Yesterday I blogged about how the critical elements of a healthy trust relationship are too often missing in community development and conservation projects. Today, I turn my attention to the donor-implementer relationship, where trust seems to be even more lacking.
It is axiomatic of human nature that when given a job to do, whether just by our boss or a contract we have won, that, as far as possible, we just want to be left alone to get on with the job. Of course, if we have not completed the task to a satisfactory standard within a reasonable period of time we expect our boss to come asking awkward questions. But equally, we really resent a boss who checks up on us too much or asks lots of detailed questions about process rather than simply assessing the actual final product. This is just a fact of basic human nature and the need for both self-respect and the respect of others.
Some donors really do seem to get this, focus on the big picture, and we love them for it. But others unfortunately cannot resist the urge to quibble about minor details and to obsess about issues such as corruption or gender-mainstreaming in projects that have little otherwise to do with such things. Unfortunately, the message that sends out to us as a project implementer is: they don’t trust us. And nobody likes to work for a boss who doesn’t trust them, so you can expect us to carp about it … a lot! E.g. accusing one’s donor of neo-colonialism.
This issue can be bad enough between donors and NGOs, but I get the impression it gets even worse between bi- and multi-lateral donors and recipient country governments. After years of failed delivery, of course, the donor officials hardly trust the government officials, but each are locked into a system in which the donors are compelled to keep on giving, and the officials are compelled to keep on receiving. Worse, both sets of officials are accountable to their bosses for the successful continuation of the grant giving, and so are doomed to fight the same running battles about use or misuse of funds over and over again.
It seems to me that if donors want their donations to succeed, then we need to restore proper dignity and trust to this relationship, and not just with a few inane platitudes from ambassador to minister. In order to do this we need to simultaneously put aside all our historical bad feelings, while at the same time ensuring we have learned the necessary lessons so we do not just fall into the same trap all over again. This is what Cash on Delivery aid promises to do.
Some NGOs which are both (a) darned competent and (b) lucky to be working on a zeitgeist issue, can get popular enough with the donors that they can start to push back, and dictate terms to some extent as to how they are supported. Maybe even some more effective governments (Ethiopia? Rwanda?) have some success in this respect to? But most of us are stuck with benefactors who, despite all their protestations of being mere partners in the development process, clearly do not trust us very much. That can be hard to stomach.
Tomorrow, I will consider the even more poisonous non-trust relationship between civil society and government in developing countries.