There is a fantastic blog post from a frustrated aid worker in Haiti making its way around the interwebs. It is highly recommended to be read in full.
Here is one highlight:
1. Good intentions aren’t enough.
2. Rose-colored glasses are bullshit.
3. The white savior industrial complex is real, demonstrated daily by feel good aid programs that probably don’t work, or feel good causes like Kony 2012 that generate plenty of buzz but don’t add up to much when people are actually supposed to do something.
4. You can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves.
5. True altruism is an incredibly rare thing. (See #3)
6. Little victories must be celebrated if you want to protect yourself from the crippling effects of the larger failure.
Here is another:
If I were to do it all again, I wouldn’t design a solution. It isn’t my place to do that. What I’d do is try and be a useful resource for a group of people or a community that have a much better understanding of their problems than I do, and want to work together toward finding solutions. I wouldn’t come in as the guy with the answer. I’d come in as the guy willing to try and help them in any way possible as they find their own answer.
(NB: the paragraph after the above quote is exceedingly strange, but the overall article is incredible)
The piece reminds me of David Ellerman's classic piece: of which here is a highlight:
There are many strategies for development assistance that may supply help in some form but actually do not help people help themselves. The forms of help that override or undercut people’s capacity to help themselves will be called “unhelpful help.”
There are essentially two ways that the helper’s will can supplant the doer’s will to thwart autonomy and self-help:
1) The helper, by social engineering, deliberately tries to impose his will on the doer; or
2) The helper, by benevolent aid, replaces the doer’s will with her will, perhaps inadvertently.
“Override” or “undercut” are shorthand terms for these two conceptually distinct yin-and-yang forms of unhelpful help (which may be combined, as when benevolence hides the desire to control).