Those bloody western NGOs

Yes, I really don’t like western NGOs, especially those working in Asian and African developing countries. The reasons for this is partly emotional, partly rational and comes from a combination of observation and reading.

1) As a native south east asian, the sight of westerners – usually white, young and privileged – playing the saviour in South East Asia is galling. It reeks of colonialism, it stinks of imperialism especially considering the history of the region. I much prefer young drunk western tourists.

Worse, it is unlikely that these young people are as skilled as they’d like to think.

Far better to educate locals to do the work themselves through either direct western development funding / staffing for schools or the provision of scholarships to committed adults to skill up overseas and return (adults are less likely to immigrate). Western universities and schools can develop free or low cost on-line courses (suitable for low bandwidth internet and old computers). Where internet connectivity permits, western professionals can stay at home and give free technical or professional advice if they really want to help.

Finally, the question has to be asked of these westerner NGO / volunteer types: why are you not helping at home? For example, Australians should look to their own indigenous peoples: their health and economic indicators are actually *worse* than the majority of developing countries in South East Asia. The sight of young Australian volunteers / NGO workers overseas is particularly annoying given that context.

2) Western funded and managed NGOs are primarily accountable to their donors, usually western donors, often governments. Yes, they all say stuff about being respectful to local culture, working with local government and people, empowerment blah blah. But every time I see an ad on TV, my bullshit detector goes off. From observation and research, the gap between the PR and the ground is wide and I don’t trust many of them. Western religion funded or religious NGOs are even more suspect. I have less issue with secular western funded, locally managed and staffed NGOs although there are problems a plenty there as well.

Related problems with western funded and managed NGOs are the crowding out of local organisations (which could be more effective) and brain-drain from local organisations into foreign NGOs.

3) Western funding for development in general is suspect. Far better if western countries lowered trade barriers, immigration barriers (for workers – remittances are very effective), loosened intellectual property type laws and kept their foreign policy interventions to a minimum (especially those supporting local strongmen). Micro-credit schemes are not a bad way to go but the high interest rates are problematic. “Loss-making” micro-credit schemes are a better option where interest rates are lowered to standard loan interest rates and the cost of small transaction management absorbed as operational costs.

There’s more of course and is handily summarised here.

One thought on “Those bloody western NGOs

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