Aid as we know it, it has been shown time and again, does not work. This is a realization that hurts our hearts and irates a lot of people who are involved in what is frequently called the business of aid.
But we do know that there are a lot of people living below what someone has measured as the subsistence level. Most of us do not know what that really means, or how it is measured for the published statistics (lack of transparency), but if you look at any population group, in particular in the so called countries under development (Africa being the most painful example), you will see people of all age groups wearing torn and dirty clothes. You will see people who do not have the financial means to feed themselves one healthy meal and whose children show signs of malnutrition. You will see children working in the fields or caring for their younger siblings instead of being in school.
You will see young girls and women surrendering to prostitution because they cannot otherwise feed themselves. You see young boys and grown up men dealing in drugs because this illegal activity pays better than whatever other jobs, which are not available anyway, and provides for some living standard that aid cannot compete with.
For these people it seems that aid is the only solution. But it has been shown that aid is not a solution, much less the only solution. Investment in these people is the solution. A few examples will illustrate this idea.
- If I buy food in my developed country and send it to these needy people, I help them eat some healthy meals, but I deprive the local shop keeper of much needed revenue. But if I buy food from the local shop keeper, often a poor street vendor, I am making a useful and long lasting investment.
- If I send food to a needy family but do not help them grow their own food I am depriving that family from much needed knowledge and resources and curtailing any future possibilities of developing surplus and thus generating needed funds to send kids to school.
- If you send clothes to dress these people, you may find that they are less valuable as clothes and so they become merchandise sold on the streets under the ironic name of calamities (because they showed up as response to some natural calamity). People, even under the most stressful conditions do have a sense of humor...
- If I ship a used bike to a place where it is needed I am helping that needy person, but depriving the local bike shop, often a sidewalk operator, from much needed revenue.
- If I send money to build a much needed public building without the involvement of the local population I am depriving those people of the benefit of building their own future.
If we want aid to work we have to use as investment. We have to hand the money to organizations that practice transparency and that are able to show results, not just vacuous financial reports.
This format of aid is not glamorous. It requires work from our part and intelligent investing and it requires that existing and future non-profit organizations change their current mind set and their operating modes.
This kind of aid, it has been proven, will work.