Nathalie Beghin

"The hypocrisy of the sustainability discourse. More and more donors, both public and private, demand that the organizations they support “provide evidence" that the initiatives they undertake are sustainable, so that they can have more resources to continue the project"

Economist from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) with a Masters and PhD in Social Policy from the University of Brasilia (UnB). For 10 years, she has been Coordinator of the Political Advisory Department of the Institute for Socioeconomic Studies (Inesc), Brazil. In 2022 she was elected co-president of the Latin American Network for Economic and Social Justice (Latindadd). She has worked at the Ministry of Health and at the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) on hunger and food and nutritional insecurity, poverty, racial equality, social participation, and international cooperation, among others. She was a political advisor of Oxfam International in Brazil and later headed the Oxfam office in Brazil. She was part of President Dilma Rousseff’s team that designed and implemented the national plan «Brazil Without Extreme Poverty».

What do you think are the current challenges in the cooperation sector?

In general, aid distances itself from the determinants of inequalities in society, race, gender, gender identity, region, religion, etc. This is because it is easier to act on the consequences than on the causes, since these are linked to profound inequalities in power relations. Donors do not always want to take issue with the powerful in that area (country, municipality, etc.). 

Furthermore, aid is guided by coloniality; that is, it is permeated by a structure of domination or pattern of power that remains rooted in our societies even after the end of colonial relations. The culture of coloniality is capitalist, racist, patriarchal and anti-democratic, as well as destructive to the environment. It reinforces a hegemonic, Eurocentric pattern of knowledge, denying or rendering invisible the knowledge of impoverished people, black people, indigenous people and women. 

The hypocrisy of the sustainability discourse. More and more donors, both public and private, demand that the organizations they support “provide evidence» that the initiatives they undertake are sustainable, so that they can have more resources to continue the project. However, faced with the hunger and misery that characterize many communities assisted with aid and the absence of a state, the services provided are generally those of immediate survival, which are absolutely necessary. To demand that «you don’t give a man a fish, but you teach him to fish» is extremely cruel in environments of multiple deprivation. 

The contradictions of aid. It is very common for donors to want to decrease the resources allocated to the staff of the organizations they support. This is based on the understanding that it is better to finance the end activities than the means activities. However, just like what happens in the State, most of the initiatives in social areas are carried out by people. And these professionals, who design and implement the initiatives and maintain dialogue with the direct beneficiaries, need decent salaries and working conditions, which in turn will help improve the quality of their work. Also, on the one hand fewer resources are required for intermediary activities, but on the other hand, more and more control instruments are implemented – each donor has its project and report formats, its auditing and accountability requirements, etc. – which requires more human and organizational resources. 

How do you consider they should be faced?

Accept that there are cyclical actions, which cannot be financially sustainable (food, health, education, assistance, etc.), and structural actions, those that create conditions to bring about change (employment and income generation, food production, social participation, etc.). Both are equally important – to accept that aid does not always produce results or effects, because changes, especially in impoverished societies, are long-term. 

Encourage local civil society organizations to listen to each other, both those that provide services directly and those that are advocacy organizations. That is, do not impose your agenda, but be part of the local struggles. 

Recognize the importance of the work performed by the teams of the organizations that are supported and, therefore, understand the need to fund intermediary activities. Standardize and simplify support procedures – project preparation and reporting forms. Prioritize institutional support – “scan» the organization based on public and objective criteria and support it as a whole. 

Prioritize social participation processes that involve the subject of rights. Thus, for example, the private sector is not a subject of rights and, in general, contributes to the violation of rights. Do not strengthen «Multi-stakeholder Initiatives», because companies cannot be on the same level as States and CSOs. They hold economic and political power, and therefore do not defend the public interest, but rather the profit motive. 

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