Should aid be used to pay per diem

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When I first got involved in community development work, I discovered that the folk in the community we work in SW Uganda expected us to pay them to come to a village meeting, cover their transports costs (bearing in mind that they incurred no travel costs in the first instance) and also provide food during the meeting.

We objected to this citing the fact that we had no expectations of being paid for our time, travel expenses etc and besides they too had a role to play in the development of their village. That was 6 years ago and I am pleased to report that there has been an improvement. During my most recent visit, this issue did not arise at all.

But elsewhere this is not the case, as I discovered when I spoke with some of the local Executives in Kampala that run indigenous charities. I learned that the practice of paying communities to come to village meetings and any other meetings for that matter was started by foreign/International NGOs.

One Executive I spoke to used to be part of the diaspora and runs a women’s programme in Jinja Eastern Uganda, here is what she told me,

Ida, this is a real problem for us locals trying to work with communities, we don’t have the resources as International NGOs to pay folk to come to meetings. Can you believe this?  The women in my village told me that if I value or appreciate their worth, I will pay them or they will stop coming to village meetings.

Whilst paying people to attend meetings ensures a good turn out at meetings, it creates dependency and means that folks are there for the wrong reasons. I have refused to pay anyone to attend meetings, it doesn’t matter if only one person turns up, I am happy to work with that one person

It would appear this is a wide spread problem as a recent Twitter conversation demonstrates.

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The conversation was inspired by this article  in which Tilly Bruckner draws our attention to  field practices by donor agencies engaged in the promotion of democracy.  The relevant point for our purposes is the first paragraph at point 4;

Incidentally, the category of “people not like us” also includes “them.” You know, the ones “from the village.” The ones who do not follow parliamentary debates, read policy papers, sign online petitions or attend NGO meetings (unless free lunch is provided). Speaking with them is considered unnecessary as they “do not understand” political issues and are assumed not to care about such complex things. They don’t have postgraduate degrees in nonprofit management and social enterprise from Harvard University.

A question that I others have is Per diem the best way to spend donor funds?

What will it take to stamp out this practice?

I would be interested in your views about this. Have you experienced this yourself?

Are you an NGO that pays folks to come to meetings? If so, why do you do it?

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