Good development from Holland?!

What are good ways to combat worldwide inequality and injustice? Since my studies and in my work it is the main question that is always at the background. What is effective development cooperation? Am I working on projects and programmes that really make a difference and do not cause any collateral damage?

how_big_is_africaLiving in a world where half of its population lives in poverty I feel it’s inevitable to fight global inequality. But sometimes development cooperation interventions are just not working. I just read the book ‘Dag Afrika’ by Marcia Luyten and came across a few examples:

Bi-lateral aid is undermining democracy

Bi-lateral aid (financial support from government to government, which is 30% of the total Dutch development budget) is undermining democracy (and also the major argument of economist Dambisa Moyo to stop development aid). Marcia Luyten gives an example: education and health care – supported with Dutch development aid – is free in Uganda, but services are of very poor quality. 200 students in 1 class room. Nurses who are not present and medicines that are not available in state clinics. Because it is about free services and citizens are also not taxed, leaders aren’t accountable and citizens do not have a say.

Charity is undermining people’s self-respect
The charity project ‘Schoenmaatjes’ makes Dutch children send shoe-boxes with toys and school equipment to children in Africa. The children are taught to share, and African children are supposed to be happy. But they actually learn a division between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’. The latter being pitiful, the one who needs to be helped. From there it is a small step to inequality: being someone’s object of pity, one pays with loss of self-respect. (see entire article in Dutch)


Different ways of doing development cooperation that seem to work better, are:

  • Social business, because it – at least – cause a financial stable programme, economic and social development and empowerment of the people involved.
  • Empowering citizens to speak up. Every change comes from within and thus not from external interventions. However, working on empowerment initially requires people that have at least access to primary needs like clean water, food and health care.
  • Building a middle class combatting Africa’s limited access society, whereby a small group of leaders have all power and wealth, preventing equal development. (Than the question remains: how? Since ‘simple’ economic growth is not the sole answer).
  • Having experts on local circumstances involved and continuously adapt interventions to lessons learnt. Luyten feels that this contradicts with development workers flying in for a short period of time. Or as journalist Rutger Bregman puts it: ‘the best development experts are the poor themselves’.
  • Lobbying & advocacy interventions of organisations based in developing countries to have their decision makers accountable, which is the new route of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

All of this can be done by organisations based in Africa. So what’s the role of NGOs in Holland? Marcia Luyten concludes: ‘The modernisation of development cooperation of the past few years came too late and was too little innovative. For years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the NGOs refused to see the drawbacks of development aid, saying that they never heard about something like ‘aid-addiction’. And now, it’s too late. It’s not for Africa; it will get to more development. But it is too late for the NGOs, who lost too much support in the Netherlands and the countries they work in.


So what’s the added value of Dutch NGOs or a freelancer in development cooperation? I wonder sometimes. But I did find some examples:

  • International publicity and support for national interventions, which gives local NGOs a better position.
  • More and more successful originations, I got to know, work on a global level or with something like a franchise model, providing frameworks for national organisations to work with. Examples are up scaling a successful model to other counties (like Wage Indicator does), working on international lobby that will influence national policies (like PAN or CYFI) or working with multinationals for fair and sustainable business (IDH).
  • Global Citizenship, so that Dutch people know their share in global inequality and are able to act upon it (e.g. by buying fair trade). Perhaps starting with something as simple as knowing the true size of Africa (see picture), since we tend to picture Africa as 1 country of the size of Europe.
  • Migrants from developing countries combine the best of both worlds which could generate innovation and creative solutions.
  • Just give money to citizens (and not to governments). GiveDirectely gives financial support to individuals without restrictions. Research showed that most households invested the money smartly from which they keep benefitting from. Another advantage: giving money is less expensive than complex development interventions.


I sometimes doubt the effectiveness of huge programmes, mainly because – except for a great outreach – a lot of harm can be done as well. Many of my colleagues tend to be sceptical on small projects though. Last week, I met an ex-colleague who just visited the sports programme in Zimbabwe that I worked for. The fitness centre we found in 2009 as a source of income is still running and provides a few jobs. What’s more, the sports leaders we worked with have learnt to take charge over their lives, so it seems. All of them being employed, in school or started a business. For me it feels like a success story of both development cooperation and a successful project I was involved in.

Can it be just as simple as building from small successful projects towards a bigger scale? Luyten adds: ‘There is no time left for amateurism in development cooperation. We need professionals that have shown results and keep being curious. We instantly need a brilliant plan C.’


– I have just freely translated a few topics from the Marcia Luyten’s book ‘Dag Afrika’ that struck me. It’s certainly worthwhile to read the entire book! See:
– Picture: The true size of Africa


2 Responses to “Good development from Holland?!”
  1. The Next Billion schreef:

    ”Last week the first convention focussing on the Base of the Pyramid was held in Singapore. […]
    – NGOs, Private Sector and policy makers need to work on serving the BoP together. No single of us is a good as all of us, sais Prof. Jack Sim, founder of BoP Hub
    – 1st we try to become effective, then efficient, then we expand services mentions Sr. Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder of BRAC.
    – Achieving scale is the biggest challenge of development today. [And] scaled inclusive business solutions to poverty will only come through multinationals, adds Paul Polak, CEO Windhorse.
    – Most frustration in partnerships is the duration […]. Companies think it is temporarily (5-7 years). NGOs think it is for life. Align in early stages, advices Olivier Kaiser, Founder Hystra.

    See more:

  2. Inemarie schreef:

    I was just reading somewhere: there are plenty of best-practices setting up succesfull small programmes, however, the difficulty is to address the causes of poverty, and to have succesful programmes of scale (without colleteral damage). So I like the tip of Mr. Abed above: ” 1st become effective, 2nd to be efficient and than expand.”

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