Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs

Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs

Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs

Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs


After Haiti's 2010 earthquake, over half of U.S. households donated to thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in that country. Yet we continue to hear stories of misery from Haiti. Why have NGOs failed at their mission?

Set in Haiti during the 2004 coup and aftermath and enhanced by research conducted after the 2010 earthquake, Killing with Kindness analyzes the impact of official development aid on recipient NGOs and their relationships with local communities. Written like a detective story, the book offers rich enthnographic comparisons of two Haitian women's NGOs working in HIV/AIDS prevention, one with public funding (including USAID), the other with private European NGO partners. Mark Schuller looks at participation and autonomy, analyzing donor policies that inhibit these goals. He focuses on NGOs' roles as intermediaries in "gluing" the contemporary world system together and shows how power works within the aid system as these intermediaries impose interpretations of unclear mandates down the chain--a process Schuller calls "trickle-down imperialism."


In Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid and NGOs, Mark Schuller offers nuanced insight into the mechanisms (and failures) of foreign aid in Haiti. Through his extensive field research, recounted here in a clear, practical prose, Dr. Schuller suggests that the most efficient and effective way to engage in this work is to accompany the intended beneficiaries. “Accompaniment” admits many meanings, but it is not infinitely elastic. To accompany someone is to go somewhere with him or her, to break bread together, to be present on a journey with a beginning and an end. It means listening, working alongside communities, walking with them until their goals become their reality.

Foreign assistance is often complicit in the failures of imagination that allow inequities to persist in Haiti and elsewhere. The standard “trickle-down” aid model consistently disappoints those of good will on both sides of the complex donor-recipient equation. But someone must be benefitting; most systems realize the results they were designed to deliver. We need not return to Max Weber to observe that most bureaucracies excel at self-perpetuation (1946b). There are many complexities and gradations to Weber’s work, however, and ample reason to extend a hermeneutic of generosity to most nongovernmental organizations operating in post-coup Haiti. But some distinctions can (and must) be made.

Dr. Schuller does this by contrasting two NGOs: one with a top-heavy organizational structure (due in part to its dependence on large bilateral funders), and one that operates with an inclusive, collaborative approach informed by accompaniment. He shows that sharing decisionmaking among NGO directors and staff and, above all, the intended beneficiaries, can improve the likelihood that service delivery will be humane and sustainable. He also highlights the important of integrating efforts into existing programs, building (or rebuilding) local infrastructure, and collaborating with the public sector. Private enterprises are not meant to replace robust public-sector health, water, and sanitation systems. In fact, when foreign aid bypasses the government, evidence suggests that it can weaken the public sector (see, e.g., Collier 2007).

The international humanitarian response—one of the largest in history— to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti is a case in point: of the more than . . .

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