Based on the author’s own experience as head of a bilateral agency country office, the paper tells a story about how the donor community became engaged in a conflict about monitoring the Poverty Reduction Strategy. This experience is used to explore donors’ involvement in political processes within aid-recipient countries. Their understanding of the national context and the quality of the relations that donor staff establish in the recipient country only partially explain the nature of their involvement.
Because they are sustained over time and are not contingent on the country where a staff member happens to be working for a few years there are two other sets of non local relationships that may be more influential. These are membership of the global development cooperation community, of which the country specific donor community is a sub-set, and the relationships back home to the staff member’s own country’s history, institutions, values and practices. The interpretation of these sets of relations, and the action resulting from this, are mediated by an individual’s own personal history and life experiences.
Consciously situating oneself with respect to personal and institutional values and relationships would allow individual staff members in donor agencies to reflect upon and explore taken for granted assumptions about the way the world appears to them. It would help them work more comfortably and sensitively with the ambiguity, paradox and unanticipated outcomes that they encounter on a daily basis in their goal of reducing world poverty. The paper argues that greater reflexivity would help donor staff and their organisations become more skilled at supporting aid recipients in their efforts.