Reading and thinking about Oxfam America’s new aid campaign and some of the reactions to it, made me think about the title of a song my kids used to listen to years ago “We’re All in this Together”.   As the greater community of “we” try to figure out what Smart Aid or Disruptive Development  or whatever we want to call it is, and how we transform from where we are to where we want to go, it’s a giant puzzle, with many moving and interconnected parts,  and we need to be listening to and talking to each other.  Is some aid ineffective? Of course. But is some aid also useful? Most likely.  I can cite examples that I feel are making an impact including this story from a program I’ve worked with that is partially U.S. AID funded, but I also want to address some of the broader ‘mindset’ questions.

It seems to me that there are a variety of useful roles to be played including:

  1. For citizens in countries where there are donor governments [like the U.S.], advocating for government to support development programs that are effective in bringing about significant outcomes by working with local partners (‘aid’).
  2. For citizens of recipient countries, to advocate to their governments to use aid more effectively and to play effective roles themselves with whatever they can do locally, working in a variety of partnerships.
  3. Working with partners to develop and implement programs that are locally sustainable.

It’s not always the roles we play that are the problem, it’s how we play them.  Decision-makers can help develop organizational cultures that encourage those in their organizations to keep asking the tough questions:

  1. Why are we doing what we’re doing?
  2. Are we (currently) the best ones to do it? If so, can we do what we’re doing differently/better? If not, should we continue to do it?
  3. Who else should we be talking with? Working with? (Who else holds the pieces of the puzzle most connected to our work)?
  4.  How can we open up conversations with a range of potential partners (including the public)?
  5. How can the work we do become locally sustainable?  Can we envision putting ourselves ‘out of business’?

So kudos to organizations like Oxfam America that are opening up the discussion and encouraging others to engage with them.  We may not always like the answers, but the more we ask the hard questions and really listen to responses from within our own organizations and from others, the closer we’ll get to better understanding the whole puzzle.