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Fenella Porter

Lecturer
Birkbeck College, University of London

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Summary

This podcast features an interview with Fenella Porter on her new book entitled Aid, NGOs and the Realities of Women’s Lives: A Perfect Storm that was co-edited with Tina Wallis and Mark Ralph-Bowman.

The work examines contemporary international development policy, and argues in particular that development is suffering from the narrowing of what is considered by Western donors – major foundations as well as governments – as acceptable forms of demonstrating or reporting ‘progress’. As a result, Porter argues that it is increasingly difficult, and almost impossible, for NGOs and other development agencies to challenge embedded ideas and norms in society. There is a need to show the donors that projects are supporting immediate growth, and to demonstrate ‘value for money’. It is not acceptable in these circumstances that projects should fail, although in reality that can happen.

It is not new that we are seeing this shift towards increasingly narrow and time-shortened understandings of management. Over the last decade, the UN and other international organizations have started to take on managerial roles, and as a result their norms and ideas of management and control have been passed on to NGOs. Significantly, as several of the contributors to the edited volume demonstrate, this new form of evaluation is distorting development policies and practices, while at the same time critical voices that might challenge these distortions are not being heard.

The voices of the local communities receiving development support can help us understand their own needs and issues better, and it is important that NGOs reconnect with these voices. Porter hopes that the book will be the beginning of more meaningful discussions about challenging norms and practices so that we can begin embracing complexity and messiness. She believes that we need to reclaim the idea that there is more than one form of management, and that as a consequence there is a need for different ways of managing in development.

Additional Resources

Fenella Porter, Background
With a PhD in Development Studies from Open University, Fenella Porter is a Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, as well as a course tutor for modules on NGOs and on Development Management and Development Studies. Porter has over 18 years of experience working on issues of gender and development issues with women’s NGOs and development organizations at national and international levels. In February and November 2011, Porter was a co-convener of workshops jointly with the International Gender Studies Center and with the Gender and Development Network.
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Recorded July 2013