Empathy, trust and respect: Village Stay

Learning about and working within the development sector from a classroom, behind a computer screen, from watching the news or behind a desk in an air-conditioned office in a capital anywhere in the world will only teach you so much. Building empathy, trust and relationships that are genuine and meaningful with those living in vulnerable and poor situations will allow you to experientially build your understanding of their multiple stories and the systems in which they live.

These are wise words from my colleague at Engineers Without Borders, Miriam, on the power of understanding people and empathizing with their realities as part of a village stay.


Be wary of managing by numbers alone

More agency autonomy translates into more empowered in-country personnel. The fewer individuals on the ground that are required to defend their decisions to distant supervisors, the more creative and less conservative they will be — taking smart risks, rather than acting to ensure that they never make a mistake.


I wonder if the conclusions are perhaps making a logical leap and conflating management by numbers and management by activities?

It strikes me that it’s likely not the concept of holding people/projects/investments to goals that is the problem, instead, the research seems to show:

1) The goals must be the right goals, and they often aren’t.

2) The accountability mechanisms should be at the outcome and learning levels, rather than the activity/workplan level.

Thanks to @amirallana for this.

More or Better Aid? Or both?

Thanks to @Amir Allana for starting this discussion:


Hey EWB, just to throw a different viewpoint into the ‘better/more aid’ debate, check out this (in my opinion, excellent) piece from the Springfield Center. As EWB staff, in the field, working on aid reform, this resonates with me more than I can describe. In fact, I think this piece touches on most of what I rant about in the office here in Uganda on bad days!


My response: 1) Every single country context is different. Drawing lessons that advocating for more aid from the UK and applying it broadly, for example to Canada, without asking about the country context (about DFATD and the Canadian government) is a risky way to advocate for good policy.

As a couple of examples:
a) In 2012, UK aid flows were $14b per year and 0.56% of GNI. Canada it’s $5.6b and 0.32% of GNI. Is the distortion argument in the article equally valid with $9b less spending?

b) The UK spends twice as much in relative terms (and 4 times in absolute terms) on Country Programmable Aid as Canada does. This, in theory, is a lot more negotiation between the UK government and recipient governments — and according to the OECD DAC and Paris principles a good thing. How does this affect the core task of facilitating development?

So, who’s going to do the Canadian version of the Springfield Centre analysis?

2) I think this article makes some great points, but the most powerful ones about the quality of aid fail to convince me that AND is not possible. Why is it so much harder to challenge the idea of direct deliverables and value for money when spending $9b as compared to spending $14b? Linking the two is a logical leap that I’m simply not willing to accept.

I think the direct deliverables and value for money pressures, at least in Canada (where these have become more prevalent, even with declining aid spending), are more a function of other forces. Open government, less trust in government, more power for citizen action, less patience with social media, the cult of applying “business thinking” to everything, etc.

I certainly believe in many of the arguments about the quality of aid. But there’s nothing to suggest that these are better achieved with either a stagnant or declining aid budget. And I haven’t heard a good arguments saying that a smart, sophisticated, scaled-up and relentless set of advocates — which we have yet to fully establish on a Canada-wide basis…but we’re working on that! — can’t say both more and better aid.