I feel this way about my country’s humanitarian and development sector. I’m sure I speak on behalf of many Filipino aid workers when I say that my vision is for my own country to be able to address its development issues on its own and respond to its emergencies without requiring international assistance.

Respondents of our survey are under no illusion about the current capacity of Philippine society: “The aid sector proliferates [here] because our own government consistently fails to address the many problems that beset our country,” reads one comment. But they look on to a singular horizon: “The Philippines should also begin to take on most of the leadership roles in development as a middle income country,” states another.

Beyond how INGOs trickle down the funding to their local partners, or whether the expats they employ are from the Global South, I’d like to think that, ultimately, this is what’s at the heart of aid localisation: a reasonable aspiration for countries to have the capacity and resources to solve most of their own problems.

The end of aid?
This concept isn’t new. Not so long ago the phrase du jour for aid workers was to “work our way out of a job.” But this idealistic vision for the future has somehow faded in favour of trying to fix a ‘broken system.’ By its nature, however, a ‘system’ is adaptive (a favourite aid jargon!) and aims to preserve itself.

A report called “The Future of Aid: INGOs in 2030” published in July 2017 by the Inter-Agency Regional Analysts Network (IARAN) states that international organisations are at risk of irrelevancy due to, among other things, the rise of local and national aid actors. The Guardian, referencing the report, wrote that aid charities must “change or die.”

I wonder, though: shouldn’t we just, well, let it die?

The report says: “With the growth of national NGOs and the creation of South-South alliances, national NGOs will grow in scale and importance and occupy more of the humanitarian space. The power balance between NGOs and INGOs will shift.” If this is so, why swim against the tide? Shouldn’t the call to action, then, be to ensure that current global attempts to ‘reshape aid’ truly disrupt the status quo and head towards the South’s greater independence from international assistance?

Final thoughts
To be clear: I believe in aid. I believe that as long as poverty or crises ‘somewhere else’ are broadcast to the world, there will always be a need for an international system that can effectively manage the inevitable outpour of public philanthropy. I believe that humanitarian assistance will remain necessary in particular contexts, such as in conflicts or overwhelming large-scale sudden onset disasters.

This transfer of resource is always welcome. But I hope we continue to see the transfer of power, too. I hope to see an aid sector where the most affected people, and the institutions within their own society, are the ones who get to decide and implement the solutions to their own problems. (And, perhaps most importantly, I hope that these solutions lead to such a point where future problems are minimised and more locally manageable.)

The aid localisation agenda is, as we often fondly say in this sector, complex. Nations’ and communities’ self-sufficiency is inextricably bound to wider social, economic and political realities far outside the remit of our sector. Although if we are to drive localisation’s momentum forward, the self-preserving aid system must be shaken up; and the business-as-usual way of working between donors, INGOs, Global South actors, and local communities needs to be rethought.

As we carry on with our industrial churn of budgets, logframes, gantt charts, and other minutiae of the business of aid, we should try to remember once in a while, and no matter how hazy, the bigger picture of aid localisation: one where all nations and communities – local people – are able to solve their own problems.

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Non-local local?

Non-local local?

This is a follow-up to my last post and also a prelude to my next where I’ll examine the qualitative data from the last two questions on our survey of Filipino aid and development workers.  Arbie and I are almost done with the series and are beginning the process of summarizing.

Non-local local
Looked at from afar most phenomena may appear monolithic, but the closer one gets the more diverse and nuanced the object of your observation becomes.

So it is with ‘local’ aid and development workers.

Though I want to think I knew this already, the following comment from a young male Filipino aid worker employed by an INGO made me realize more explicitly something that is now embarrassingly obvious, namely that all ‘local’ aid workers are not, well, local.

“As an aid worker, you can be stationed away from your family and thus you feel lonely and homesick. Your co-workers will become your second family. It will be great if there are more team-building activities, group sessions to stregthen the bond and camaraderie of aid workers. Sometimes, you drown yourself with selfless hardwork and with utmost dedication that you lose yourself unknowingly.”

What he says about co-workers becoming surrogate families, the need for team-building, and working so hard that you “lose yourself unknowingly” are familiar sentiments to most aid and development workers around the world, local or expat. But what I did not see more clearly until I took a closer look was that not all ‘local’ aid workers are indeed local.  To my knowledge there are no country-wide data on what percentage of Filipino ‘local’ aid workers live at (or very close to) home versus those that are many hours (or even days) travel away from their homes.  I have made a note to myself that on all future surveys of local aid and development workers this question will be asked in some form.

In the same way that most HQ-based aid workers in London or New York aren’t necessarily originally from London or New York, the same is so for aid workers in the Global South. Those who work in the capitals may not necessarily be from that city, and those aid workers assigned to remote project areas may be from somewhere else, too.

Arbie has an example from his experience: while visiting a project site in a small, remote rural town in the Philippines, he noticed how a significant number of the staff based there were from elsewhere (and they also couldn’t speak the local language). He also noticed how some staff who were actually from that area were initially skeptical when new colleagues from Manila were deployed to their town.

My collaborator -Arbie- and I offer the guesstimate that as many as 30-40% of Filipino aid and development workers are ‘non-local local’, this figure varying widely depending upon many factors including time frame, industry sector, and the nature of response activities.  Scoping out a bit, I wonder how this compares in other locations around the world.

Image from http://www.wonderroot.org/

Speaking of binaries
On the theme of looking more closely, I’ll offer two additional ‘binary busting’ thoughts.  First, the fact that ‘local’ aid and development workers are at the same time beneficiaries (either directly or indirectly) complicates and makes even more interesting research questions about a range of topics. As for the ‘aid vs. development’ binary, the same can be said.  Here’s one comment from a veteran female development worker employed by an INGO that illustrates this blurring.

“Development work has been of great interests to many Filipino workers since PH have been affected by several large-scale disaster in the last 7 years.”

Aid work becomes development work and the two burr together over the years, especially in the lives and minds of those ‘locals’ working in the sector.

All for now. Contact me with questions or comments.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Addressing the binary illusion of ‘expat vs local’ aid workers

“…today’s expat aid worker can be from anywhere and go to anywhere.”

-J (Evil Genius)

Addressing the binary illusion of ‘expat vs local’ aid workers

False binary
Very simple message here.

Bluntly put, the ‘expat versus local’ narrative perpetuates a sloppy false binary. In order to articulate our understanding of the world we all tend to shorthand toward generalizations that make sense in terms of our lived experience, most of the time unconsciously so.  We see and understand the world around us through the lens of our most recent experiences which most times are in a somewhat fixed in location.  Even the most learned among us default to overreachingly broad comments to make a point.

Color me guilty as well.

Badass sociologist C. Wright Mills

One antidote for this tendency was described in the mid-20th century by C. Wright Mills, an American sociologist who coined the phrase “the sociological imagination.”  Using this tool, one habitually takes the broadest appropriate view of issues both temporally and geographically. But the danger here is literally TMI, ‘too much information’ and thus tends to handcuff the thinker with ‘the paralysis of analysis.’

As discussions about the status of all aid and development workers moves forward we can do well to clarify our talking points, definitions, and points of view.  This, and ask some hard questions.

‘Tales of hunting’
That the narrative driving much (most?) discourse in the sector -including the ‘expat v local’ is dominated by
a global north, largely white and relatively privledged population seems apparent.

That said, this is being written by a global north, relatively privileged white male, so it could be argued that my perspective is inherently biased as well. Neither Mills nor I can defend that barb except to say that as much as sociology is a science and scientific knowledge is transcendent then, yes, with effort, objectivity, and clarity our observations can be viewed as useful.  But I digress.

As an aside, if someone responds that “all [aid worker] lives matter” are they are saying, in effect, “all lives matter”, and do we really want to go there?

Clarifying observations?
Of the hundreds of thousands around the globe right now doing what can be called aid and development work (and yes, I know I am driving some readers crazy inferring the two are conflated), there are many who defy easy categorization.  J (Evil Genius), points out that,

“Much of the local (and international) angst about expats seems to be grounded in some outdated (and often also ethnocentric) assumptions about who the expats are and where they’re from. When @TMSruge (low-hanging fruit example) rants on about expats in Africa, he’s not talking about the gazillion Chinese, nor is he talking about all the Filipinos, nor is he talking about all the Kenyans in Uganda, or all the Ugandans in South Africa, or all the South Africans in Mali. He’s talking about the white dudes (and to a lesser extent, white women because they seem to do more selfies)….”

What percentages of all aid and development workers from the global north fall onto one of the following three buckets:

  • Those exclusively doing work in their home country.
  • Those who work mostly outside of their home country.
  • Those who work exclusively outside of their home country.

Same question, but what percentages of those from the global south fall into each of those buckets?

Here is a simple 2×2 table illustrating my views on the perception versus reality regarding aid workers.

As J (quoted above) goes on to point out, any discussion of ‘expats versus locals’  “needs to be nuanced around the fact that today’s expat aid worker can be from anywhere and go to anywhere.” He goes on to say “… it needs to be further nuanced around the motivations and expectations of the various categories and sub-categories within the very broad “expat.” I suspect (this would be an amazing question to study… 😉 😉 ) that the reasons white Western people go into international aid work is different from the reasons all the Kenyans, Congolese, Zimbabweans, and Ugandans do. Which are probably different still from the reasons why Japanese, Singaporeans, and Sri Lankans so…”

I hear the J is working on a non-fiction book tentatively titled “Expat” and I look forward to learning from his well thought out insights that, I suspect, would make C.Wright Mills proud.  As someone who has ‘been there, done that’ more than most, I know he has a wide angle perspective worth a read.

Another false binary
That the convenient ‘global north/global south’ distinction is also a false binary complicates our analysis further.  Certainly the ‘gazillion Chinese’ mentioned above stress this distinction. One consideration is that most nations are not ‘one nation’ in many senses.  Though from the outside China might be painted as a monolithic whole, the differences between the perceptions, actions, and agency of the elites in Shanghai or Beijing and the rural poor in the Xinjiang region are stark and significant.

To even further deepen the discussion one aid worker pointed out that “…in my experience, those that are ‘local aid workers’ don’t necessarily know that they’re working in aid.”  She makes a good point and raises the question as to how all aid workers see themselves in terms of the ‘expat/local’ and ‘North/South’ taxonomy.  My guess is that a massive number would reject such simplistic and narrow pigeon holes.  Perhaps we -yours truly included- should as well.

Semantics
Above I have addressed both the ‘expat vs. local’ and the ‘Global North vs. Global South’ issues in a way that I hope will raise even more questions and offer a small ray of light.  Clarifying what we are talking about -and then talking about the same thing with each other- is productive, and perhaps some of the above moves us in that direction.  For my part I will continue researching and reporting aid worker voices in general and more specifically on the whole topic of ‘ localization’, whatever that means.

Have a link you recommend that I look at, a reading suggestion, or comments in general?  Contact me.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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‘Localization’ and brain-drain in the Philippines (and elsewhere)

 ‘Localization’ and brain-drain in the Philippines (and elsewhere)

This is a followup post to one I wrote several weeks ago about what ‘localization’ means in the Filipino context.

Sobering to say, recent events in Manila and in Marawi are now testing the resiliency of Filipino culture and the mettle of the civil sector, including humanitarians. An even closer look at the response seems ever more urgent.  In the meantime, here are some further thoughts on ‘localization.’

The UK based Start Network defines the term ‘localization’ here as “a series of measures which different constituent parts of the international humanitarian system should adopt in order to re-balance the system more in favour of national actors, so that a re-calibrated system works to the relevant strengths of its constituent parts and enhances partnership approaches to humanitarian action.”  Their mission, in part, is to foster, “…a system that reduces the power of centralised institutions and bureaucrats and gives more control to communities and individuals on the front line of every crisis.” A ‘Grand Bargain‘ indeed.

I offer that perhaps the term should be not ‘localization’ but rather ‘re-localization’ or even ‘de-paternalizing’.  My point regarding ‘re-localization’ is that historically the Filipino culture -like all viable cultures- have many systems in place to insure appropriate response in times of crisis:  people pull together during disasters.  I discuss the sociological groundings for this observation here.  As for ‘de-paternalization’ I point to 400+ years of colonial and neocolonial influences that remain an integral part of the Filipino historical, sociocultural, political and economic landscape.

Getting into the weeds with regards to the Grand Bargain
Localization means building the capacity of local and national humanitarian aid and development entities, but these efforts are sometimes hampered by the fairly common phenomena of ‘cherry-picking’ the best and brightest local staff to work for INGO’s.  The Start Network looked at this phenomena and used the Philippines as a case study, arguing that recruitment and hiring practices of some INGO’s were undermining local capacity.

In the end their report makes sound recommendations.  In broad strokes I do think that ‘localization’ in the Philippines is (1) going in a positive and progressive direction and (2) can and should continue to proceed with all deliberate urgency.  Our survey data support these views (see the whole series of posts on this blog reviewing our data from Filipino aid and development workers).

But is there a negative side to ‘localization’?

A down side to ‘localization’?
In this hyper-globalizing world with fluid or non-existent economic boundaries ‘brain drain’ is a significant issue.  This is true for all manner of sociopolitical entities, all the way from small villages to nations.  Any list of entities impacted by brain drain certainly includes local aid and development CBO’s and NGO’s in the Philippines and elsewhere.  Brain drain in the Philippines is significant, with 10% of the population living abroad (the highest percentage living in the US).  In looking at this issue much emphasis has been placed on the medical field for good reason.

Brains and talent may leave the Philippines but all is not lost, far from it.

Looking at data from the World Bank, we can see that globally remittances have almost doubled in the last decade going from US$330 billion in 2006 to US$601 billion in 2015.

“Of that amount, developing countries are estimated to receive about $441 billion, nearly three times the amount of official development assistance. The true size of remittances, including unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels, is believed to be significantly larger.” [emphasis added]

The Philippines is the world’s third top remittance receiving nation with nearly US$30 billion in 2015, behind only India and China.  This sum represents 10% of their total national GDP.

Though the Philippine Development Plan hopes to curb brain drain the fact remains that impact of Filipinos moving abroad to work is significant.  No one knows with certainty the amount of money flowing into the Philippines every year from remittances, but if indeed this figure dwarfs that of all development funds coming in (see above), one has to wonder if, in the end, brain drain may be a good thing after all.

The tragedy of the commons:  everyone is making rational decisions
But whether or not brain drain is good or bad may be a moot question.  Both people and organizations tend to make decisions based on their own self interest, and, to put a fine point on this, if I am a young, mobile, highly trained and skilled aid or development worker the most rational thing I can do is to seek out -or respond positively to- job offers from INGO’s, especially if they pay more.  For their part the INGO’s are  responding to the very positive and progressive goal of having a diverse team employed that, well, are not all from the global north.  Making policy and practice suggestions like the Start Network has done is useful and necessary, but may not hit at the fundamental reality that the humanitarian sector is part of the larger global employment/economic system.

Final thought
Allowing for the open labor market to control the flow of workers -labor commodities- by an ‘invisible hand’ implicitly supports a neoliberal agenda.  The brain draining, capacity sucking, cherrypicking of skilled ‘local aid workers’ will continue, hampering the ‘localization’ of the aid and development sector in the Philippines and the rest of the global south.  This is so because most of us fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is the global economy which inexorably responds to the largely unquestioned system of free market capitalism.

Comments and questions?  Yes, reach me here.

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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What is corruption?

“One man’s corruption is another man’s wealth redistribution system. I find it hard to judge others on this.”

What is corruption?

This is pretty much low hanging fruit, I know, and way past due.

Impacting how the aid sector responds to corruption
My simple thesis in this post is that as the entire humanitarian sector deals with corruption of various kinds, the Trump administration, a perfect example of what some might call nepotism, is providing a model -justification?- for other leaders around the world thus making it ever more difficult for aid workers at all levels to confront these behaviors.

The negative, unintended consequence of this US example is that it gives great support to arguments -at all levels, from the village to the Presidency-  that hiring family and friends despite lack of qualifications is acceptable. This NY Times story puts Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in the middle of the Russia investigation, and provides an example of how nepotism can play out.

Why OK there and not here?
How does a country director anywhere in the world deal with the very simple and compelling question, “if is is OK in the US why isn’t it OK here?” Laws in the US regarding the legality of this apparent favoritism and nepotism in the current US administration are not clear, at least to some, but at the very least the past 6 months in the US seen behaviors modeled at the highest levels that lie in direct opposition to how, for example, the global north would have governments in the global south to function.

In the survey the J (Evil Genius) and I completed in 2014 we asked about corruption and many aid workers had some very astute observations. Here’s one:

This respondent, a thirty-something female, further critiques the development sector and waxes poetic about the nature of the human condition, imperialism and the fine semantic distinctions that arise when talking about corruption:

“In the organisation, it is bloated with money and many people simply gorge at the trough of development aid. I am thankfully removed from this in my field, I have little reason to interact with others in my organisation. I do see the old boys network everywhere, the British upper middle classes in particular seem to have taken over other organisations, such as parts of the UN for example. Corruption is endemic to the human condition however. Regarding the region (mostly Africa) – there is a fine line between helping ones friends and families and corruption, in some cultural contexts this line is not where we expect. It is imperialism to impose our values on others like this when we have so much ‘acceptable’ corruption in our own private and public sector. We should get our own house in order (for me, the UK) before we judge others.” [emphasis added]

Positive direction
This issue is complicated at best.  Perhaps what we need are policies -both internationally and in the US- which articulate specific qualification rubrics for making appointments of influence by Presidents and other leaders.  These rubrics would not necessarily disqualify friends and family, but would move in a direction where they would have to at least meet basic qualifications.  Simply having them go through any transparent vetting process at all would serve a very positive function.  Indeed, we need to ‘get our own house in order’ so as to better model for others.

Going one step further, perhaps there should be basic numeracy and literacy tests for leaders in general, but I digress.

Back to our regular programming soon.  In the meantime, contact me with comment or feedback.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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How the sector can be more effective in improving the lives of Filipinos?

“Put more effort and energy into localization and building the capacity of local NGOs/CSOs to lead humanitarian and development work.”

“Listen to the people always.”

Local Aid Worker Voices
This series reporting on a survey of Filipino aid and development workers is now extensive, with a dozen posts totaling well over 10,000 words.  Though each post can stand alone, I invite you to scroll down and read the entire series started about six weeks ago.  Our end point is getting near and a final ‘executive summary’ article will be drafted in the coming weeks.

Before starting these last posts, I thought some ‘35,000 feet’ comments were in order.

Cultural context matters
The efforts of aid and development workers are best understood through a sociocultural lens that takes into consideration -in equal measure- important historical narratives, global influences, and current political, social, and environmental factors.  Though not exclusively, in many locations the international aid sector can be and be seen as a colonial and/or neocolonial influence that both positively and negatively interacts with indigenous culture and civil society. The cultural impact, though bi-directional, tends always to be asymmetrical, with the host culture bearing the brunt of the change.  Language is a good example of this impact, and the words and documents that official business is conducted in tends to be that of the colonizer.  Not that it needs to be restated, but cultural context matters.

In the case of the Philippines this means taking into account four hundred years of colonial influence, first from Spain and then the United States, and noting how these influences impacted, and were impacted by, sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino psychology) and culture.

Important in the Philippines -and certainly elsewhere in nations all along the development spectrum- is the important ‘third sector’ (the other two are business and  government) or civil society .  Along with one of the founders of sociology, Emile Durkheim, I find the elements of a culture that function as a ‘social glue’ to be vital, and this third sector is very grassroots based, with origins and manifestations in family, clan, neighborhood and village.

There are hundreds of thousands of community-based ‘third sector’ organizations in the Philippines, with more being started every year.  Below is a relevant summary that provides historical context.

“The basis for civil society in the Philippines comes from the Filipino concepts of pakikipagkapwa (holistic interaction with others) and kapwa (shared inner self). Voluntary assistance or charity connotes for Filipinos an equal status between the provider of assistance and the recipient, which is embodied in the terms damayan (assistance of peers in periods of crisis) and pagtutulungan (mutual self-help). The Western notion of kawanggawa (charity) may have been introduced to the Philippines by Catholic missionaries.” [emphasis added]

Comment by Filipino aid worker Arbie.

The South African word ubuntu, here explained by Nelson Mandela, can be translated as “I am because you are” and perhaps can be seen as parallel to the Filipino words above, pakikipagkapwa and
pagtutulungan.  Durkheim would suggest that concepts such as these serve to engender social cohesion and solidarity and these or similar concepts are likely cultural universals among pre-industrial cultures.  I suggest that a full understanding of how aid and development are perceived and can move forward as ‘local-international’ partnerships must take into account this ubuntu-like cultural universal, underlining the likelihood that ‘charity’ is a fairly modern and mostly Western concept.

So with that, on to our data.

Improving the lives of Filipinos
At the end of our 28 item survey we asked three open ended questions.  That deep into the survey only about 93 of the original 115  respondents were still active. On a very positive note, well over half of those chose to provide narrative feedback to our first open-ended question.

We asked, “As an aid or development worker, what are your thoughts about how the sector can be more effective in improving the lives of Filipinos?”  The responses below take on deeper meaning since they come from Filipinos who -at least on some level- likely embrace the pakikipagkapwa perspective.

Mental health
Many themes emerged from these data.  One speaks to a topic I mentioned in my last post, namely mental health issues.  Leadership in INGO’s and local organizations alike are aware of their need to minister to the ‘whole’ person, and realize that, for example PTSD will be an issue long after homes are rebuilt. Research on this topic is fairly robust, and this article, for example, speaks to not only PTSD but to Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) (“…debilitating condition characterized by a change of behaviors or emotions associated in the act of helping or wanting to help others who have experienced traumatic events.”)  as well.  Though the article focuses on nurses dealing with typhoon victims, I believe the main points are transferable to aid workers as well.

These two comments, the first from a female respondent, the second from a male, point to the need to keep mental health issues near the top of the priority list.

“The sector should farther extend the support not only financially, livelihood, but also on the psychological recovery.  [emphasis added]”

“I think that psychological conditioning through seminars/symposium will help the people a lot with their mindsets about how to go with everyday life. If they have happy/positive disposition in life, it can impact their activities of daily living with positive outcomes. Not just providing material things or what not, the sector can focus on improving the people’s perspective of life along with the provision of their basic needs.”

Deeper engagement with local communities
Several respondents reaffirmed the need to work more -and more intentionally- at a very local level, many offering specific advice.   The first cautionary ‘one size does not fit all’ comment is universally true, though the inertia behind proceeding forward in an ‘economy of scale’ manner is considerable because for big box organizations it often makes the most fiscal and bureaucratic sense. The remaining comments represent additional perspectives.

Always be aware of the local context in every situation. What worked for one area may not work for another.”

“Programs/ projects should come from the ground that should be culturally and context sensitive. Aid should be motivated by needs, and not by warehouse approach– this has been happening lately because ofthe expats’ wrong programming and reading of the situation, that is, they most of the time insist on what they think is ‘right’.”

“I hope there would be more genuine engagement with the communities, looking at people as not merely beneficiaries, but partners.”

“They should aim to reach the most deprived and marginalized, and address gaps.”

“They should listen more to their local counterparts and understand the context in the field more.”

“I think it will boil down simply to a bottom-up approach and not employing a one-size fits all solution to projects. Consultation is key.”

This last respondent offers some specific suggestions, addressing inherent bureaucratic challenges,

“Put more effort and energy into localization and building the capacity of local NGOs/CSOs to lead humanitarian and development work. For example, financial management issues (e.g., local NGOs do not have the capacity to meet the financial tracking requirements of donors) are often seen as a barrier to improving localization, so focus on finding viable solutions to reducing this barrier through a combination of less bureaucratic reporting/tracking requirements and capacitating NNGOs/NCSOs to better manage financial reporting/tracking requirements.” 

There are presently well over a half million registered and unregistered CSO/NGO and CO’s in the Philippines. The bureaucratic challenges to moving the needle in a positive direction along the lines suggested in this comment are, well, daunting.

Leadership:  tilting the power balance
This next comment speaks to the content in a previous post regarding to what extent are ‘localization’ efforts effective,

“There should be a synergy of efforts and close working relationship with the Philippine government and other development actors. The Philippines should also begin to take on most of the leadership roles in development as a middle income country.”

Surge response
This next set of comments  speak to the blurred line between ‘aid’ and ‘development’ and nods to the growing movement to strengthen surge response capability.  As climate change becomes more of a factor globally, but especially in typhoon prone nations like the Philippines, this kind of capacity building is key.

“I believe that strengthening the local aid workers capability to respond.. and strengthening the local community ability to prepare, response to disaster​ is more effective.”

“The sector can be more effective in improving the lives of the Filipinos by giving continuity of support after emergency phase.-> Developmental Phase”

Three legged stool
Finally, this comment, I am sure, will resonate with aid workers around the world, and perhaps hits on a key point when trying to balance on that ‘three legged stool’ oft referred to by my colleague J (Evil Genius), namely the aid sector, the ‘beneficiary”, and the donor.  Simple, powerful words, these,

“Programs should be made people-driven, not donor-driver. Programs should be based on what the people need, not what the donor wants.”

As always, contact me with questions, comments, or suggestions.

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Security for both local and expat aid workers in the Philippines

Perceptions of risk security for both local and expat aid workers in the Philippines

Some background
Security has always been an issue for aid workers, and beginning in the mid-1990’s programs like Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT),  Hostile Environments & Emergency First Aid Training (HEFAT) and Security Risk Management Training (SRMT) have increasingly been in-house operations in many larger INGO’s.  Many organizations outsource this training to some well established non-profits, and there are independent training opportunities geared to the aid sector for smaller organizations as well.  Outside of the sector, media organizations and transnational corporations have parallel programs, see here and here for examples.

Despite training and a long term array of well intended actions there is still danger for both local and international aid workers that can become too much to bear. The most extreme example in sector history arguably being MSF pulling put of Somalia in 2013 after 22+ years of presence due to killings and kidnappings.

Historically the security situation in the Philippines is not quite as extreme as some other parts of the world where organizations have had to temporarily pull out aid workers, though changes in leadership and a recent influx of both drug related and Daesh-sympathetic organizations bears close watch.

The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) is a project of Humanitarian Outcomes, and has been collecting and vetting comprehensive data related to aid worker security for nearly 20 years.  Data  specific to the Philippines for the period from 2005 through 2015 indicate that locals are more likely to be targets by ratio of 5:1, just a bit lower than the aggregate data globally from 1997 – present where the ratio is 8:1.  Those numbers alone distort the bigger, more accurate picture, though, since there are many more local aid workers in most locations than there are expats.

A broader comparison?
Another factor to consider when discussing local versus expat worker risk is traffic accidents, one of the leading causes of death and injury world wide, and especially so in low- and middle- income countries.  Local aid workers frequently need to use local transport – not a NGO supplied SUV with driver- or have to drive sometimes long commutes to work, increasing their risk for death or injury.

There are other factors as well to take into account -diseases like malaria, for example- and perhaps any definitive study should compare overall mortality rates comparing these two populations.  Given the fluidity of the definition of ‘expat’ and ‘local’ aid workers -not as binary as most discussions make it sound- I am not holding my breath for those data to appear anytime soon.

But if we are indeed serious about having an inclusive discussion and comparison around the topic of risks to aid and development workers we can’t only focus on physical well being.  Mental health cannot be ignored, and rates of burn-out, work-related stress, sexual harassment, and a range of related issues -not the least of which is suicide – need be considered.  The rates of mental health related issues among aid workers is a a topic often covered, but most of what I found focuses more on mental health issues related to expats. See here and here for examples.

Our data from the Philippines
That organizations which employ aid and development workers have an obligation to minimize risk through proper staff training, safe facilities, property articulated and acted upon HR policies, human and material security infrastructures is a given.  Safety and security must always be a top priority. In our survey we asked two questions related to security, results below.

Equivalent security?
Local aid worker views regarding organizational efforts to insure worker safety were explored in this question, “Aid and development organisations have a responsibility to ensure that all their staff (both local and expat) are safe while doing their job. Which statement below best describes your current situation?”

The data are quite clear, with a slim majority -55%- indicating that, “Both local and expat aid and development workers have about the same security risks.”  What jumped out at me when I looked at the results was that none -as in 0%- thought that local aid workers got “more security support than expats” and 45% believed that “expat aid workers generally receive more support.”  These data must be seen in the context of our next question.



At risk
We next asked about perceptions regarding risks while on the job, “Which statement below best describes your perception regarding aid and development work in the Philippines?” and the data here were telling.  While a slim majority -52%- believed that expats and locals bore about the same risk, the remainder of the respondents were split, 27% thinking locals were more at risk and 21% believing the opposite, that expats were at higher risk.  Most survey researchers tend to be critical of their own questions, and this is painfully true of this question.  It would be very illuminating too hear why these Filipinos responded as they did and wish I could retroactively add a comment box for this question.

 

Gender a factor?
I was curious as to what degree the gender identity of the respondent played in to their response.  As you can see, the data do show that nearly twice as many -30% compared to 17%- males who thought that expat aid workers were at higher risk.

Why?

 

The ‘what’ and the ‘why’
For me the data on these two survey prompts raise far more questions than they answer, and again I am frustrated by the inherent nature -and purpose- of exploratory research, namely to raise questions.  In this case one main question is, ‘why a good percentage of local aid workers feel that the expats are at higher risk?’  I can offer conjecture, but I defer to the future when more -and more comprehensive- data are available.  In the meantime the data do indicate that (1) many Filipinos think that expats receive more security than local workers but that (2) well over one in four -27%- felt that local aid workers were at higher risk.

Questions or comments?  Please contact me.

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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Motives and impact of INGO’s: Filipino perceptions

Motives and impact of INGO’s:  Filipino perceptions

“International Organizations paved a great impact in one’s life.. it has the power to reform and help unfortunate people and save lives. It has an overall positive impact in the Phillippines specially during disasters like Yolanda 3 years ago.”

-female aid  worker, HQ based in the Philippines

Why are you here?
As a follow up to the last post discussing ‘Localization’ in the Philippines, here are data from two related questions.  This first one allowed the respondents to opine as to the motivations of INGO’s, and the results are pretty positive with the overwhelming majority -77%- indicating that “They have good intentions and genuinely want to help.”  The glass half empty interpretation, though, is that a sizable percentage -nearly one in four- questioned the motivations.  This question certainly merits  follow-up.

But are the INGO’s helping to move the needle in a positive direction?  84% indicated yes, agreeing that “Overall, I believe that international aid organizations have had a positive impact in the Philippines.”  Here again, though, is a smaller -16%- yet still troubling percentage indicating meh, not so much.

Soon I’ll add discussion and analysis, but for now contact me if you have comments or questions.

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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“Localization’ in the Philippines

“Aside from local donors, the funding source come from the international aid organization. Genuine partnership between local and international organization is still a work in progress.”

-female aid worker, working for national organization (HQ based in the Philippines)

 

The Grand Bargain
How can we move toward a sector that is more ‘localized?’  With some fanfare this question was addressed last May at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.  Although some have stressed that The Grand Bargain  was intended for mostly aid work -response to natural and human made disasters, etc.- the language infers that there remains a blurring between ‘aid’ and ‘development’ work. One passage reads,

“Its purpose is to ensure that we are able to anticipate and prepare for crises, that we can deliver protection and assistance better to the most vulnerable and that we can restore opportunity and dignity to them.”

Within the Grand Bargain document policy commitment number 7 (of 10) promises to, “Increase collaborative humanitarian multi-year planning and funding” making it clear that progress will be measured in long term.

And so, looking toward the Philippines, one wonders what modifications in the relationship between the “big box” INGO’s and the local humanitarian sector will be apparent if (sadly, more likely when) the next season brings another Yolanda.

Although it is seductive to take a one country or region narrow view, the humanitarian ecosystem is global, and what happens locally will always be impacted by larger, global forces.  One analyst sums up the big picture thusly,

“The debate over humanitarian reform is one of money, principles, and institutional change. But for many organisations involved, these boil down to one thing: power – and specifically for local organisations, the unwillingness of their international counterparts to give up any of it.” 

Another speaks of the “Faustian nature” of the Grand Bargain and warns that local NGO’s better “Be careful what [they] wish for.”

Another statement in the document addresses the fear that the Grand Bargain is only about thew ‘bog players’ and optimistically presents the argument that,

“… an understanding inherent to the Grand Bargain is that benefits are for all partners, not just the big organisations.”

So, what of our data from the Philippines?  How is the Grand Bargain’ movement toward a more ‘localized’ sector working out so far?

Work in progress
What I see from the data below is strong evidence that ‘localization’ of the sector is, I’ll hazard, on course, with well over a third of the respondents -36%- agreeing that “Yes, the aid sector in the Philippines is very quickly becoming more ‘localized.'” If you combine that number with those who see change happening, but more slowly, you have a total of 68%.  That one third -33%- did not see any change is significant, and merits deeper attention. The data as a whole for this question may well be an indication that there were likely varying interpretations of both “change” and “localization.”

Local aid worker voices
This was one of several questions where we invited comments. The offering below is specific to the Philippines, of course, but what is said may be true of many places around the globe.  More progress toward ‘localization’, it is inferred, demands increased levels of governmental accountability and action.  Alternately, INGO’s with their support create governmental dependency.  Or both.

“The aid sector proliferates in my country because our own government consistently fails to address the many problems that beset our country. As long as many of our people are poor and remains to be poor, there will always be non govt devpt orgns who will be dependent on foreign aid and donations to fund their projects and to keep their orgns afloat.”

This respondent hits the dependency point directly,

“After decades of ‘partnership’ local groups are so dependent, financially and programmatically, to foreign groups.”

Why is the ‘localization’ progressing as well as it is?  This respondent had an answer,

“In my organization, at least, the benefits of having local aid workers is clear: better familiarity with local culture and language, greater likelihood of staying in the organization in the long run, etc. There has been a concerted effort to hire more locals from top to bottom.”

This last comment tempers the above view, pointing out that indeed ‘localization’ is still a work in progress,

“International aid organizations still have a long learning curve. While staff composition is becoming localized, key power holders are still expats and decision making is still with global HQs.”

Progress?  But how?
So, at least in this corner of the world -the Philippines- there appears to be some progress toward localization, but without longitudinal data we have no grounds to argue for any kind of consistent direction.  Perhaps another survey in a year would be in order.

My read of the data indicates there seems to be some progress, but one must ask ‘what factors, policies, etc. allowed it to happen?’ and also ‘how can this one specific location tell us about how to proceed forward in other locations toward the goal of localization?’

I am very sober to the fact that our sample of Filipino aid and development workers is very limited and that we have raised far more questions than we have answered.  More work needs to be done. More comment and analysis soon.

 

 

All for now on this question, in the meantime contact me if you have questions or comments.

 

 

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University and founder of the Elon's Periclean Scholars program. He has been researching and studying aid and development issues for nearly two decades and most recently published 'Aid Worker Voices' (2016) and is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.' Currently he is working on implementing a vetting system for community based learning (both domestic and international) that will ensure the highest ethical pedagogical practices.

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2014