I have lost respect for the aid industry. The international organizations are corrupt, disrespects Africans, and treats them like children who always need to be fed with a silver spoon in their mouth.
I was born and raised in Rwanda.
In 1994, the country was destroyed by a genocide and a civil war.
I lived for 3 years in refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At refugee camps, we were depended on aid to survive. So, I grew up adoring the work the aid organizations were doing. The UNHCR, UNICEF, Red Cross and many others.
Since I was a little boy, I always dreamt of working for these type of organizations. At refugee camps, if it was not for them, I would not be where I am today, honestly. I would have been dead. The nurses and doctors from Doctors without Borders saved my life when pneumonia and malaria got hold of me as a child. Bottom line is they saved many people’s lives during those times.
Fast forward, after high school, I moved to the States for college and grad school. I was an engineering student. There, I specialized in a special branch called for “ engineering for developing countries”.
At the moment, 90% of the new research focuses on the developed world. That’s why you people in the West are trying to go to Mars, flying jets, and self-driving cars when the developing world is still trying to get access to basic needs such as electricity and water.
As an African, I am very shocked that this is what these N.G.O. call “development”? Would you want your child, little brother/sister to pose for a picture like this? All in the name of soliciting donations for your selfish interests? These tactics are so commonly used by NGOs that there is a term for them, poverty porn.
Its negative effects on the image of Africa cannot be quantified in monetary values. Lots of loss in revenues from tourism and foreign direct investment because the majority of the world still think that Africa is all about animals in the jungle, poverty, tribal/ethnic conflicts, etc.
Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa ( Economist, Dambisa Moyo).
Back to the story!
Anyway, I really thought I was going to make a difference. You know, the silliness coupled with optimism and lack of experience of a young grad student.
I chose to go into this specialty designed to help and figure out how to get the poor out of poverty. My thesis project was based on this. So, for three years, I spent lots of time studying, reading, and analyzing, and questioning why it was so hard to get people out of poverty. I thought I was smart enough to solve that puzzle. It is not like it was rocket science! U know?
I used to be poor and grew up very poor. So, I thought I was going to be the next Mohammed Yunus from Bangladesh, with regards to the African people. Haha!
Man, was I so wrong, naive, and ignorant!
For 25 years, I thought we just needed more money to aid the poor. I thought the aid organizations were doing a good job but had little resources. My perspective changed when I started going to conferences and talking with people at these organizations. The staff and workers from the UN, World Bank, and others.
I was shocked when I found out that most of the money they received was going to them ( and not the poor). Higher administrative costs, big salaries, and bonuses, exotic meetings at resorts and islands. You name it.
I followed up with the industry and the more I learn, the more I noticed that their primary goal was never to help the poor. Their goal was to keep people poor so that they can enrich themselves on the back of the poor people.
I can a write a whole book about my disappointments. But I will keep it simple and leave you with some reading if you are interested. Needless to say, my career was cut short. As soon as I finish grad school, I did quit the industry. I could not stand their hypocrisy, greed, and lack of morality.
I had already started talking to some of them about job opportunities. I would have been making lots of money, but my conscience got to me.
Simply put, they did not meet my ethical standards. They operate like the Mafias, the drug cartels with money, power, political and financial influence. That’s why at any scandal you see, whether it is Red Cross or Oxfam in Haiti, nobody goes to jail. They are untouchable. They have strong lobbying power in Washington, in London, in Berlin, in Paris, and everywhere.
They self-inspect and don’t answer to nobody; the poor or their donors. They don’t allow any independent audits by outside professionals or anything. Meanwhile, you see scandals after scandals in Africa, Haiti ( recent cases with the Earthquake), abuse of young girls and women ( Haiti), you name it. They have done it and nobody got punished for it.
This is the most recent case of OXFAM, a British based NGO. Both of these incidences happened in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake in 2010.
Oxfam sexual abuse scandal is built on the aid industry’s white savior mentality | Afua Hirsch
In this other case, Oxfam staff and workers abused young girls and women in Haiti. In times when they were facing difficulties, these criminals took advantage of them. Oxfam was notified but ignored allegations and tried to hide scandals under the rug. Just last month, the public is starting to learn this whole thing.
Children as young as six were being coerced into sex in exchange for food and necessities, according to a damning report by Save the Children, which called for urgent action including the creation of a global watchdog.
Oxfam was told of aid workers raping and sexually exploiting children in Haiti in 2008
Long story short, the people I grew up adoring ( or should I say worshipping), who saved my life in a way, I can’t stand them today. They disgust me today. They have lost all my respect. Every quarter, I see scandals after scandals. I cannot stand them, big Mafia NGOs. I don’t think the situation is ever going to change anytime soon. So, I have to move on, but I never want to be associated with them in any way. They are the worst of the worst. I used to have so much respect for them. Today, I have none.
I have detailed my experiences with specific details in other answers. I also gathered many testimonials from fellow Quorans who have worked with them one way or another. Feel free to check them out if you are interested. The level of corruption, poverty porn through shaming and humiliating Africans, sex scandals, and other nasty and humiliating incidences disgust me.
What is worse is how they have gotten away with it. For every incidence, nobody goes to jail or punished. It has been 8 years since the earthquake in Haiti, but after $ 13 billion dollars in donations, Haiti is still not rebuilt. Sex scandals after sex scandals with Oxfam, but not a single staff or worker was punished for it.
Have you ever wondered where the money we donate to the poor go?
Like the $13 Billion dollars we donated to Haiti but 8 years later? Haiti is still not rebuilt?
What Does Haiti Have to Show for $13 Billion in Earthquake Aid?
Or the $ 500 million dollars that Red Cross was supposed to use in rebuilding 130,000 houses, but 4 years later they managed to build only 6 make shift houses?
Red Cross Built Exactly 6 Homes For Haiti With Nearly Half A Billion Dollars In Donations
Some Testimonials from fellow Quorans with similar experiences. Wherever these N.G.Os work, they are all the same. Africa, Asia, and so on.
Abdul Ngoko ( Tanzania, East-Africa)
I have worked with these type of organizations on the ground and what you’re saying is true. All the money is spent on expat’s salaries, buying brand new four-by-four vehicles and having fun in general. I’ve never met lazy people like you find in the aid organizations and they are paid really well.
Didier Champion ( East-Africa and West-Africa)
What you say is the 100% true! I have seen it all. I say this with pain and shame in my heart. I decided to leave the industry after I discovered what it was all about. I have been to conferences where we were discussing and studying poverty issues with many stakeholders about how to help those who live under the poverty line. Those living on less than $1.25–$2.00 a day were no where in the room. Their opinions did not even matter.
Meanwhile, folks were staying in $500-$1,000 hotel rooms a night and had $100 per diem in West-Africa. In Accra, Ghana or Lagos, Nigeria, you can get 3-decent meals all day for $20 a day. For weeks, months, and years, I observed folks at the top claim to help the poor. But they were really helping themselves. Filling up their pockets.
By the time I finished grad school, I was disgusted. I could not see myself work for these hypocrites. I have seen the treatment they get from African governments. They get treated like kings and queens just because of the money they bring to corrupt politicians.
I have seen folks go out and get drunk every night and only to come to meetings the next day to sit in meetings and barely staying awake. I have seen it with the World Bank, the UN employees, and others. This industry is so dirty that you won’t stay clean working in it regardless of your intentions.
In a coal mine, you cannot keep your white shirt clean. It can never be done. It is impossible! After having had enough, I had to quit the industry. Today, I can’t stand them nomore.
Jaydeep Vekariya ( India)
I remembered in 2013, I had visited meeting of NGO in Delhi (India) for help of African people. Needless to say more than 50% of total donation might have been spend on Event expense itself (resort charges, accommodation, food, liquor etc).
Logan Webb ( Liberia, West-Africa)
I agree 100%. As a fellow African (Senegal) I dreamed of working in the NGO sector. Until I saw them in full action in the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Of the $1 billion spent, none was allocated to give Liberian front line workers a raise, or to give training/scholarships abroad to build local epidemic control capacity. By the time they brought in the “experts”, we had 5–10x as much case experience as they did. In all, the money was blown on $500–1,000/day consultants, inflated hotels, and endless unproductive meetings. We’ve come to similar conclusions and I also moved to entrepreneurship to develop Africa.
A big earthquake hits Haiti. Destroys most of the capital of Haiti in 2010. Kills 200,000 people, 250,000 homes destroyed and 30,000 commercial buildings. We watch it on the news and the catastrophy go down. We see children crying. Like any humans, we feel sad, sorry for them. We ask ourselves. What can we do?
The Mafia NGO comes in and tells us they are on the ground to help. Our emotions run high. We happily donate. We cannot go to Haiti to help, so donating some money makes us feel good. We don’t want people to suffer this much. The Mafia NGO tells us they will use our donations to get the people of Haiti back on their feet. Okay, the deal is done! A few weeks later, we move on with our daily lives. This is what this aid industry does with regards to poverty and helping the poor.
- Show us a big problem that deserves our attention.
- Collect donations and thank people for their donations.
- Promise them that their money is going to help those in needs.
- Show up at the sites where the tragedy happened. Show off with big banners to market yourself more on TV and everywhere.
- Get money ( donations ) from other private companies.
- Wait for the situation to die down in the media ( 6–12 months) depending on the catastrophic event.
- Once things settle and tragedies are not in the media anymore, collect the money and go to the beach. Organize a series of “ useless” meetings as an excuse to spend the money. Fly business class, luxury hotels, bonuses, expensive parties, enjoy life and so on.
- Wait for another tragedy to strike again, and repeat the cycle.
It is not just in the developing world, they are the same everywhere. Anybody remember American Red Cross with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or Harvey in Houston? They use same tactics. Their scandals don’t surprise me any longer, sadly. This is what they do whenever there are any catastrophic events.
Benjamin Bussard ( Houston, Texas)
We went through hurricane Harvey and saw all of this firsthand. Donations to Red Cross are wasted on banners and trucks with their name boldly displayed. Several donations of hot meals to them were turned down or thrown away so they could hand out tiny prepared meals of crappy sandwiches. Our local churches and community partnered with Samaritans purse and they are still here helping rebuild the city! Red Cross disgusted everyone in Houston who was part of actually getting the city back its feet.
The world we live in is a crazy place. Everybody is in it for their own interest.
The best way to help the poor is to empower them.
Learn how to truly help and empower the poor through tourism, business, and entrepreneurship. This Ted Talk has all the ingredients to develop those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Giving them the tools to “ fish for themselves” through trades and skill training, among many other things.
The same way, other countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and many others have gotten out of poverty. Who have you seen rose out of poverty by receiving handouts (aka donations)?
Posting African children pictures all over the place; treating them like second-class human beings. The poor are as human as we are. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Don’t you people think?
Thanks for your time and attention. Hope you learned something new.
References: Further reading for those who are interested.
Heather Stewart: Is aid a $2.3 trillion failure? ( Economist, William Easterly).
Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa ( Economist, Dambisa Moyo).
A trillion dollars of wasted aid?
Books if you are interested in International Development field of study.
- White Man Burden by William Easterly ( Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest have done so much ill and so little good ( Best book and my favorite).
- Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo ( Why Aid is not Working and How there is a better way for Africa). ( Short, concise for Math and Econ Buffs).
- Why Nations Fail ( The origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty) by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. ( Vacation Book when you got time).
Some parts of this text were originally published on Quora. Check them out if interested.
Didier M. Champion’s answer to Have you ever had an elephant in the room moment?
Didier M. Champion’s answer to What is something that needs to be said?