International cooperation - but how?

The author, a trained economist with a disability living and working in Ethiopia, describes the experience of disability in the context of a developing country. Internet publication URL:


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by Michael Seifu (, Ethiopia, May 2004

Michael Seifublank spaceI am in my mid thirties. With an M.Sc in Economics, I am a senior economist in a government office in Ethiopia. Have strong interest in applied research work to improve the lives of the poor. Produced a number of papers on related issues. I have first hand experience about disability as I have one that limits my mobility.Am very much in support of the spirit of the independence movement, although it is only recently I actually started involving myself to such activities. Believe strongly in the power of information exchange; love watching soccer, writing articles.



It has long been recognized that non-governmental organizations, which are not profit motivated, play quite a vital role in addressing socioeconomic objectives. In recent times this has gained a new momentum attributable largely to the unfolding international political reality that centers around participatory democracy. With advent of pluralistic political systems and devolutions of power to lower levels of government in most developing countries, civic organizations as well as NGOs mushroomed. Better opportunities for civil society participation are, however, more than matched by stronger challenges as manifested by global health hazards such as HIV/AIDS and SARS and also deepening incidence and depth of poverty. As such it is only imperative that the not-so-much resources at the disposal of government and NGOs need to be invested so as to derive as much impact as possible. In this regard, one issue that has attracted spotlight on the part of NGOs is disability. This short note is, therefore, meant to identify certain basic observations which could be of help for NGOs involved in disability issues.

Sincere Adherence to Cause: this refers to actual compliance of NGOs to effectively and honestly achieve their goals of improving the lives of disabled people in poor countries. By effectiveness we are questioning if the type of interventions and the modalities of implementation are making real differences. For many this might seem superficial given the huge amount of resources being committed. Nevertheless, in several real life cases this is more apparent than real. We can resort to at least a couple of phenomenon as to why this is so. To begin with, it is often the case that the share of administrative overheads in total budgetary outlay of NGOs is unjustifiably large. In such cases capability to render support services to the disabled is significantly hampered. Secondly, we often witness loose link between activities by the NGOs and the actual needs of the people they are expected to support, ie. people with disabilities. It is critically important that these organizations ensure that their outputs and outcomes constitute tangible results in terms of improving the lives of physically challenged people.

Informed Interventions: unless NGOs ascertain that their choice of activities are backed up by well informed thoughts, it is unlikely they make lasting differences in the lives of the disabled. One deep-rooted misunderstanding in this respect is to often consider the disabled a purely charity case. Accordingly, programmes and projects formulated to support the disabled tend to be very myopic focusing only on current needs. This would create and strengthen dependency syndrome as well as missing out the opportunities towards enhanced capability for the disabled. Making informed interventions would mean that NGOs need first make a thorough insight into the realities on the ground prior to embarking on projects. It is about being aware that there is no panacea to addressing disability problems while the workable strategy evolves from giving due consideration to local conditions. In certain cases it could be social stigmatization, in others it might be material deprivation, and still in others lack of advocacy.

Inclusiveness: by this we stress the importance that NGOs should place on to subscribe the views, feelings, needs of the disabled themselves regarding the best course of actions. Sometimes this requires well established disability focused civic organizations. The recent case of what is known as the “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative” of the World Bank whereby countries were offered debt relief on the basis of having a good anti poverty plans is a good example. The process is supposed to be inclusive in which every segment of society getting involved in identifying programmes for intervention and also monitoring. There has, unfortunately, been not that many fora to exclusively account for the opinions of the disabled. In not few instances, NGOs come up with preconceived ideas when dealing with people having physical disabilities. Such ideas are brought mostly from previous experience and tantamount to transplant an on-going practice into a different context. In these types of situations the interventions face the risk of mismatch between needs and support rendered and perhaps more importantly any dynamism for a lasting change is lost. It is not in any way an exaggeration to state that disabled people, regardless of race, space, culture, etc., wish to be able to exercise control of their own lives by their own. Any support should be supportive of such drive for independent living and the best strategy to that end is to utilize an inclusive approach.

Better Coordination: often NGOs are in the dark as to what other similar organizations and government organs are doing to address issues related with disability. It is in the interests of both NGOs and the people to coordinate their activities through exchanging information, exchange of experiences, sharing of hardware, etc. This also needs to deepen by creating good working relationships with local authorities. Its values lie in cost effective and better quality of support.