Compassion and Calculation

The business of private foreign aid
30 June 1996

An exploration of the million dollar aid agency aid business, examining critical questions such as accountability, purpose, performance and power relations in this crucial sector.

In collaboration with
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The launch of this book coincided with the workshop Private Foreign Aid Reconsidered. Re-inventing Solidarity? and a public debate under the same name, held in Amsterdam, 5-6 June 1996.

Private aid agencies such as Care, Oxfam and Doctors Without Boarders, have enjoyed public confidence and government subsidies with few questions asked. Their annual budgets can run well into the tens, sometimes hundreds of million, of dollars and pounds. Several have become virtual transnationals, acting as major brokers between the North and the South. Drawing on recent findings and in-house debates Northern and Southern contributors to this book tackle some of the claims made for the agencies and ask a series of straightforward questions:

  • A crisis of legitimacy and accountability: Who owns the agencies?
  • A crisis of purpose and motivation: Should laws of the market rule?
  • A crisis of performance in the South: Do agencies make any difference?
  • A crisis of significance in the North: Do agencies bear witness in full measure as they shape meanings and emotions in the South?

The answers offered for these questions will provoke and fuel debates currently confronting aid agencies both externally and from within.

This book arose from concerns and experiences among associates of the Transnational Institute (TNI), an independent and decentralised fellowship of scholars, researchers and writers from the South, the United States and Europe committed to critical and innovative analyses of North-South issues.

The fact that TNI itself has enjoyed the support and collaboration of several private aid agencies only strengthened its interest and curiosity in the subject. From Jochen Hippler, TNI's Director from 1993 to 1995, came the original suggestion to create this book. Its contents emerged in discussions among TNI fellows and associates, including a seminar jointly organised with the Instituto de Estudios Transnacionales, Cordoba, Spain, in November 1994.

The project corresponds with broader TNI interests in issues of conflict, democratisation, and new social movements - and in particular the role of Northern and international institutions affecting the prospects for the South.


David Sogge, Settings and Choices
Simon Zadek, Interlude: Looking Back from 2010
John Saxby, Who Owns the Private Aid Agencies?
David Sogge and Simon Zadek, "Laws" of the Market?
Ian Smillie, Interlude: The Rise of the Transnational Aid Agency
Alan Fowler and Kees Biekart, Do Private Aid Agencies Really Make a Difference?
Issiaka-Prosper Lalaya, Interlude: Practising Democratic Development: Cases from Senegal
David Sogge, Northern Lights
The South. Three Perspectives
Yash Tandon An African Perspective
John Schlanger, Private Aid Agencies in Brazil
Edith Sizoo, The Challenge of Intercultural Partnership
David Sogge and Kees Biekart, Calculation, Compassion ... and Choices