Voices from the aid 'chain': The personal dynamics of care
McNamara, N. and Morse, S. (2004) Voices from the aid 'chain': The personal dynamics of care. Social & Cultural Geography, 5 (2). pp. 253-270. ISSN 1464-9365
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1080/14649360410001690240
This paper uses a simplified model of the aid 'chain' to explore some causes and consequences of breakdown in communication. Although the rhetoric of Northern-based donors is awash with words such as 'partnership' and 'inclusion' when dealing with their Southern-based partners, the situation in practice is different. Unequal power relationships sometimes result in donor imposition of Perspectives and values. It is our contention, based on a collective experience of fifty-four years in a Nigerian-based non-governmental development organization (NGDO), the Diocesan Development Services (DDS), that much of the driving force behind the successes and problems faced by the institution was founded on relationships that evolved between individuals. In order to understand why things happened the way they did it is necessary to begin with the human element that cannot be condensed into objects or categories. While injudicious donor interference bad damaging repercussions, our experience suggests that care and consideration flow throughout the aid chain and actions are not malevolent. Breakdowns can be attributed to a number of factors, with the over-riding one being pressures operating at the personal level that emanate from within the institution itself and the larger community. The paper analyses three experiences using institutional ethnography theory and methodologies as a basis. Examples taken address the influence key donor personnel had in the function of DDS, and how these changed with time. The mission, policies and even procedures of the donor did not change markedly over thirty-two years, but each changing desk officer had their own philosophy and approach and a different interpretation of their own institutional policies. Hence while the 'macro' has an influence it is mediated via individual interpretation. In our view, the importance of people-people relationships is particularly understated in development literature where emphasis gravitates towards the aggregate and global.