During my Xmas break I was able at last to put flesh to what, for me, was a mythical creature: the Aid Effectiveness Officer. The lead character in John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener is an Aid Effectiveness Officer, but I’d never previously encountered one. I had thought / hoped that they might only exist in legends designed to keep aid recipient bureaucrats on their toes lest they get a visit from the Aid Effectiveness Officer ghost. I even wondered whether they came in tripartite form: the ghosts of Aid Past, Aid Present and Future Aid. (Although, given the course of Aid history, maybe the Ghost of Aid Present would be the scariest; an IMF inspection team of headless wraiths?)
But now I can reveal to you the truth: yes Aid Effectiveness Officers actually exist – I’ve met one in the flesh. It was the season of goodwill and we were all pretty merry, so though one’s trusty blogger’s ears perked and nose twitched, the impassioned tirade had to be put to one side. “An Aid What Officer?” I wanted to ask. Are other Aid Officers not effective? Of all the things the Aid industry has sought to mainstream did they somehow forget effectiveness? … Cos if there’s one thing you’d think you might want to mainstream, surely that would be it?
In fact the guy talked some reasonable macro-economic sense and decried the dysfunctional government systems of the country where he worked. It’s maybe not fair to blame the guy for the job he does; we should blame the idiots who pay him instead. And, let’s face it, Aid often isn’t terribly effective, and could do with someone who could improve its tarnished record?
But, I’m not sure he should get off all that easily. He no longer works in the UN system, but is now a consultant. This may be as much to do with the UN’s own lack of effectiveness, but consultants are usually limited to short-term work, whereas in my book one critical ingredient of aid effectiveness is long term engagement. So he’s raking in the money, advising his former employers, other donors and recipient countries how to be ‘effective’. One is tempted to wonder whether they might not all get better value for money if some kindly fellow would just point them the way to the self-help stand in their nearest airport bookstore?
Yes, alright, this is something of a rant, but I do have a problem with a system in which effectiveness is not required to be built in right from the start but which somehow has to be bolted-on on top. In business, if you’re not effective you’re fired, the company goes under, or both. And if you tried suggesting to your boss that you need a Business Effectiveness Officer, you might well be fired too.
Any human system is ultimately made up of the people within it. Awhile ago I asked: “Did you turn up to work today to alleviate poverty … or to claim your pay cheque?” I challenge any Aid Effectiveness Officer to answer that question without caveats.