Thursday, February 20, 2014

Development Theory and the Changing Role of the Aid Worker: A Ghanaian Perspective

Perhaps one of the most popular indicators of poverty is the World Bank’s definition which maintains that any individual living on less than $2 a day is in moderate or worse state of poverty. Based on income, this approach suggests that the individuals in question lack the sufficient purchasing power to enjoy basic human needs. This impression has also been continually supported by the idea of relative poverty; which stresses that poverty can also be measured by comparative financial inequality within national context. Another widely held meeting point is to signify the differences between luxury and essential products and to suggest that those in poverty lack the latter.  Nonetheless, although I believe these classifications can hold merit, I find that the monetary and economic capability of individuals is often prioritised ahead of human values, social circumstance and ultimately happiness.
This more conceivable humanist perspective of poverty has largely stemmed from my personal experience as an aid worker in Ghana. Interestingly, although considerable segments of the population in the Upper East Region can internationally be considered as ‘poor’ and in some cases deprived it would be wrong to maintain that their society and culture is less fortunate. For instance, if we compare the hustle and bustle of London to the friendly and relaxed atmosphere that exists throughout Ghana it would be hard to critically analyse which society has developed 'correctly’.
Saying this, I have witnessed more pressing and practical problems in Ghana. The rural poor are subject to a variation of issues such as unreliable sources of water, a lack of food security and health scares; nevertheless, is attempting to mirror how the West developed the magic bullet? In order to truly flourish the populace needs to believe in its own initiative, draw upon and adapt from indigenous culture and self-determine a development policy which is both unique and relevant. Quick cash injections and investment may be applicable to industrialised economics but do such aid policies reflect that of a country which is reliant on a low technology and informal agricultural sector. Increased exportation may mean higher prices but in the long term could less economically developed countries lose independence by becoming the affordable bread basket of richer nations.
This criticism perhaps runs parallel to the most recent influx of development theory which is leaning away from traditional modernisation and towards sustainable empowering solutions. Given that ideas surrounding building local capability naturally involve home-grown solutions and minimalist intervention, the role of the international aid worker has become challenged and is in need of adaptation. According to this new philosophy aid workers no longer have the answers and therefore cannot simply prescribe a set model of development, which traditionally would have advocated neoliberal themes.
It is imperative that future aid workers gain cultural perspective and a local working knowledge because ultimately it will be these tools and ideas which will be used to introduce and inform new models of sensitive development. Another role aid workers must undertake is encouraging deliberation, so that locals can engage with development directly. Whilst it may be improper to force Western values such as women’s rights, sexual equality and anti-corruption on foreign nations I believe it is fair to ask nationals how they feel about such issues in an open and honest manner. By allowing a clear dialogue; ideas can be shared, participants on both sides can gain enlightened perspective and policy can be devised according to popular consent.
In closing, this article has attempted to signify the importance of humanist values and cultural significance ahead of modernisation and economic indicators of poverty. It promotes a development approach which is unique, culturally appropriate and self-determined whilst being mindful that the role of the aid worker is becoming increasingly challenged. It concludes that aid workers need to position themselves as facilitators as opposed to implementers as this allows developing nations to secure creative and local solutions to problems.
Your Blogger today was: Alastair Mears
Originally published for Future Foreign Policy 

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