By: Takahiro Nakamura
We tirelessly hear about international aid lost before reaching the very people who most need it. Donors in the industrialized world today have become increasingly suspicious of their donations going into the hands of government officials and aid workers, and more aid organizations solicit them claiming that they directly deliver services and goods to the people.
While this bottom-up approach has its own advantages, it also deprives the local governments of their opportunities to deliver services on their own. As a result, the governments are not able to develop such capacity, and their people turn to aid organizations for assistance before their own governments, hence, making it more difficult for the aid organizations to exit the countries.
The Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative is an organization that works on this very issue of bureaucracy in places overwhelmingly known to the West for corruption and aid-dependency. The organization stands on its principle to help African governments be independent of the international community, said Kate Gross, the Chief Executive of the organization.
Their approach consists of two steps—first, the organization works with leaders in the selected African countries that are “at turning points”, providing advice and resources. Once the trustful relationship is developed, its staff also work with public servants of all levels inside their governments and help them deliver countries’ policies.
They currently work in three countries:Rwanda,Sierra Leone, andLiberia. Gross especially spoke of one of the projects inSierra Leoneas one of the closest to her heart. In the country devastated by a decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002, the organization helped its government launch a free health-care program for women and young children. Now, three times as many children are treated in hospitals and 8% fewer children die from Malaria in the country.
As the organization gained recognition for its accomplishments, the demands from other African countries emerged as their next challenges. The organization is eager to assist more nations, yet it is also careful not to expand without developing its capacity. After praising the qualification of her organization’s staff members with various public and private backgrounds, Gross said her challenge today is to find more people as good as the current staff.
The organization is also very loyal to its mission of helping African countries govern themselves, while it has not yet left any country in which its staff worked. As they leave government projects and branches to the hands of local public servants, the organization evaluates initiatives periodically and checks if they are sustained. While Gross was quick to admit that doing that on a country level is a whole different challenge, the organization aims at the challenge as its next goal.
As she spoke of these challenges, however, Gross stayed intriguingly positive. It was because “(when visiting and re-visiting African countries in which they worked) you can really sense the optimism and hope, and being a part of that…renews you,” she said.
If you are, like I was, interested in hearing more about and perhaps joining the organization, it is searching for qualified candidates. According to Gross, the qualification would be at least 10 years of experience in either a public sector or combination of public and private settings working on large public service reforms, which do not have to be in developing countries.
Another qualification as important as the one mentioned above, said Gross, is empathy “because reforms and changes are all about people.”
Link to AGI website: http://www.africagovernance.org/africa
This article was possible thanks to Ms. Kate Gross from the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative who kindly agreed to be interviewed during the Social Good Summit held in New York City this past week, and Dewita Soeharjono who has invited me to the conference and gave me the opportunity to publish it through her blog. Special thanks to Ann and Bob King whose kindness saved me in recording the interview.
Takahiro Nakamura, is a recent graduate of George Warren Brown School of Social Work. He lives in Washington DC.