The architecture of aid – a matter of empowerment through education

Article published on Dec. 6, 2011
community published
Article published on Dec. 6, 2011
Motto: "I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship." Aeschylus Nowadays, it seems that the debate around the development aid policies and the aid-effectiveness strategies is not only never-ending, but also inconclusive. The context is not very friendly either.
We are living in a moment of global crisis and we are witnessing crucial changes that could dramatically redesign the future of our children. Principles that we had trusted for so long became obsolete and inefficient and several global actors found themselves powerless to intervene and to control major issues as the economic stability, environment protection or peacebuilding interventions.

This is why achieving better aid and development and supporting emergent countries on their way to progress and balance is much more than a challenge, is a stringent necessity because we must engage in a different way with the world. Our global society fails in unity so in order to obtain the best results, we have to re-think our strategies and our mentalities and to create the base of a new type of aid architecture, one whose impact could mark the beginning of a new global cooperation and partnership era. 

First of all, it is clear that political and diplomatic environment is more attached to words than to action. Let us not hide under the bushel as we always tend to do. We have to admit that we are far better skilled in conceiving brilliantly written reports and research articles than in creating crisp, brief and to the point plans of intervention. I trust that the young generation will face reality and will have the courage to point out maybe the weakest point of the aid and development strategies: in vogue and cutting-edge, but idealistic and unaccountable goals. This is why in this essay I will not concentrate myself on producing a sophisticated written and extremely daring paradigm. My intention is not to bring forth another embellished and rhetorical piece. Our libraries and internet databases are full of this. I would like to conceive a sincere and straightforward representation of a young person’s vision. I believe that it is time for the youngsters to speak their mind and to articulate their own perspective in a frank manner. 

Hence, my argumentation is based on one simple, well-founded and reasonable point: empowerment through education which leads to action and construction. Supplying food and medicines is a wonderful gesture, it may save lives, and it may change some people’s existence, but it is definitely not a long term solution that could provide consistent results. Building schools, houses and small infrastructure works coordinated by NGOs is a quick fix, but not the answer to the major problem. Moreover, the actual chain of aid delivery is far too complex and too oriented towards covering the effects of poverty instead of trying to penetrate the cause of the involution to its core. There is a very simple question that might help us in order to identify some possible fruitful directions when referring to the populations of the emergent states: “Why are people vulnerable?”. What lies beneath the food deprivation, the deficient health and security systems or bad and corrupt governance? 

 The answer is the lack of education. I cannot explain myself why education has been such an unvalued issue. We have placed a premium on democracy, on economy and on institutional systems while we have left education out of the basket. And yet, it deserves a place in the limelight because education entails democratic and economic changes. And I am talking about coherent changes, which have a solid base, which are autonomous, not a pale copy of the developed countries’ political and social apparatus. Without education we cannot have sustainable growth in any sector. No matter how consistent the funds are, if we do not invest enough in education, things will fall apart sooner or later and we can do nothing to avoid it. This is the reason why the architecture of aid should be redesigned in favor of instruction. I truly believe that this is the only way which leads to optimistic outcomes, merely because it is about the role and the potential of people themselves, not about a foreign intervention that pretends to have the power of fixing what it cannot be fixed from the exterior. We should accept the fact that the aid agenda is less clear than we want it to be: more we help, more things get broken. It is a paradox which implies that we have to make a swift and direct our efforts not towards lost causes, but towards the real empowerment of people which is determined particularly by education enhancement. In other words, we should give priority to investments whose results maybe are not to be seen in the near future, but which will be deeply rooted in the society. It is the sustainability that really makes an aid policy successful. 

So how we could give the young people of emergent countries the opportunity to benefit of high-quality education? Firstly, by funding more scholarships and traineeships. I am a student myself and I am familiar with the present offer of grants. The system of scholarships and training studentships is far from being strong enough to sustain real education chances. In the majority of cases, it is almost impossible to fulfill the conditions in order to apply for them and in the other cases, when you manage to accomplish all the demands, you are forced to step into a bureaucratic process of selection. I do not know if the persons who coordinate this type of programs are aware of the different types of pressure on which are put the candidates. They spend a lot of money on providing translations and other legal documents, to say nothing of the transportation costs in those cases when the recruitment center is far from their village or town. They spend also a lot of time creating a dossier which sometimes talks only about their current qualifications, not about their potential that could emerge in better study or work conditions. They are kept waiting for months without feedback. Sometimes, they are given no feedback at all. There is often also a lack of transparence as far as the recruitment process is concerned. However, there is somebody who has done something great in this domain. His name is Domenico Lenarduzzi and he is the inventor of the Erasmus mobility. Unfortunately, he is not as famous as he should be. If you ask a person who has been an Erasmus student about her experience, I could bet that she will respond that her life has changed afterwards. The Erasmus scholarship is quite easy to obtain and even if the grant is not very consistent, it covers the necessary. It is true that the Erasmus system functions only for the European Union, taking into account its internal rules, but it could be rethought and applied also to a global extent. This kind of exchange represents a stepstone in both personal and professional paths. And not only the students from emerging countries should be encouraged to apply to study or train themselves in environments from developed countries, but also the vice versa. Thus, education implies perpetual interaction and exchange and this is the key to open horizons and to lock the doors of the ignorance. The teaching staff should be involved too in this process. This would entail a know-how and knowledge-sharing flow. And the outcomes of education are impossible to tear down. They will inevitably lead to revolutionary changes in the emergent society. 

Furthermore, another provider of education and information is the media. Of course, new media gained an important place nowadays, but we should not underestimate the traditional forms as the radio broadcasts, for example, that are available even to communities with a low literacy level. It is proven that a flow of information engenders economic and social development, but in the same time there is a lack of strategies, regulations and policies that would support transparent and not biased journalists. This is also a sector that has not been valued enough. Journalists should be better trained and protected in order to be able to stand out, speak their mind and contribute to the empowerment of the population. 

Another delicate issue is the relationship between the donor countries and the recipient ones. We often tend to blame the recipients for the failure of aid missions, but as we mentioned above, the donors should re-think the pattern of aid activities. We should not forget also that the development actions must be adapted to the cultural context of the recipient country. Cultural differences cannot be neglected and we should be able to have the courage to accept once for all the diversity of habits and points of view. There are principles which can be applied everywhere, there are others which work in certain countries and in others don’t. Instead of insisting on the things which are not compatible, we should implement first everything that can be implemented, and only after that to tackle the sensitive issues. They depend on the mentality which cannot be transformed that easily. Why mentalities change? And again we return to education which seems too be an incredibly powerful instrument that can be used in almost all kinds of situations.  

To cut a long story short, think about how we could prevent diseases. Think about how we could generate jobs and entrepreneurship activities. Think about how we could build infrastructure. In order to do all this, educated people are needed. Education creates the strongest capability framework that exists on this planet. Cumulated with permanent interaction and feedback, it is a very efficient aid and development strategy. Basically, we could compare it with the immune system of the body. Without education, the system remains frail, no matter what kind of medicines are administrated from the exterior. Without real exchange, we remain too far one from each other, no matter how much we invest in humanitarian interventions. This is the moment when the young people should step up and demand their right to education and reliable information. I am stepping up and I am telling you, as a member of the young generation, that the aid and development system needs transparent and accessible education opportunities. We are eager to contribute and to help if our voice is heard and understood. The architecture of aid should be based on an educational worldwide network and a global training program. All actors should be involved in order to see real growth, sustainable development and better communication among the world’s citizens. We do not want to be entrenched in demagogic approaches, we desire to speak truthfully and to act accordingly. The storms will always come and go, the most important thing is to know how to sail our ships. So make room for our need of learning, education and training on the aid for development agenda and give us the chance to turn our potential into valuable skills.