Understanding Aid Work

The Future of Aid

Over the past few weeks, we have had the opportunity to explore the world of aid and development work and sit down with Matthew Thacker of PSI to learn from a firsthand perspective, and what a great perspective it was! After speaking primarily about the present for our conversations, for our final installment, I’d like to shift gears. Last week we unearthed the concept of decolonizing aid work, and how that is a desired future trend from many in the industry. But is this the only change that professionals in the industry are looking to make? The answer is a resounding no.

Less is More

One major trend that those in the industry want to see may surprise you. We tend to think of people wanting to reach out to every country and provide support to all as human nature. When you sit down and truly read what those working in the industry want the future to be, this isn’t the case. They’re looking for less. Thinking about it in terms of economics may help clear up the misconception. Some professionals believe that the sheer size of the industry has led to many corporations providing similar services. When we have a large number of companies providing similar services in a capitalist economy the end result is competition, and that is what is happening now. Competition can be good for certain industries, but for one with a foundation of international altruism, this is something that we need to avoid. All too often, when economic competition is distracting companies, it is the recipients of the aid who will suffer the most. As one expert put it, this leads to “the under-resourcing or crowding out of local groups.” The future could see aid organizations consolidating into one, which would reduce the need to compete and put the focus back on delivering the end product. Of course, we are talking in hypotheticals here, and this is much easier said than done. Once consolidated, other experts argue that organizations should then begin scaling their scopes back, essentially meaning they should be doing less. This ties nicely into decolonization, putting development focused aid back in the hands of the country that is benefiting from it. We are then left with humanitarian work, which some argue even then should be the bare necessities to get the country back on its feet, and then place the means back into their hands. 

Anticipatory Measures

This is not the only change professionals want to see in the future. One thing that some believe can be improved upon is preparedness. This change does not see us becoming fortune tellers, but rather, sees the industry working in an “anticipatory” mindset rather than a reactionary. Climate change is often used to illustrate this concept. While we cannot know exactly how the manifestations of climate change will reveal themselves, we generally know what they are, and it is with this general knowledge that professionals argue we can create anticipatory plans for aid work. One such manifestation is the increase in certain natural disasters; many used the Atlantic hurricane season of 2020 to prove this point. We know that more hurricanes are going to persist, rising ocean temperatures give hurricanes exactly what they need to form. If we know that we will see more, then once the slightest disturbance has been detected, preparatory plans should be in place to implement shelters, begin preparing emergency supplies, and even begin evacuations if needed. As someone who lives in Florida, hurricane preparedness is not new, and in a few weeks, it will be hard to find bottled water, generators, and board games in my state. However, this is not something that aid typically targets, as we have seen aid typically works in response to an issue.  With both preparation and response, aid work has the potential to help even more with its efforts – and even though this can only be applied to situations that we can somewhat predict, it is still better than nothing. Only so much help can be administered after-the-fact, and only so much can be done preemptively, but by combining these two efforts the industry would be able to do more than it ever has. These preemptive efforts don’t even need to come from international organizations every time. Once countries have the resources to do this on their own, the decolonization can continue. 

My Take

I have only scratched the surface on the future of aid work. I could have made this entire series only about the future of the industry, and still would not be done writing! Hopefully, this snippet is enough to spark the necessary conversations because aid work doesn’t only concern those who work for aid companies. While we may not actively go overseas and provide aid, we can donate, and we can spread awareness. For those of us in Western nations, it is important that we understand our role in providing aid; as I heard it put once, “if you don’t need it, you give it.” The fact that it is part of our federal budget, as mentioned in the first instalment, is a signal of its importance. Here at Riley, we work directly with NGOs and other organizations to go and provide aid services to those overseas, and we enjoy doing it. This is how we can contribute to the good work that foreign aid provides, and while it is my responsibility to be an analyst for this effort, I believe it is also my responsibility to share knowledge and awareness, and hope to have done just that with this series.