Anthropologists on aid workers; aid workers on themselvesPosted: May 6, 2011
… this research is still ongoing, but my main sense is that aid workers aren’t acknowledged enough—or not in the right way. The tendency to present them as either unselfish heroes or self-serving villains is unhelpful. So my main recommendation would be to take aid workers seriously, not as ciphers, but as three-dimensional, complex and fallible people.
This is a useful reminder of what should be an obvious point. The editors also discuss some of the differences and similarities between local and expatriate aid workers, how life in “Aidland” has changed in recent years, and shifting alliances between different “communities” of aid workers. However we probably didn’t need anthropologists to tell us that aid workers can get lonely and like watching DVDs. What is more interesting is to consider how aid workers’ beliefs, motivations and personalities affect the impact they have on others. I hope the book goes further into this; I’ll find out when it’s available for Kindle.
In the meantime, a simple but smart video from last year’s World Humanitarian Day makes a similar point (although to be more representative of aid work there probably should be fewer white faces and more people in offices):
And finally, for Friday afternoon, here’s a tongue-in-cheek look at how (expat) aid workers see themselves.