Like most people, we once assumed that international charities and development organizations wanted to help solve the problems facing people in poorer countries. But that assumption simply did not fit with reality. And so we developed a new model, which better explains the behavior of typical aid organizations. Like any organism, they want to survive. Donors are the key to their survival, so their actions focus on keeping donors happy. Actually
fixing problems would put them out of business.
The aid industry is a sprawling subject, full of interlocking interests and hidden motives. In the menu at the top, “Karma Colonialism” links to two pages that explain why we’ve coined that term. From “How it works” you can read how everything from thinly-disguised bribes to mind-games make karma colonialism possible.
These stories show the abstract concepts in action. We welcome tips for other stories.
Left: Branding by UNICEF. More and more children display UNICEF-branded knapsacks as they walk to and from school. Does this improve the quality of their education? Or does it just increase the value of the UNICEF brand? Right: Schooling vs. education. The United Nations has convinced much of the developing world that getting more children enrolled in school is the same as expanding education. The consequences have been devastating.
Left: Half the story. Save the Children boasts that children who got its Literacy Boost program showed a three-fold improvement in reading skills. It doesn’t mention that those who did NOT get the program showed a FIVE-fold increase. Right: Celebrities and Saviours: A UK charity vows to hire African filmmakers … but it continues using celebrities to get attention. That creates a focus on feel-good solutions — which often won’t get the job done.
Left: Where does the aid money go? Those that know best, aren’t talking. But various estimates find that 60-90% of “foreign aid” uickly returns to the donor country — or never leaves at all. Right: Out of thin air. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics produces lots of data. But based on what? UIS issues education statistics for the 47-country region of sub-Saharan Africa — but it has data for only 4 of the countries.
Left: One Laptop Per Child. U.N. agencies, with funding from big tech, endlessly pitch tech-based solutions to education problems. It doesn’t work — but the money is good. Here’s a look at the most famous of these. Right: GDP seems neutral. It is not. Why is GDP so often misused as a measure of a country’s overall well-being? Because that shapes policy to favor the global elite.
Left: The paternalism never ends. “We are still waiting,” says this U.N. ad, which reflects the aid industry belief that development happens when rich nations give handouts to the helpless, passive others. Right: The origin of modern schooling: Worldwide, children attend schools that use rote memorization to teach for the test, and leave students unprepared for the real world. How did this system become so widespread?
Left: How aid undermines education. Too many children in developing countries enter secondary school unable to read their own name. It wasn’t always this way. Here’s how self-serving Western aid has contributed to illiteracy. Right: Masters of Deceit. Raising funds for “girls’ education” has become big business…. and remarkably often, the aid industry has crossed the line into deceit and dishonesty.
Left: The campaign against reading. The aid industry says it promotes reading. But its actions — such as donating these unwanted books from the USA — are motivated by self-interest, and consistently undermine reading in the global South. Right: The SDG goals: What’s missing? The UN has 17 development goals with 169 targets. But a lot is missing. For example, anything that would cut into corporate profits.
Left: Garbage in… UNESCO takes garbage data, runs it through a fancy formula, and claims to show a picture of education around the globe. This merely disguises the fact that UNESCO really has no idea where things stand. Right: High-level hypocrisy. Coca-Cola pushes a harmful product on vulnerable children. How can Warren Buffett be a trustee for the world’s biggest health foundation, and also Coke’s biggest investor?
Left: Book dumping. The U.S. Navy gives books to schoolchildren in Nigeria. It seems nice. But (brace yourself, this isn’t pretty) they’re handing out leftover Florida test preparation manuals. Right: Do African perspectives matter? The Global Partnership for Education shapes education policy in 70 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. Its CEO, chair, and 7-member evaluation team are from the USA, Australia, and Europe.
Left: Snake oil. Many Western NGOs will say pretty much anything to get your donation. We examine Save the Children’s claim that an extra year of school will bring great wage increases. It’s snake oil. But it pays the bills. Right: Boys thrown under the schoolbus. U.N. agencies and NGOs focus almost exclusively on girls’ education. But girls are faring better than boys, whose needs are ignored and who are falling behind.
Left: Strange bedfellows. Through its partnership with Coke, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will bring medicines to fight one epidemic, while spreading new epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. Right: The brain drain. As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, wealthier countries are trying to extract a particularly valuable resource from the others: Doctors.
Left: World Vision undermines local economies by giving away leftover merchandise where it’s not needed. It makes no sense — until you understand the financial incentives. Right: Willful blindness. As it tries to control school policies in the global South, the aid industry has data about every subject except one: Are students learning anything? It doesn’t want to know.
Left: Junk data. A lot of numbers published by the U.N. and aid agencies are garbage. It’s useful to understand why they are so motivated to publish such data. Right: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation vows transparency. But its database search function is broken. How hard is Bill trying?
Left: Schools in the global South are getting worse. The aid industry doesn’t ask why, and for good reason. It created much of the problem. Right: Free books often hurt literacy. Many of us recoil at the thought of throwing away books. But shipping them to a poorer country is often worse.
Left: Toms Shoes gets free publicity by giving away shoes to “needy” children. What’s the impact on the children themselves? Toms says they benefit; researchers found otherwise. Right: Melinda Gates pushes cellphones as a way for poor women to rise out of poverty. The source of her analysis: Mobile phone companies; and herself.
Left: Unicef needs the “needy.” This photo is from a Unicef fundraising appeal for “needy families.” It is the very opposite of the “empowerment” that they talk about. Right: Where did the aid money go? After East Timor won independence in 2002, it received massive amounts of aid money. Where did it all go? Timor activists investigated.
Left: Why not just give them the money? Cash transfers — just giving aid money directly to those you wish to help — has a proven track record. Why does the aid industry dislike this approach? Right: What would make a better future? There are ways that wealthier countries can genuinely help others, if they want to. Give the aid money directly to the poor, for example. Here are ideas.
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