Thursday June 9, 2011
Below is a rant/reflection I had this morning, enjoy!
Wake up in the morning
Under the mango tree, fried eggs with tea
World Vision, Care, Ibis, IFDC,
CIDA, Action Aid and WFP
SNV, USAID, UNICEF, GIZ, and ITFC
They make up the development industry…
Every morning while I’m enjoying my egg and bread (fried eggs in a loaf of bread), the herds of white land cruisers drive past me. You’ve got the really obnoxious ones with the snorkel intake and the 7 ft. radio antenna on the front – they’re usually UN or World Vision trucks. Then you’ve got the common Nissan Hardbody and Toyota Hilux pick-up trucks. They usually belong to smaller NGOs like Ibis and Action Aid. Almost every SUV or pick-up truck you see in Tamale has an NGO/development organization sticker on the side. You’ll probably never see these vehicles being driven by individual people because of their price tag; 60,000GHC – 90,000GHC. Yes, this is but one of the ridiculous indicators of the development industry in Northern Ghana.
I think that most people in the west are unaware that “poverty reduction” is simply an industry. There are development consultants that design, monitor, and evaluate development projects that are supposed to reduce poverty, and they get paid unbelievable amounts of money (pretty similar wages to consultants in the private sector in Canada or the US). There are also the numerous businesses who survive solely on NGO business, like the many flip chart dealers in Tamale. Then there are the government employees who subsidize their salaries with Daily Subsistence Allowances (DSA) provided by donors during often useless “capacity building” workshops, and of course we can’t leave out Toyota who would not be the number one car manufacturer in the world if poverty did not exist! Seriously, Toyota Ghana is the biggest company in Ghana and I’d bet that 70% of their sales are to development organizations!
And then you’ve got the fancy offices. NGO offices are usually the nicest office complexes in Northern Ghana. Far nicer than private sector companies, and Government offices. They’ve got 24 hour watchmen, air conditioning throughout, running water and clean toilets, flower beds, and grass. Check out the Christian Children Fund of Canada’s office, and the UNICEF headquarters in Accra. Yep, probably $15 of your $30/month donations help build these beautiful offices. Sometimes, when I ride my moto through Tamale I wonder how much prime real-estate is being used by development organizations and how this is systemically preventing private sector economic growth.
To be honest the development industry often makes me sick. I’m beginning to lose respect for individuals who label themselves as lifetime “poverty reductioners.” These people jump from donor project to donor project, and often don’t really care for sustainable long-term change. They live better lives in 5 bedroom mansions with personal drivers in Tamale than they would in New York or London.
And then there are the millions of Ghanaians who are employed by the development industry. There are the drivers, the secretaries, the accountants, the watchmen, the program officers, the project managers, the country directors, the chiefs of parties…the list is goes on. I’m often reminded of something a co-worker in Zambia told me, “Poverty can never be eliminated! We would have no jobs.”
Obviously, I disagree. Because I believe that poverty actually can be eliminated by providing new opportunities for people to make a living through economic growth and private sector development, and through partnerships with developing country Governments. This is how India and China are reducing poverty, and this is how some innovative development projects and organizations are approaching poverty reduction. But unfortunately, they’re such a minority in a machine that seems to care less about long-term change and more about immediate outputs. It’s often frustrating, and depressing. When will the day come when there is not a single NGO truck speeding around the streets of Tamale, or signs demarcating UN Offices and completed projects?
These are the reasons why I’m working with EWB and not somebody else, because EWB sincerely believes in working its way out of a job. We never fund projects, and we solely work with partners to help improve their efficiency and effectiveness in creating poverty reduction. We’re not a donor darling, chasing donor dollars without regard for sustainability. It’s refreshing to work alongside others who understand the complexity of development and who use their minimal resources towards creating the most positive change possible.
The Industry is complex, and entrenched but hopefully the more we understand it, the more we can change it.
That’s enough for now.