The meaning of Ownership

Ranil Dissanayake at Aid Thoughts has a very useful piece on the aid industry’s (and its recipients’) problems with the spirit and letter of the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

“Working in development among donors or in Government, Ownership is a ubiquitous phrase. It’s a major theme, or at least mentioned, in almost every policy document and plan I’ve read in-country since around 2006, when the Paris Declaration really sunk into the collective consciousness of aid agencies and some developing country Governments.

Yet conceptions of what ownership is remain muddled. In most cases, Ownership is confused with ‘consultation’ or ‘participation’ or even ‘leadership’. These are not the same thing. Ownership implies direction, drive and origination of an idea from a source. If the idea is external, the drive to implement is external, but it is implemented by a Government or local source and attributed to their leadership, ownership has been co-opted into an activity, but does not actually exist.”

African governments need to take full responsibility for their own development:

“ownership cannot be given or bestowed. It must be taken. Developing country actors must assert their vision and demand donors reconcile themselves to it.”

And donors need to understand that aid is an input into development and not the end in itself:

“Moving towards true country ownership scares most donors because they do not trust developing country Governments to ‘do the right thing’. This approach to ownership can be summed up as ‘you can have ownership, as long as you agree with us’.”

Dissanayake concludes that,

“for ownership to be stable, it must be backed by power. Yet in the aid relationship, almost all sources of power are with the donors. Donors have resources which they may withhold from countries if they so desire; and it’s the Western countries which have the largest voice in the running of the multilateral donors. Without the power of sanction over donors, developing country actors have little means to truly take control of the aid relationship and design and implement their own development strategies.”