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Our Fundamental Approach to Aid

In 1949, President Truman asserted in his inaugural address that "... for the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of (the world's impoverished)"; (Easterly, 2006, p. 24). Yet today, more than half a century later, a staggering 925 million people worldwide still suffer from undernourishment (Sibrain, 2010) despite the progression of technology and the pouring of more than $2.3 trillion in aid to developing countries (Easterly, 2006).

It is clear that the world has the resources, the "knowledge," and the "skill," to eradicate world hunger today; however, ineffective aid and government policies have hindered the realization of this goal. In September 2000, the United Nations developed and adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, also referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are committed to reducing extreme poverty through a series of time-bound targets meant to be achieved by 2015. Mission 2014's focus pertains to MDG 1c, which concerns halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger between 1990 and 2015 (United Nations, 2010).

To its credit, the UN has accomplished some significant advancements toward this goal. Ghana, for example, cut its hunger rate by 75% between 1990 and 2004, while the rate of underweight children in Vietnam has plummeted from close to 45% in the early 1990s to fewer than 20% today (Action Aid, 2010). Nevertheless, hunger is still increasing alarmingly in some countries despite massive worldwide efforts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, the Global Hunger Index, a means of measuring the hunger of a country through data analyzed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has increased by 65%, while North Korea and Zimbabwe have experienced an increase in hunger by 20% and 12% respectively (IFPRI, 2010).

In order to accomplish the alleviation of hunger, the current approach to aid must be reevaluated and reformed.  William Easterly argues that aid’s current methodology, centered on the question “How can the West end poverty in the Rest?”  is an irrational viewpoint that results in the attempt to produce ideal aid agencies and apply impractical relief efforts (Easterly, 2006, p.11).  He asserts that in order to more efficiently approach aid, one must restructure the question to pose in the form of “What can foreign aid do for poor people?” (Easterly, 2006, p.11)

While the first phrasing connotes an illusion of an encompassing, solitary solution to solve all the world’s crises, the second structure suggests breaking down problems to analyze on a more case by case basis.  The second question considers the variables, such as culture, politics, economic situation, and resources available, and allows flexibility in methods of aid.  

To be efficient and effective, aid organizations must approach situations with a mindset inspired by the second question, which includes, but is not limited to, flexibility, a bottom-up approach, and an understanding of the vast potential of human resources.  

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The Millennium Villages Project (MVP), piloted in Kenya and Ethiopia in 2005 and scaled up to reach nearly 1.5 million people across 10 countries in Africa in 2006, has exemplified these three key characteristics. The ability of the MVP to adapt and succeed in 10 different African countries demonstrates its flexibility.  The MVPs focus on targeting the Millennium Development goals through a bottom-up approach to analyze the needs of a particular village or community that has been deemed as a “hunger hotspot,” meaning there is at least a 20% childhood undernourishment rate (Millennium Villages, 2009, p.2).  Understanding  the importance of using the human   potential of the village members, it then proceeds to work with the local government and alongside the community to create a unique, specific approach to the problems of the village.  With this methodology, over the first three years, the MVP was able to double or, in some cases, triple crop yields for maize across five villages where maize is the staple crop.  The MVP has also experienced significant progress in education.  In Mwandama (Malawi) and Ruhira (Uganda), due to the guidance of the MVPs, school enrollment has tripled, while, in Pampaida, Nigeria, school enrollment as increased by nine times its pre-MVP rate (Millennium Village Project, 2009).  

As exemplified by the MVP, a flexible, bottom-up approach proves to be effective since it considers that although hunger appears on every habitable continent and has occurred throughout history, the roots and underlying factors of the problem vary across regions and throughout cultures.While some key characteristics of hunger, such as poverty, are often shared, it would be ignorant to assume that there exists a doctor’s list of symptoms that could be used to prescribe a certain “medication” for each case of hunger.

Various small projects that possess a similar mindset to the MVP have also proven to be extremely successful. During a trip to West Africa in which he encountered women in need for a more effective means of shelling peanuts, MIT’s Jock Brandis invented the Universal Nut Sheller. As his invention cuts down on labor hours and prevents farmers from having to travel miles to have their crops shelled by an outside source, village incomes have experienced up to a 20 percent increase.  His Universal Nut Sheller and variations of his machine applicable for other nuts have since been implemented in 17 countries, while his work has led to the creation of the Full Belly Project, which aims at “designing and distributing income-generating devices” (Full Belly Project).  His work exemplifies how truly understanding the situation on the ground can enable one to create a uniquely effective solution.

Despite such successes, most aid still primarily utilizes a “top down” approach, in which outside observers create an encompassing solution to address what they believe constitutes the heart of the problem.  This methodology seems to stem, in part,  from the ethnocentric mindset of the West in general, which fail to recognize the human potential of the people they are helping.  Economist William Easterly asserts that the “world’s poor do not have to wait passively for the West to save them” (Easterly, 2006, 27).  Mr. William Kamkwamba from Malawi exemplifies how the poor do not simply wait around for the saving grace of the West.  At the age of 14, Mr. William Kamkwamba built his own wind generator.  Forced to drop out of school around the age of 11 due to his family’s financial situation, Kamkwamba taught himself about windmills from science books he read from the library.  He built his first windmill using components from a local scrap yard, and was able to improve his structure so that people were soon using the windmill to charge their mobile phone (Fildes, 2009).  Kamkwamba, an uneducated, impoverished, young man was able to transform his village with his invention.  Kamkwamba’s inspirational story serves as merely one example of the human potential in the “developing world.”  

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Throughout our solutions, we have striven to emulate flexibility, a bottom-up mindset, and a understanding of the potential of human resources in our approach to aid.  We do not assert that this methodology of aid will serve as the cure all for world hunger; however, the current system of aid has proven inflexible and ineffective, and therefore, must be changed.

Works cited: 

Action Aid. (2010). Who's Really Fighting Hunger? Johannesburg, South Africa: Action Aid. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Easterly, W. (2006). The White Man’s Burden. New York: Penguin Books.

Flides, J. (2009, July 23). The winds of change for Africa. BBC News. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Full Belly Project. (2010). What We Do. Retrieved November 19, 2010, from

IFPRI. (2010). Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger: Focus on the Crisis of Child Undernutrition.  Washington, D.C.: IFPRI.

Millennium Villages. (2009). Harvests of Development in Rural Africa. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Sibrain, R. (2010). Millenium Development Goals Indicators: Series Metadata. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

Vodafone Foundation. (2010). World of Difference UK. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from

United Nations. (2010). Background. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from