In the beginning, the Donors said, “Let us make development in our image, and in our likeness, so that we may bring about changes in developing countries”. And other Government Departments replied, “Yes, but not too much change, and not all at once, who knows What might Happen.” And the Donors did reflect upon this, and after a time they did say, “Let there be Aid Programmes”.

And lo, having completed the appropriate paperwork and then randomly recruited staff members on the basis of spurious social connections, the Aid Workers did create a great many Aid Programmes upon the land, with rather fewer in the sea.

Now at first many Aid Programmes were formless and empty, there was darkness over any possible engagement with intended beneficiaries, and attribution of impact was absolutely nowhere to be seen. With naught else to look at, the Donors did peck at the financials like bureaucratic vultures.

And the Donors did say, “Let there be light on this programme”, but there was no light, merely quarterly reports cut and pasted from other endeavours. But the Aid Workers saw that the reports were sufficient to get the donors off their backs. They called the reports “evidence-based” and they did construct programme narratives, after a fashion. And there were visits and some more reports.

And the Aid Workers said, “Let there be a separation between us and the communities we seek to serve, to keep us even further away from messy reality, lest our donors seek to explore this area further, nobody needs that”. So the separation was made and the people ‘under’ the programmes were divided even further from those people ‘above’ them. And it was so.

The Aid Workers called the separation ‘our new decentralised structures’ and occasionally ‘our new national partnership modalities’. And there was more reporting and the first mid-term reviews.

And upon reading the reviews, the Donors said, “Let all the programmes under this sky be gathered to one place, and let duplication and waste disappear.” But it was not so. Instead the Aid Workers did gather in the bar and Grumble about it over numerous beers. The next day, the Aid Workers said those programmes whose representatives had gathered in that bar formed ‘a new Coordinated Operational Network System, or CONS’. And the Donors did scratch their heads, and then said, “Well, Okay”.

Then the Donors said, “Let the programmes produce results: monitoring systems and  impact-bearing evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, according to their various kinds.” But again, it was not so. The programmes produced reports bearing more narratives and nice photos on the front. But the content was heavily skewed according to pre-defined objectives and indicators that could have been copied off a cereal box.

And the Aid Workers saw that it was rather woolly and vague, and were satisfied. And the Donors saw that it was not Actually very good, but would at least keep the Right Wing Press off their backs for a little longer.

And the Aid Workers Head Offices said, “Let there be journalists and blogs and tweets to separate the donors – both individual and institutional – even more quickly and deeply from their cash. And let our Woolly Results serve as signs to mark our fundworthiness. And let there be pictures of children, ideally being hugged by tired-looking pretty white girls.”

And it was so. Head Office made two great lights—the greater to shine into possible funding  opportunities, and the lesser light to identify photogenic but hungry looking babies. Head Office also invited the stars and celebrities, after their Compassion-Fashion-Kicks. And Head Office saw that it was good.

And then one Aid Worker did Stand up and Say, “Let our Programmes be shaped by those we seek to serve, and Let them tell us what is good and right, and let us shine a true light into these programmes of ours, so that a light may then shine forth from them. And let that Light be Truly called ‘Development’.”

But the other Aid Workers did say, “Shut up and sit down, What are you playing at, Dost thou wish to get us all into the Deep Excrement?”

Thankfully the Donors were too busy creating new Declarations of Aid Effectiveness, within which all new and existing efforts should be fixed, according to their kind, and so did not notice.

And so this Aid Worker did leave that place, and became a Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.

The other Aid Workers blessed her departure and said “Come back when our next mid-term review is due, and verily your rates will be good.” And they were.

And then finally the Donors, after yet more ambiguous reviews, did say, “Let your programmes prove their sustainability, such that we shall see how they continue after we reduce core funding.” And this Exit Strategy they all did  promise to abide.

And so, after more grumbling, questionable reports, and beers, the Aid Workers did leave that place to work in areas which were more aligned with the Donors current priority interests. And so it happened that National Partners were left to wind the programmes down within one year, albeit at a fraction of the original cost and with Minimum Overheads.

And then, two more years after that, New Donors and their staff members did arrive, and they did say, “Let there be an Aid Programme Just Here.”

And, lo, it was so.

Join the conversation! 15 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. The story works wonderfully as a parody, but the truth in it also broke my heart. Your voice through this blog is really fantastic, and this change up with the parody is great way to add your insights to such incredibly challenging and complex work.

  2. Sweet merciful spaghetti monster, that is magnificent.

  3. And there were visits and some more reports.

  4. The donor’s desire to do good without direct involvement, meets the AID worker’s reality. Clearly, the more than subtle message is that “good” is not always possible without sweat — Donor sweat. This scenario, sadly, is more accurate than not. Clearly, money/funding is not always an advantage. Development insight does not always come easily, no matter the cost. Yet there are few choices, but to proceed even if it is simply evaluation and analysis, for naught. In the history of development there is always the hope that making a commitment to do good will, sometimes work — or not! Striving for perfection makes us realize that we’re not. Yet, we are compelled to try, lest we feel toooo guilty for the wealth we have acquired at the expense of others. We are left with the question of worth; and, we again try to assuage a guilty conscience with a really good bottle of Champaign. Thought: was Marx right? Another sip of Champaign! Is economic colonialism, enslavement really bad? Another sip!

  5. […] The Genesis of Aid (A Parody) by our good friend Ben Ramalingam over at @aidontheedge […]

  6. […] Also take a look at the blogpage of Marcus Jenal and one of my other favorite bloggers David Green (Oxfam). I assume that most of my readers are by now also subscribed to Aid on the Edge of Chaos by Ben Ramalingham (ODI). If you feel like a good laugh take a look at Ben’s post on the Genesis of Aid (a parody). […]

  7. Thanks Ben! You may not know we’re out here, but you keep us all laughing and crying and working and thinking….

  8. I enjoyed that one, Ben. 🙂

  9. It is like the well-known story of the Emperor’s Clothes- The Emperor wants the finest dress and the clever Cratsman comes up with this non-dress and the Emperor is all excited; nobody wants to call the bluff that the Emperor is naked, and keep praising what a magnificent dress he is wearing ! But yes, you have to be clever to stay in the game and win it. All t
    The reports must look like scholarly works. Appraance is all that matters….

  10. If you find this funny, you must be working in development

  11. Ben, this is truly amazing. all looking at ourselves and thinking, what is my part in all this spoof? i sure have made my contribution as a participant, as a listener or by ignoring the very sign that it was all parody.

  12. @david great reply and equally great post thumbs up

  13. […] great parody of the aid world by Aid on the Edge of […]


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About Ben Ramalingam

I am a researcher and writer specialising on international development and humanitarian issues. I am currently working on a number of consulting and advisory assignments for international agencies. I am also writing a book on complexity sciences and international aid which will be published by Oxford University Press. I hold Senior Research Associate and Visiting Fellow positions at the Institute of Development Studies, the Overseas Development Institute, and the London School of Economics.