Suggested Practices for International Organizations
Updated: May 2
Recently, I had a conversation with one of my board members who expressed sensitivity about the issue of western paternalism. This board member brought important questions to the fore, noting that colonialism played a large part in causing or exacerbating challenges that we, as colonial descendants, now insert ourselves back into to "fix". We apply our own values and cultural lenses to what we view as problems as we suggest, influence, or even force our solutions upon others, ignoring beneficiaries opinions, values, autonomy, and their dignity.
These are serious issues, and they demanded to be addressed, so I started reading articles (like this one) and having conversations about how to best be sensitive to these issues as a member of a foundation that still wants to be open to international giving.
I checked back in with my board, and we had a thoughtful discussion about what we'd like to see from organizations operating outside of the U.S. Here's what we came up with:
Organizations should preserve or defend participants' self-determination or autonomy
Ideas should come from the ground, not from outsiders
There should be local representation on the board and among senior leadership
Programs and solutions should be market-based at least in the sense that there is real demand for them
Programs and solutions should avoid market distorting/damaging subsidies**
There may be certain goods or outcomes that we can assume are universally desired, even across cultural boundaries (e.g., health, opportunity**)*
Organizations should attempt to do no harm (and preferably do some good) to the local or global environment
We settled on these guidelines for now. We hope that by funding organizations that do these things that we'll empower communities and see more locally-driven solutions to more locally-determined problems.
*This last point sparked further discussion, as we tried to come up with actual examples of universally desired goods and outcomes. We came up with a few examples, but just as many caveats. For example, we think health is probably a universally desired outcome, but we weren't convinced that a desire for health was the same as a desire for western medicine. After a few more examples and a few more disclaimers, we decided that it is all the more important for interventions to be locally driven, for problems to be locally defined, and for there to be some kind of proof of real demand for any program or solution
**We added this point after the initial publication of this article, after additional conversations that arose on this topic.