Debate

"The successful development assistance" - the first book from the inside about how Swedish development cooperation works in practice.

It is important to have a critical debate about development aid, but today's discussions are based too much on preconceived notions and snapshots. The failures of development aid must be acknowledged but also discussed, says Jan Bjerninger, who is currently working on a new book.

The editorial staff of the development aid debate has asked me to explain why I wrote down my experiences of Swedish development cooperation. This is what happens in a book that comes out in the days with the perhaps provocative title “The successful aid. About Swedish development cooperation in practice ”.

I think there are problems with today's Swedish development aid debate. It is based too much on preconceived notions or on snapshots, which are too seldom representative. Those who themselves have practical experience from within of development assistance and its results rarely participate in the debate. It is certainly the case that even among us who have worked with aid for a long time, there are many different perceptions of aid and its effectiveness. And it is also important that there is a critical discussion from people who see aid from the outside with healthy and independent eyes. That discussion is important for improving development assistance.

But still: I and many, who, like me, have practical experience of development cooperation, think that development aid produces important, positive results that have changed the reality of many poor people in the right direction; results that have given vulnerable women and men better tools to improve their situation. This is precisely the goal of Swedish development assistance! We think that there is a good factual basis for being proud of 50 years of Swedish development assistance, although we also believe that the difficult reality in which development assistance works provides a basis for great humility and openness to change our methodology based on the experiences gained.

That openness also means that we must acknowledge the failures that are an inevitable part of everyday development assistance and a prerequisite for good results.

That openness also means that we must acknowledge the failures that are an inevitable part of everyday development assistance and a prerequisite for good results. Without risk-taking with the accompanying setbacks, success is also lacking. Without recognition and analysis of the causes of setbacks, we cannot improve operations. I would like many more of my former development aid colleagues to actively share their experiences in this discussion; that they proudly highlight the good results but also help to learn lessons from failures and problems.

In the book, I try to address the difficult questions of development assistance: What are the results? What is its success? Is it in reasonable proportion to the costs? Does aid benefit the dictators of the developing world and their exercise of power? What are the main arguments against providing assistance? Does it even do more harm than good? What must a good aid worker know? How do you reach people living in poverty? How to have a dialogue with respect for the partner's ownership? Is so-called budget support good? Why should we taxpayers continue to give a percentage of our national income to development cooperation?

The book has no ambition to be comprehensive. It provides a range of personal examples and reasoning, not complete pictures of each area!

But it addresses the main obstacles to development: corruption, environmental degradation and violence. How does aid respond to and prevent them? It resonates around the key areas of development: How does development cooperation benefit human rights and democracy? How does it improve knowledge and how does it promote sexual and reproductive health? Does it make sense for a poor country to build up its own research? What has the IT revolution meant for the fight against poverty? What happens to the food supply of the poor when the climate changes? Is clean water a human right or an economic resource? Why is gender equality not "just" a question of values, but of direct practical significance in the fight against poverty? What do the business community and NGOs mean for development?

The book also touches on some sensitive questions: Why did it take so long to get the journalists in Europe released? … Why did the Minister for Development Aid leave the employees within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida in the lurch, when, for example, there were organizational problems? Was the media too flat when it happened?

The book also touches on some sensitive questions: Why did it take so long to get the journalists in Europe released? Why did the government take responsibility from Sida for the International Maritime University in Malmö, when the authority took signals of malpractice in its management seriously? Why did the Minister for Development Aid leave the employees within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida in the lurch, when, for example, there were organizational problems? Was the media too flat when it happened?

Many books critical of aid have been written over the years. As far as I know, this is the first book, where someone with their own practical experience of Swedish development cooperation responds to the criticism. I have tried to do so without idyllicizing aid. The book discusses the advantages and disadvantages of development cooperation; around its possibilities and difficulties. I have tried to build it around examples from my four decades of experience of development cooperation from Sida, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, business and voluntary organizations.

I hope that the book can stimulate a critical discussion, in which both those who are outside the development assistance practice and those who work in the middle of the development assistance reality, not least in the field, participate. It would be fun if such a discussion could take place right here at the Development Aid debate! I welcome criticism, assent, additions, happy and outraged comments and other debate, which my book can hopefully lead to.

"Successful assistance" can be ordered through online bookstores (adlibris, bokus…). It can also be ordered directly via the link www.detframgångsrikabiståndet.se. The balance is divided between Vi-skogen / SCC and mangrove-promoting environmental activities.

Jan Bjerninger

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