Collective wisdom = better aid?

Is that necessarily the case? Owen advocates greater transparency and engagement with citizens of donor countries:

In the long run, public opinion will determine how much aid is given, to whom, and by what means: we cannot and should not try to sidestep the argument by putting the administration of aid beyond the reach of public opinion.

I agree that attempting to “deliver aid despite public opinion” is not the right way to go. This however obviously doesn’t imply that we go to the other extreme. A decent balance is necessary and all those responsible for administering aid ought to strive to strike a balance.

What about the so-called ‘beneficiaries’ then? As a citizen of a recipient country, would I want the kind of development that a foreigner chooses for me? Choices made by a literate media-savvy population that enjoys a high (and secure) standard of living…Can I be sure that needs voiced by my community would match what the public opinion in the donor countries desire? I agree that results, evidence and analysis can help shape the debate. But I also know only too well that these are only a part of the big picture – and that these alone are unlikely to shape public opinion and donor policies.

The size of aid in itself is unlikely to be significant enough to warrant sustained interest among people beyond those linked directly with the aid industry. Sure, public interest would be high if one considers the sum total of policies that affect international development – trade, migration, outsourcing etc – and that’s probably the reason political rhetoric on these issues usually lean towards being protective of local interests in most western countries. (And rightly so).
From Owen’s article, it is clear enough why citizens of donor countries need to be engaged. One also needs to stress as strongly that citizens of recipient countries need to be heard as well. Of course, Owen himself has written previously about how to get feedback from aid beneficiaries.

Hence, to a large extent, the captains of the aid industry (including, say the trade, defence and finance ministries) have to take the responsibility of directing the course of international aid, receiving and integrating feedback from recipient governments and their citizens, their own citizens and their peers in the aid industry. 


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