The Lens Shifting Letter: Foreign Aid & Humanitarianism


aid organization debate foreign aid humanitarianism imperialism intergovernmental organizations international development military humanitarianism neocolonialism non-governmental organizations (NGO)

We hope this new month finds you well.

Over the past few months at LensShift, we have put the spotlight on foreign aid and humanitarianism. New resources have explored the history, systems, effectiveness, institutions, and political underpinnings of international development; and the interplay of involved governmental and non-governmental aid organizations.

Here we highlight some of the key resources relating to these two topics that were published on LensShift over the past months. We hope these can be a helpful reference for you!

What exactly is international or foreign aid, and how does it work? Did you know there are multiple forms of foreign aid, and most aid comes with various expectations of the recipient? Aid is often tied to providing economic or military advantage for the donor country, particularly if it’s ongoing, not tied to a singular humanitarian crisis. Over the past 100 years, the focus of aid has shifted from large infrastructure projects to targeting individuals to promotion of mutual self-interest. Many countries retain a neocolonial relationship over foreign aid, with former colonial powers spending a majority of their aid budgets on former colonies. We have reviewed one interactive resource mapping the scope and focus of a variety of international aid projects.

There is an ongoing debate about the efficacy of international aid. The opinion of experts ranges from the view that aid is harmful and exploitative to the view that aid amounts are inadequate and should be increased, with recipient countries having more input in a collaborative effort. In the middle are those who feel the subject is more nuanced, and each project should be evaluated individually.

As we have noted before, even seemingly simple acts of charity or ‘humanitarianism’ often have calculated benefits to the one(s) offering assistance. The humanitarian movement has been shown to have a somewhat checkered history, with its roots in nineteenth century imperialism. In some instances, humanitarian motives are used to justify controversial, even violent, methods used to bring about peace and security. One of the more complicated examples is that of military humanitarianism,” where violence against criminals and terrorists is sanctioned by international governing bodies (such as the United Nations) or sovereign nations. 

In other news, the LensShift team has expanded to include an awesome new web development fellow, and we look to move forward with some eagerly awaited upgrades and fixes to the website. We are delighted to welcome Rossana to the team, and, once she gets up to speed on the development tools, we anticipate site improvements, both large and small. These changes will include greater functionality for editing and making corrections on the back end, improving site security, and improving the overall user experience.

In the spirit of always challenging the status quo,
The LensShift team