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 karma colonialism in action. We welcome tips for other stories.
Left: Aid for the richest and whitest: UK Aid has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars through AgDevCo, a UK “impact investor,” to help white European investors run agribusinesses in Africa. Right: Cellphones and literacy. UNESCO took money from big tech to publish a deceitful report that benefited the company that gave it the money. If an African president had done that, what would we call it?
Left: The cholera epidemic: The epidemic that killed 10,000 Haitians revealed more than just sloppy sanitation practices by the U.N. It revealed institutional rot and an imperial attitude of impunity. Right: Francophonie. By forcing children in its former African colonies to study in French, France thought it was spreading the glory of the French language. But students ended up learning neither French, nor much of anything else.
Left: UNICEF preaches diversity. But for 77 years, UNICEF has ALWAYS had a white USA citizen in its top spot. That’s hypocritical. Racist, too? You decide. And it leads UNICEF to push Western interests. Right: Bad aid in action. A TV celebrity wanted to give desks to every school in Malawi, so UNICEF plans to do that. It won’t improve education, but it looks good. It’s an example of how self-serving aid projects actually hurt.
Left: Half the story. Save the Children boasts that children who got its Literacy Boost 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: The UN for sale. UNESCO invites corporations to pay up, so they can benefit from its “reputable brand,” while small countries sell their UN vote. Who pays the price for this corruption? Just who you’d expect.
Left: Fudging the numbers. U.N.-FAO hunger data abruptly changed in 2012. Why? In 2015, the U.N. needed to show great success for its Millennium Development Goals. Right: The campaign against reading. The aid industry says it promotes reading. But its actions — such as dumping unwanted books from the USA — are motivated by self-interest, and consistently undermine reading in the global South.
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: Free ebooks. Copyright barriers blocks readers in the Global South from the knowledge that others have at their fingertips. Z-Library offers a remedy, with millions of free ebooks, but the U.S. wants to shut it down.
Left: Millennium Villages Project. The MVP was supposed to prove that Western aid could end extreme poverty in five years. It didn’t. But its failures offer insight into the true intents of Western aid. Right: An African Adventure. Bono wanted to make Africa “less of a burden, more of an adventure” and the Millennium Villages Project made it just that – for celebrities and bigwigs who briefly visited and got the media spotlight.
Left: Funny numbers. “Aha!” Sherlock Holmes exclaims, examining a UNESCO chart that shows education levels by region. “This isn’t a statistics institute, it’s a propaganda department!” How did he know? Right: 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.
Left: 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. Right: 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 brings in donations.
Left: Pawns for Francophonie: Eager to spread French culture, language and influence, the government of France enabled one of the largest genocides of the 20th century: Rwanda in 1994. 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: The UN Global Goals: What’s missing? The UN has 17 development goals with 169 targets. But a lot is missing. For starters: anything that would cut into corporate profits. Right: Controlled by UNICEF: UNICEF talks of empowerment and local control. After many years working with it, a Turkish woman found otherwise: It tried to control things far beyond its mandate, and was arrogant toward local people.
Left: The brain drain. As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, wealthier countries are trying to extract a particularly valuable resource from the others: Doctors. Right: 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?
Left: 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. Right: 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.
Left: 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? Right: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation vows transparency. But its database search function is broken. How hard is Bill trying?
Left: World Vision supporters tell why they think it’s wrong for World Vision to send surplus Super Bowl shirts to developing countries. 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: 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.
Left: 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. 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: Fueling corruption: Why do so many governments in the South ignore the needs of their population? Western corporations pay better. For a decade, Europe’s Airbus bribed officials in developing regions to get their business. Right: 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. Other stories about karma colonialism
Left: Chocolate hands. You can buy chocolate hands at shops in Antwerp. So what? Well, one of the colonial era’s great atrocities involves Belgians chopping off the hands of Africans. Right: “Bill Gates predicted the pandemic.” Bill Gates is eager to present himself as a visionary. But he didn’t predict the pandemic at all; he just knows how to work the media to hone his image. Here’s why that’s a problem.
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: 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: 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. Right: 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.
Left: 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. Right: 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?