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Book launch ‘Aid, NGOs and the realities of women’s lives: a Perfect Storm’

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 17:30 to 19:30
The book 'Aid, NGOs, and the Realities of Women’s Lives: A perfect storm', edited by Fenella Porter and Tina Wallace, was launched on 12 June 2013. The event took place at the Institute of Education and was organised jointly by LIDC and the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies at Birkbeck. Jasmine Gideon (Birkbeck) chaired the panel, which consisted of Fenella Porter (Birkbeck); Tom Scott-Smith (University of Oxford), author of the chapter `Insulating the developing classes’; Deepa Joshi (Wageningen UR) author of the chapter `Apolitical stories of sanitation and suffering women’, Naila Kabeer (SOAS); and Elaine Unterhalter, (IOE).
Introducing the book, Fenella Porter highlighted the tendencies that gave rise to the idea behind it: the rise of managerialism in development work and the concurrent widening gap between a sophisticated understanding of gender in academia and the way women’s concerns are addressed on the ground. The increasing competition for funds among NGOs and the fact that they are under pressure to deliver measurable results, she said, estranges NGOs from the very people they work with and affects whose voice is heard.
Tom Scott-Smith gave hands-on experience from the perspective of a `guilty party’. He identifies the insulation of development workers – in terms of their lifestyle, their language, and their bureaucratised mode of work – as a reason for the pervasiveness of managerialism in the field. 
Deepa Joshi highlighted discrepancies between the concept of moving up the sanitation ladder and the lives of urban poor on the one hand, and the gender dimension of the problem on the other hand. 
Naila Kabeer and Elaine Unterhalter lauded the book’s focus as a welcome starting point to critically evaluate to what extent managerialism and quantitative evaluations are fit for purpose, and to what extent they need to be supplemented with qualitative techniques and the rich experience that NGOs can draw upon. 

About the book:
Several factors are coming together that put pressure on NGOs working in development: the economic crisis, the growing conditionality of aid, and increased competition for funding between NGOs seeking to grow in reach and influence. This creates ‘a perfect storm ’that focuses attention increasingly on a new language of aid, policies and procedures. The book addresses the current crisis and growing disconnect between development frameworks and the lives of women. It argues for NGOs to learn more from their past experiences and to keep open a challenging and creative space for analysing aid. More

About the speakers:
Deepa Joshi is interested in the gendered impacts of development interventions. She has worked in South and South-East Africa, and Latin America, managing programmes, conducting policy research, and leading local research capacity building. She is interested in analyzing the drivers and processes of policy reforms, understanding how policies evolve within different institutional cultures and structures, and the hierarchies of knowledge and power which shape practice I these institutional spaces.


Tom Smith is a former development practitioner now completing a DPhil and the University of Oxford. His research examines the history of humanitarianism and applies critical theory to development institutions. He has worked across sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, and is currently writing a history of humanitarian technologies in nutrition, sanitation, and emergency shelter.

Tina Wallace has worked as an academic, practitioner and activist in development in UK and Africa for over 35 years. She has engaged long-term with many NGOs, large and small, and is widely published in development.

Fenella Porter lectures in development at Birkbeck. She has been an activist and researcher on development and gender, with NGOs and women’s organizations in Africa and the UK.

Elaine Unterhalter is Professor of Education and International Development at the Institute of Education.

Naila Kabeer is Professor of Development Studies at SOAS.

About the organisers:
The London International Development Centre (LIDC) facilitates interdisciplinary research and training to tackle complex problems in international development by bringing together social and natural scientists from across the University of London's Bloomsbury Colleges: Birkbeck, Institute of Education, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Royal Veterinary College, and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

The Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies (GEDS) is an academic department within Birkbeck's School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy.