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This paper is part of a series collating literature, resources, and actions that have focused on efforts to create change in the aid sector, developed in support of systems change initiative, theRINGO Project(Reimagining the INGO). This paper considers the topic of ‘decolonising aid’ with the intent to help keep practitioners up to date with the evolving discussions in this area and promote awareness of initiatives among aid and development actors. It seeks to contribute to fostering a collaborative and reflective space, as a useful resource to invite discussion and contemplation, a ‘conversation starter’ as to what is defined as ‘disruptive’ transformational change and how the sector can work to meaningfully achieve this paradigm shift. 

Decolonising aid is a call from many humanitarian actors for a fundamental shift in power and resources, grown out of concerns that the current international aid system is part of a colonial construct that operates on Western terms and from Western points of view, perpetuating power imbalances between the global North and global South. The report Time to Decolonise Aid—which outlines the findings from a global study into the colonial legacy of the aid system—notes that while “according to its original usage, ‘decolonisation’ refers to the process of a state withdrawing from a former colony, leaving it independent”, practitioners point out that “the term has a secondary meaning, referring also to the process of deconstructing colonial ideologies regarding the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches”.

Practitioners contend that this paradigm shift will require a multi-pronged approach and collective action from both global North and South institutions to work in solidarity to drive the agenda forward, to address existing power dynamics and existing norms and bias, and “requires a commitment to the redistribution of power and resources”.

This paper collates thought-provoking writing and research, as well as current conversations, movements and dialogues taking place in this space, illustrating the actions that can be taken to ‘decolonise aid’. This involves shifting organisational culture and communications, including around power dynamics and the use of certain language and how stories are portrayed, through to diversifying governing boards, and rethinking programme implementation, project management and operational structures.

‘Transformation in the aid and development sector?’ is proudly presented by Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and Rights CoLab as part of the RINGO project, with the generous support of the IKEA Foundation.
Learn more about the series and read the other papers here.