A torrid ménage à trois…

One of my favourite aid blogs is J’s now defunct “Tales from the Hood”.  He’s a bit of a grumpy old sod and does tend to harp on about the same things again and again [yes, we get the need for professionalism in the aid sector].  As what he says tends to be Important Stuff That I Generally Agree With (With Some Exceptions), I can live with that.  To me however, his most important post was what about he called the “torrid ménage à trois” of aid (http://talesfromethehood.com/2011/11/08/menage-a-trois/).  Sadly, this is not about the latest erotica masterpiece starring two kinky billionaires and a trembling virgin, it’s the foundation upon which the aid/development industry is built.

The three participants of the aid ménage are the donors (either governments or individuals), the service provider (including NGOs) and the recipients or beneficiaries.  Whether it is bilateral or multi-lateral aid, the fundamental issue is that those who give the money are the not the same people/entities as those who receive the aid.  That’s the main difference between service provision in the aid/development sector and, theoretically at least, service provision in the public sector.  Those of us who work as service providers are directly accountable to those who fund us and not to those who receive our services – and this is the case whether you are a local or international NGO/CSO, recipient government or any other type of organisation in this industry.

This is painfully obvious for anyone working in or spending any time observing the industry – it’s “the Pope is Catholic” type of obvious, and it comes up whenever people talk about accountability of aid, aid effectiveness, governance, impact measurement and all those other Big Portentous Words.  Because this basic foundation of the industry results in a framework that perversely encourages dysfunctional sex.  Ahem – I meant aid.  Although it probably does its fair share in contributing to dysfunctional sex as well for those involved in it [ah, those proposals and reports, the logframes and spreadsheets – sexy times]…

I’m not Dambiso Moyo or Linda Polman going on about how the aid industry will be up there with Corrupt Southern Governments, Evil Multinational Corporations, and Zombies in contributing to the upcoming Apocalypse.  I believe, when done well, that aid can and does work.  But if/when it does, it does so despite and in spite of its central dysfunction – it works because people on all sides of the triangle on the ground make it work.

There is certainly a lot of awareness about the problem.  Although this awareness hasn’t always contributed to much beyond the token in practice, it has become part of mainstream discourse.  You have initiatives such as HAP (Humanitarian Accountability Partnership) set up ten years ago which aims to increase accountability of service providers (principally NGOs) to beneficiaries.  There’s some (IMO largely tokenistic) efforts towards participatory and beneficiary based accountability frameworks alluded to in the strategies of both NGOs and donors.  However, my fear is that increasingly, pressures are going the other direction with the mainstream donors and NGOs which makes it more and more difficult to navigate this ménage à trois.

So dysfunctional sex/aid, and not of the good kind, is set to continue…

So, is this the life?

Well, it’s been almost three months since I’ve moved here to Hanoi, Vietnam so this is a somewhat belated start on this blog.

So, to recap the last few months, these are the main things I’ve achieved:

– learnt how to drive my scooter like a maniac ie a true Hanoivian.  This includes but is not limited to going up the wrong way on one way streets because I can’t be arsed to go all the way around, treating red lights as mere suggestions with slightly less force than a stop sign, and window shopping on a busy road during rush hour while on my scooter.  Note that, sadly, I’m still one of the more defensive/rule abiding drivers on Hanoi’s roads…

– Completed two modules of my Masters which included TWO exams on the same day.  Yes, that translates to SIX hours of handwriting.  My right hand was whining at the luddite ridiculousness of it all 15 minutes in and was almost at the point of staging a full scale uprising by the end of that day.  My left hand was smug.

– Attended enough Vietnamese lessons that, if I actually got round to consolidating and practicing what I learnt, I could theoretically be able to hold a 5 minute conversation with someone.  Remember that “If”…

– Established once and for all that everyone has been lying to me and that I was actually born without the ability to produce endorphins.  Especially when getting up at 6am to go “running”.  However, I still do it just because the West Lake in Hanoi is something very special…

– Established close and productive relationships with my local Pho and Bun Cha food stalls.  I’m particularly proud of this one – so much sacrifice was involved to achieve this.

– Became an aunt (or whatever it is if my cousin has a child).  I don’t think this was really down to any special effort on my part though.

Things I have yet to achieve:

– Blogging on Big Issues.

– Anything resembling family research aside from a haphazard family tree.  Although I have managed to discover very juicy bits of family gossip which may or may not be true…

– Being able to hold a five minute conversation in Vietnamese without provoking a pained, concentrated expression on the face of my unlucky victim as they mentally run through all the possible tones and combinations to try to figure out what I’m trying to say.

– Watching the second (or third) season of Game of Thrones.

– Eating dog meat.

– Getting a cat.

Not bad three months in…