What is in the book?

  • Social welfare and community development: This is covered in Chapter 1 on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Chapter 2 on Maun, Botswana; Chapter 3 on South Sudan; and Chapter 5 on Dominica, West Indies. In most of these chapters I have had a hands-on role, working alongside the local people who are, hopefully, the beneficiaries of the work I am undertaking.
  • Appropriate technology: This is covered in Chapter 6 on the South Pacific; Chapter 7 on Java, Indonesia; Chapter 8 on eastern Indonesia; and Chapter 9 on Java, Indonesia and Isam, Thailand. Here, I am gradually growing away from the coalface myself, but managing others’ efforts to work there.
  • The role of NGOs and CSOs, particularly on financial self-reliance: This is covered by Chapter 10 on Bangladesh; Chapter 11 on Zambia; Chapter 12 on CSOs everywhere; Chapter 14 on East Timor; and Chapter 15 on Tajikistan. My role here has been largely as a trainer.
  • Corruption and social accountability: This is covered by Chapter 13 on Indonesia; Chapters 16 and 19 on Kenya, Tanzania and

Uganda; Chapter 17 on Nepal; and Chapter 18 on Myanmar. My role here has been as project manager, trainer and adviser

  • Disaster relief and rehabilitation: There are contributions to these topics in Chapter 3 on the aftermath of civil war in South Sudan; in Chapter 8 on Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor; on Bangladesh’s floods and cyclones in Chapter 10; and in Chapter 14 on the rehabilitation of Timor-Leste.
  • Training and preparing for the work: Chapter 4 talks about the training and orientation I got from LSE and being part of Patchwork.
  • Reflections on how the aid business has changed over time: The conclusion (Chapter 20) talks about how the focus of development agencies has changed over time, how the language and spin of aid has modulated, and my thoughts on training and preparation for overseas development work.

Useful comparable literature

Alexander, Jessica. 2013. Chasing Chaos: My decade in and out of humanitarian aid. Broadway Books, New York, USA.

Buxton, Charles. 2019. Ragged Trousered NGOs: Development work under neoliberalism. Routledge, Abingdon, UK and New York, USA.

Eyben, Rosalind. 2014. International Aid and the Making of a Better World: Reflexive practice. Routledge, Abingdon, UK and New York, USA.

Mosse, David (ed.). 2011. Adventures in Aidland: Die anthropology of professionals in international development. Berghahn Books, New York, USA and Oxford, UK.

Postlewait, Heidi, Cain, Kenneth and Thomson, Andrew. 2004. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True stories from a war zone. Miramax Books, New York, USA.

Key terms

The world of the aid trade, particularly the non-government part of it, is replete with its own language and terms — many of which are incomprehensible to outsiders.

Here are the chief terms that I have used:

• NGO (non-governmental organisation - INGOs are international NGOs): This refers to the larger national or international non-govemment development organisations. It also assumes that they are not-for-profit organisations.

  • CSO (civil society organisations): This refers to the smaller and more local versions of the above, clarifying that they are civil (i.e. not government and not military).
  • CBO (community-based organisations): These are even smaller local organisations, linked to a particular community.
  • PVO (private voluntary organisations): This is an American term for NGO, reflecting the US tax code.
  • Non-state actors: This is a European Union term for NGOs designed to include trade unions and professional organisations.
  • The third sector: This means the civil society sector, not the government (first sector) or business (second sector). It can include non-developmental interests like sport or culture.

During the periods covered by this book, all of these terms were in the process of being defined, refined and tried out in practice.

  • Bilateral development agencies: These are the national aid agencies of a country (e.g. DFID for the UK, USAID for the USA, Norad for Norway, Danida for Denmark, AusAID for Australia).
  • Multilateral development agencies: These are the UN agencies (e.g. UNIGEF, UNDP, WHO) and finance agencies (e.g. World Bank, IMF).


  • 1 USA, Canada, Guyana, Portugal, Bulgaria, Hungary, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Fiji, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, Syria, Mozambique, South Africa, Mali, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Turks and Caicos Islands.
  • 2 NAAFI is “Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes”, which is the organisation for recreational, catering and grocery institutions for the services and their families. It is a separate and independent company, which, however, is always connected to the Armed Forces.
  • 3 “The Development Set” is a poem by Ross Coggins to describe expatriate development workers, written in 1976 when he worked for USAID in Indonesia. It is satirical and biting, and can be accessed on Google.
  • 4 My wife, however, did not start her career in the development aid business, but in theatre management (see note 5 in Chapter 4).
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