Editor's Note: Christian ministries can learn a lot from what has and has not worked in Western governmental assistance in post-Soviet societies.
Donors should be aware that the way in which local people view aid consultants and projects can affect the implementation and effectiveness of aid. Delivering effective technical assistance requires having a planned entrance and exit strategy. The key points of an entrance strategy are:
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The way it tends to work is that consultants will go to either the government level or the enterprise level and come up with plans for restructuring or privatizing a company. Well, that's controversial. It's often difficult for outsiders to really know the situation. These are very different societies than what most of the consultants are used to. The very fact of just writing reports about what should be done is often a futile effort because the results can't be implemented for political reasons. So my analysis is that, unfortunately, a lot of this is just wasted money.
On Non-Governmental Organizations
An NGO is really quite a different endeavor in Eastern Europe. Independent organization outside of the state has existed, but only in very limited settings. Poland was probably the epitome of that because Poland had the church as a kind of umbrella institution that organized independent activities. Poland had a very strong opposition. But Poland and Hungary were really the only countries that had such long-standing oppositions.
Wouldn't it be almost better if our aid initiatives were preceded by what we call a social impact statement? I get the impression that what is lacking is a kind of in-depth assessment of the environment in which things are going to be done.
I think that is right. I think there is very little awareness of really what are the potential political-social effects.
If one can generalize, the euphoria clearly led to some degree of frustration and disillusionment.
I think the first stage was euphoria and the West will help us. And then people quickly, within a few years, realized that, hey, the West either can't or won't really help us. And, of course, their [East European] expectations to a large extent were unrealistic anyway. But it is also true on the other side, to be fair, that the aid that was sent was not very strategic in many cases and not very helpful.
When it does work well, what makes it work well?
I think what seems to work well is when donors and representatives of the donors, in this case individual consultants [and] advisors, show long-term commitment. I mean, first of all, they have to be at the right place at the right time and they have to have something to offer that cannot be offered, or is not being offered, in that country to that institution. But my experience is that long-term advisors, who have a certain expertise and who are requested by specific individuals working in an institution and will be working with those same people, can be very effective and very helpful.
So, knowing you're brief, knowing the project, of course, but being there for a long enough time is a major factor?
Yes, what people on the East European side really resent are these sort of fly in, fly out advisors who come for a short time and spend all of their time just learning a little bit about the country that they're supposedly helping. The Poles quickly invented a term for fly in, fly out, high-paid consultants. They called them the Marriott Brigade. The Marriott is, of course, an American hotel?a five-star hotel which was one of the first five-star hotels in downtown Warsaw. And it was where you sort of had to stay if you were a real consultant. It was where all the consultants hung out and so the Poles called them the Marriott Brigade.
Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1995. Excerpt used with permission. Original radio interview aired 31 October 1994.
Janine R. Wedel, Associate Research Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington, DC, is currently completing a book to be entitled Remaking Eastern Europe With Western Aid? In support of her research, Dr. Wedel has received grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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© 1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies