As a humanitarian worker soon to move out of the sector, the IARAN and Action Against Hunger event on the future of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) last week added new reflections on my decision. As I move out of the sector, do I cease to be a humanitarian? How will my attitudes towards INGOs change?
Michel Maietta, director of IARAN at Action Against Hunger introduced the event by pointing out that complexity does not need a reactive response, but instead: analysis and a readiness to question oneself.
Often frustrated by the tendency for most INGOs to fall back on tired methods for ‘saving the world’, the launch and the report presented by the IARAN, demonstrate a refreshing and intelligent willingness to acknowledge that the INGO, as an actor, must look outward and forward, and adapt, or risk becoming irrelevant.
The panel discussion weaved around topical mainstays including the new (and often more effective) actors delivering aid today, the inescapable politicisation of aid, the struggle for power between the West and the Rest; admitting in the process, some of the less helpful characteristics of our sector. It dawns on me how this opens a series of transformational discussions, but also that I, whatever my job or the sector in which I work, can play a part in our collective humanitarian objectives.
What we are seeing is the rise of economic logic in the humanitarian domain. From value for money arguments donors employ, to the effectiveness debate private sector actors employ in order to gain a bigger part of the market – these all suggest that the aid sector is increasingly applying market economics to deliver quality services to people in need.
As someone with experience also of the private sector, I can see that cash programming for example, would not only empower people to choose the services they need, but also develop the local private sector. Are the longer-term consequences going to be wider wealth distribution, poverty alleviation and a natural reduction in the accountability gap?
I appreciate that cash programming involves risk and can be unhelpful in crises, but analysing how applicable cash programming is to the modern aid sector seems useful in order to understand the wider adaptability of INGOs and what sorts of institutions these should aspire to be.
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