Localizing Development Assistance to Enhance Effectiveness

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Localizing Development Assistance to Enhance Effectiveness
By: Robert Lamb

While development assistance has helped many communities build opportunities for a better life, it has been less effective in helping communities recover from violence and conflict. The most obvious reason for this is security. Aid projects are difficult to carry out in conflict zones or where implementers risk being attacked.

But another reason might have to do with a lack of understanding of local conditions, needs, and expectations. The situation on the ground can change rapidly, and outsiders cannot gather information quickly and safely enough to keep up.

Locals, however, have a better perspective about the shifting alliances and motivations and how to cope with the violence. And even in communities affected by violence and conflict, people often find ways to meet basic needs and resolve disputes with their neighbors. Schools and businesses sometimes continue to operate. And most people try to find solutions that avoid harming others.

I recently authored a case study of how local businesses in Medellin, Colombia, coped with the violence they faced during the city’s most difficult period. It is included in the World Bank’s How Firms Cope with Crime and Violence: Experiences from around the World, by Michael Goldberg, Kwang Wook Kim, and Maria Ariano (January 2014), which includes assessments of Brazil, Jamaica, Mexico, Nepal, and Rwanda as well. Some businesses relocate to safer neighborhoods, those that remain hire private security, many negotiate an accommodation with armed actors, and some find collective ways to contribute to peace.

These solutions were found in most of the cases in the book. But what the outside world needs to learn from them is that the most successful coping mechanisms were adapted to very specific local conditions. That means that, when the opportunity to help arises, outside donors need to build on those local solutions, not replace or displace them.

I’ll be hosting a book launch with the authors at CSIS on April 23 at 1:00 pm

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