Recently, I heard the head of a nonprofit organization that works in Africa declare that the goal of his organization is to work itself out of a job.
“With your support now,” he assured the audience, “in just a few years, our help won’t be needed.”
This is an old adage among development workers and one that is especially popular with some funders, such as the U.S. Congress, who think of foreign assistance as global philanthropy to provide a short-term hand up — not a hand out.
With this view goes the belief that if we just do a good job, then prosperous, well-governed communities will quickly take root and eliminate the need for further assistance. After all, that’s what happened in South Korea. Unfortunately, success in one country does not predict success in another, and all the evidence on social and economic development tells us we still have a long row to hoe.
If you date the modern era of international development to the emergence of the post-World War II world order and the end of European colonialism in the late 1950s, then we’ve been trying to work ourselves out of a job for more than 60 years.Building resilience is a long-term endeavor that requires ongoing commitment. It is not an end state. Click To Tweet
Maybe it’s time to accept that ending extreme poverty by promoting inclusive political and economic institutions, rule of law and respect for human rights is not simply a matter of following the correct blueprint, finding the right solution or technology, or building enough capacity so “they can do it themselves.”
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