Saturday, 23 July 2016


His eyes filled with tears as he spoke passionately about the impact of reducing Aid budgets. He spoke of the effects of the worst drought in 30 years; of one community rationing themselves to 1 litre of water a day (which the women and girls collect in 25l jerry-cans from between 500m and 3km away); of another where 99% of children under 5 are malnourished, about 60% chronically; of another where conflict has surfaced because one has a shallow well, and the other an open source.

Let’s face it, no matter how you do the maths, no matter what data you use, no matter what the method of analysis used to make the decisions and choose priorities, the outcomes and the life choices are “sub-optimal” – or just plain lousy!

How do you tell the mother of a vulnerable, hungry child that you can’t help support her with nutrition supplements anymore because Australia’s funding has been reduced and from now on we are only able to support the most vulnerable, the chronically malnourished? How do you tell one community that you cannot support them with water source rehabilitation because at least they have some water, (even if it is shared with their livestock) and with the money available we have to narrow our focus to the neighbours who have less water and more people? How do you decide to close out of education programming in favour of water and food – because they are lifesaving as opposed to life-skills?

How do you tell the people with whom you have been working, and to whom you have made commitments that as a result of funding reductions you can no longer deliver on those commitments because the donor has reduced the funding - instead you will narrow the focus of your programming? How do you break promises, without breaking relationships and hope?

“We build relationships with the people, we make promises, we deliver and they trust us! Now, I have to break my promises. I don’t care so much about what the government thinks, I care about the children and I feel like I will let them down.”

From the distance of my comfortable office in Australia I can tell these passionate and committed community development workers that they should never make promises (Community Development theory 101). But, let’s be realistic – development practitioners make a promise of commitment and relationship when we walk into a community. We pride ourselves (as we should) on a development model that demands we build relationships of trust with our community partners, we work hard to ensure that they own the process, that their voices are heard and that they make the decisions of priority – we make a promise to be an along-sider.

Let me be clear, my colleague is a smart man, he appreciates the political and economic landscape in which we are operating, and he recognises the complexity of our decisions. He gets the theory, he knows that governments make political decisions, he understands the fiscal realities. But, in the end, it’s he and his team that have to make the tough decisions about who and what they will focus on, and communicate those decisions to the people with whom they work – a people who (for the most part) do not care about the politics and financial positions or forecasts.

“Right now, our government is investing the least we ever have in Australian #AustralianAid