Transforming aid

A series of scandals has exposed the unequal power relations in the international aid sector. Jessica Ayeesha Northey, International Co-ordinator of the Green Party, explores how the sector must be changed to serve those who need its support

Jessica Ayeesha Northey
Mon 18 Jun 2018

On 9 February 2018, the Times published the story that top Oxfam officials had paid for sex with survivors of the Haiti earthquake, including potentially underage girls, uncovering one of the most significant scandals to hit the aid industry in decades. The earthquake that struck Haiti killed over 300,000 people and displaced over a million and a half more. With the lowest human development indexes in the Americas and long-standing political instability, despite its proud revolutionary history, Haitians now represent some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. That they are the victims of such abuses is unbearable and the damage to Oxfam's reputation has extended far beyond the organisation, to the humanitarian aid and development sectors more widely.

What does this mean for the future of humanitarian aid and development funding? More importantly, what does it mean for the lives of poor people across the planet? And what has been the Greens' response to this in a context of failing public confidence in the aid system and an increasing right-wing sentiment to stand back from internationalism, solidarity and development aid funding?

Having worked in international development for over ten years (and having purposefully withdrawn from it), I fully share the vision of Amelia Womack in her recent speech in Bournemouth that aid needs radical transformation. The current systems of aid management are failing the people they are supposed to serve.

We urgently need to think about better, more radical and more visionary ways of supporting development across the globe. Aid should not be driven by foreign policy interests, former colonial ties, trade interests or misplaced pity. It needs to incorporate radical new and effective mechanisms and the recognition that we have as much to learn from the so-called developing world as we have to give, as well as a recognition that in 'giving', Western donor countries have historically often been highly damaging and exploitative to countries in the Global South.

This does not mean we should renounce our commitment to global solidarity and internationalism. And Green ideology is a fundamental and important source of new ideas. One of the most interesting proposals for transformation is the idea of direct payments - cash transfers - in line with the Green Party proposals of a universal basic income. Implementing the right mechanisms for managing this is vital, and we need to draw on expertise from around the world of current projects. The Kenyan Government, for example, is currently implementing such initiatives in its Turkana region, in the aftermath of the significant oil discoveries in that area. The challenges of rolling out that initiative will be highly valuable in assessing how we could learn and build on that.

So what are the priorities for transforming aid and who are the actors we can trust? My experience of most of the NGOs I worked with across Africa was that they were staffed by hard- working, decent and honest people. I had far greater difficulties with some of the staff of the powerful institutions, the European Union and the World Bank. The lack of accountability, sense of self-importance and entitlement, pay inequality and gender imbalance at all levels was overwhelming. The scandal in

Haiti came in the context of huge upheavals with the #MeToo campaign. Sexual abuse is not limited to the NGO sector, as has clearly been demonstrated, but all of these challenges are interconnected and we have to tackle gender inequality across all sectors. Women now need to be the main actors, in decision- making, in receiving aid and in managing it. Our partners in the East African Green Women's network recently participated in the multi-party conference in Westminster on 'Violence Against Women in Politics'. They are already standing up across the region, calling for equality, for a radical rethink, and it is voices such as theirs that will bring those new ideas for change.