The cons of using an international development agency
For argument’s sake, what could’ve gone wrong if an international development agency had taken charge of the project?
Lack of community buy-in
If an agency had taken charge of the project, the staff coming from the outside may not have had the same level of understanding or connection to the local community as Miriam, the leader from the community. This could have led to a lack of support and buy-in from the villagers for the project, which in turn could have hindered the project’s progress.
An example of bureaucratic delays that an international development agency may face with a project in a remote area of Africa could be the approval process for the project. The agency may have to navigate through a complex and lengthy process of obtaining approval from various government agencies and departments, which could include obtaining permits, licenses, and clearances. If an international development agency was implementing a water project in a village, the agency may have to obtain approval from the Ministry of Water, the Ministry of Health and the local government, which could take a lot of time and resources.
If a local person, such as Miriam, leads the project, they may have an advantage in navigating the bureaucratic processes involved in implementing a project in a remote area of Africa.
For example, Miriam may have a better understanding of the cultural and political context of the area and the various government agencies and departments that are involved in approving the project. She may also have established relationships and connections with local officials, which could facilitate the approval process.
Additionally, as a local, Miriam may be more familiar with the limited resources and infrastructure challenges in the area and could find creative solutions to work around these challenges. She is also likely to have a better understanding of the local languages, customs and culture which would enable her to communicate more effectively with the authorities and the community.
Limited understanding of local needs
If an international development agency takes on the project, the agency may not have had the same level of understanding of the specific needs and challenges of the local community as Miriam. This can lead to a project that does not fully meet the needs of the villagers, which hinders its effectiveness. It is important to note that international development agencies usually run some form of assessment exercise, often together with local representatives. Still, they are prone to have limited understanding of the local situation where they are about to run a project. There are many possible reasons. The most important is probably that the local context is naturally vast, making it virtually impossible to understand all the specific nuances and complexities of the area.
Dependence on external funding
If an international development agency had run Miriam’s project, it would’ve been heavily dependent on external funding. This could have made the project vulnerable to budget cuts or changes in funding priorities in the home country of the agency, never mind the issues that come with the ending of project cycles of three to five years.
International development agencies have a limited ability to ensure the sustainability of projects once they come to the end of their funding cycle. They don’t have the same level of connection to the community or understanding of local dynamics as Miriam. This could have made the project less effective in the long term, especially of the agency’s retreat.
Fixation on new ideas
International development agencies often bring their own ideas and technologies to projects, which may not always align with the needs and priorities of the local community. This can put community leaders like Miriam in a difficult position, as they may feel pressured to accept the agency’s ideas in order to secure funding for their projects. This can lead to a lack of communication and understanding between the local and international staff, causing projects to stall and frustration among all parties involved.
As highlighted in Ernesto Sirolli’s TED Talk “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!“, it’s important for development agencies to actively seek input and feedback from local leaders and community members to ensure that projects are truly meeting the needs of the community. ”
In our fictitious story, an international development agency may have proposed a project involving the implementation of their latest invention, solar cooking stoves. However, the stoves were not practical for the local community as they were designed for use during the day when villagers were tending to their fields. Without input and feedback from the local community, the agency may have overlooked this problem, and the stoves would have been rejected by the villagers as they did not meet their cooking needs.
This example highlights the importance of open communication and a willingness to accommodate the needs of the local community in order to ensure the success of development projects. By involving the local community in the decision-making process, such issues can be avoided and projects can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the community.
The political economy
The political economy of a country is the complex set of relationships between different actors, including the government, the private sector, and civil society, and their interactions in the distribution of resources and power. Having to feed the political economy can be a major challenge for international development agencies. They are perceived as having deep pockets giving rise to desires on many a stakeholder.
One example of how feeding the political economy can be a challenge for international development agencies is when they have to negotiate with local leaders and politicians for access to resources and support for the project. These local leaders and politicians may have their own agendas and interests, which may not align with the goals of the project. They may also have a strong influence over the allocation of resources and may demand a share of the project’s benefits, in the form of bribes or kickbacks, in exchange for their support.
Another example is when the local leaders and politicians have their own business interests in the area where the project is implemented. They may try to influence the project design, implementation or even the procurement process to benefit their own interests.
A local person, such as Miriam, may have a better understanding of the political economy of the area and the dynamics between different actors, and may be better equipped to navigate these challenges. She may also have established relationships and connections with local leaders and politicians, which could facilitate the negotiation process. Additionally, as a local person, Miriam may be more invested in the success of the project and less likely to engage in activities that would undermine its effectiveness.
Looks like a no-brainer to hire locals as project leads, doesn’t it? So …