International NGOs that preach water but take wineBy SAMANTHA SPOONER | Saturday, December 17 2011 at 21:13
The aid business is one of the most critiqued industries in the world.
Debates, sometimes quite acrimonious, frequently erupt over whether aid affects a country’s economic development, on who benefits the most from it and how much good aid actually does.
One aspect of the aid business, though, has remained largely out of the limelight — the internal politics.
A couple of recent cases have brought to light the fact that sometimes aid agencies are not even living up to the promises they make within their own organisations.
World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy agency which operates in more than 90 countries, making it one of the largest in the world.
Part of its advocacy work sets out to challenge “every day, all over the world, unjust and unfair policies, systems, practices and attitudes which force millions to live in poverty”.
World Vision is an organisation that combats discrimination, yet it is accused of it as it only hires Christians.
It is an essential job prerequisite that employees genuinely affirm their belief in a statement of orthodox Christian faith.
Considering the organisation receives approximately $250 million in US taxpayers’ funding, this is already at odds with President Barack Obama’s promise to end such exclusionary hiring practices when using federal funds.
The GlobalPost news site (http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/ngos/100110/world-vision-religion-foreign-aid) illustrates how Muslims can suffer from this selective hiring.
According to a water engineer working on a World Vision project in the Muslim nation of Mali, employees of the non-governmental organisation are not likely to keep their jobs if they do not report that they are Christians during employee reviews.
In November 2006, there was the infamous case in which World Vision sacked three employees, two of whom had worked with the organisation for 10 years.
Their offence? They did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and a member of the Trinity.
World Vision’s actions are not illegal — at least in the United States.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act guarantees their right to hire people of their own faith and US law courts have upheld this in their rulings to side with World Vision in federal discrimination suits that were brought against it.
Meanwhile, closer home in Kenya anti-poverty NGO ActionAid International, whose focus includes women’s rights, is facing claims of racial discrimination and misusing child sponsorship funds.
The accusations were made in August 2011 in Nairobi by the former international director for West and Central Africa, Dede Amanor-Wilks who claimed unlawful dismissal and racial misconduct.
In a letter to Uganda’s Irene Ovonji-Odida, ActionAid International’s board chairperson, Amanor-Wilks stated that she was “being bullied by (her line manager) Ramesh Singh, to resign from the organisation”.
Two witnesses have testified in the case, which was brought before Kenya’s Industrial Court.
Juliana Makapan, a South African, said that Amanor-Wilks was systematically denied a slot at directors’ meetings to raise issues concerning her area of responsibility.
When asked whether there was racial discrimination in these issues, Makapan responded: “I would say yes. I was part of the team and there were times when an issue was raised by Africans, it was not taken up.”
The second witness, Ms Joan Awunyo-Akaba, resigned from her position as vice-chairperson of the Ghana board and member of ActionAid International’s General Assembly in June 2010.
She resigned in protest over the dismissal of Amanor-Wilks who was guiding the Ghana board and whose “courage and conviction” had identified gaps in the way in which funds were being used.
Allegedly, Amanor-Wilks had spoken out against the closure of African programmes and a resource allocation plan which was weighted in a manner that disadvantaged West African countries and transferred the fund to Asia.
Awunyo-Akaba believes it was this action “for which Dede was dismissed”.
In her letter to the international board chairperson, Amanor-Wilks also alleged that her line manager “appears to hold against (her) the fact that (she has) expressed her opinions over matrix management and reporting lines and over whether the organisation should be moving in the direction of centralisation or decentralisation.”
ActionAid fought to get the case thrown out of court, arguing that Kenya did not have jurisdiction because ActionAid is an international organisation and because the claimants’ contract was governed by the laws of England and Wales.
The Industrial Court ruled to the contrary and cross-examination of witnesses is set for early next year.
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