NGOs reluctant to acknowledge their colonial links, claims report

International development charities and their processes are rooted in colonial era practices and ‘white saviour’ ideology, according to a critical report into global aid.

The report says that structural racism is “deeply embedded in the everyday culture and working practices” of the aid sector.

It also warns that too frequently NGOs and their supporters in the northern hemisphere are reluctant to accept the modern aid sector’s links to colonialism.

The Time to Decolonise Aid: Insights and lessons from a global consultation report has been published by international charity Peace Direct.

“Most organisations and donors in the global north are reluctant to acknowledge that current practices and attitudes in the aid system are derived from the colonial era and certain modern-day practices and norms reinforce colonial dynamics and beliefs such as the ‘white saviour’ ideology,” said Peace Direct.

It added: “Some of the language used in the aid system reinforces discriminatory and racist perceptions of non-White populations.

“The phrase ‘capacity building’ was cited as one example that suggests that local communities and organisations lack skills, while other terms, such as ‘field expert’ perpetuate images of the global south as ‘uncivilised.’”

Peace Direct said that international aid process are rooted in “Western values and knowledge systems”. This means that “local knowledge is, by default devalued”.

Recommendations made include investing in local knowledge and encouraging conversations in the sector about power.

It urges international NGOs to “end the practice of ‘white gaze’ fundraising” and to audit communications through “a diversity, equity and inclusion lens’.

Another recommendation is to “re-evaluate partnerships with local organisations so that they are more equitable, and mutually accountable, and support and strengthen local leadership and sustainability”.

“We believe that local communities are key to preventing, resolving and healing conflicts but in order for them to play their vital role, the sector that funds, facilitates and empowers their work, needs to decolonise,” said Peace Direct chief executive Dylan Mathews.

“Only when this happens, through greater equality, will we start to see the global change needed to achieve conflict resolution.”

“We call on all international aid organisations to tackle the issue of structural racism head-on,”

The Time to Decolonise Aid report involved a three-day online consultation with more than 150 activities, policy makers, academics, journalists and practitioners globally. This consultation received more than 350 comments.

A separate report last year by the think tank Rogere called for fundraisers to take on board white saviourism concerns.

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