Relationships for aid

International aid is about much more than money.

This book argues that it is the quality of relationships that can make aid succeed or fail.

Authored by an internationally renowned group of practitioners, Relationships for Aid reveals the contradictions and challenges involved in forging these relationships.

Papers and Think-pieces

a selection from papers and reports, written or co-authored

2013 Uncovering-the-Politics-of-Evidence-and-Results-  A revised version of this framing paper for the 2013 Big Push Forward Conference was  published as a chapter in  R. Eyben, I. Guijt, C.Roche and C, Shutt (eds)  The Politics of Evidence in International Development: Playing the Game to Change the Rules?’  Practical Action

2012 ‘The hegemony crack’d. The power guide to getting care onto the development agenda. IDS Working Paper no. 411.  Why has unpaid care stayed largely invisible as a development policy issue and how power analysis can get care on the agenda.

2011 with M. Mukhopadhyay,Sohela Nazneen, Maheen Sultan,Agnes Apusigah and Dzodzi Tsikata Rights and_Resources.  The effects of external financing on women’s rights struggles.

2009 with F. Wilson ‘The capacity to have an effect. An efficacy study for the Caribbean Child Support Initiative/Bernard Van Leer Foundation  94pp.  This study explores how a regional network of committed individuals can influence policy.

2009 ‘Power, mutual accountability and responsibility in the practice of international aid: a relational approach; IDS Working Paper 305  .

2008 ‘Conceptualising policy practicesPathways of Empowerment Working Paper no.1 

2008 Stories of Empowerment A framework document for the DAC  POVNET Task Team on empowerment. Introduces a controversial methodology that obliges donors to recognize  in their practice that they are not the centre of the universe.

2008 with N.Kabeer and A. Cornwall ‘Conceptualising empowerment’ Background paper for the DAC Poverty Network.

2004 ‘Political and social inequality: a review essay for development practitioners with a background in the social sciences’  2003

Donors as political actors. Fighting the Thirty Years War in Bolivia’ IDS Working Paper  32pp, 2003. The first of several publications about Bolivia written after I came to IDS, donors as political actors’ is a phrase that thereafter became widely adopted in studies of international aid.

Book chapters


(2015) ‘Promoting gender equality in the changing global landscape of international development cooperation’ in The Routledge Handbook on Gender and Development

(2011) ‘The sociality of international aid’  in (ed) D.Mosse Adventures in Aidland  The anthropology of professionals in international development Berghahn Books: 139-160 . I capture the critical connection between policy thought and social relationships in a study of a local donor community that finds an ethnographic voice from within professional spheres of practice.

(2011) ‘Participation in international aid’ in (eds) A.Cornwall and I. Scoones Revolutionising Development. Reflections on the work of Robert Chambers London, Earthscan:  59-66. A critical, historically informed examination of Chambers’ influence in international aid practice and discourse.

(2009) ‘Hovering on the threshold. Challenges and opportunities for critical and reflexive ethnographic research in support of international aid practice in (eds) C.Widmark and S. Hagberg 2009. Ethnographic Practice and Public Aid: Methods and Meanings in Development Cooperation. Studies in Cultural Anthropology 45. University of Uppsala:73-100.  This is my principal methodological paper about the challenges of researching aid donors, one that positions the anthropologist as a reflexive auto-ethnographer, retaining empathy for the insider’s position while sufficiently distanced to cultivate a critical faculty.

(2007) ‘Becoming a feminist in Aidland’ in (eds) A. Coles and A.M. Fechter Gender and Family among Transnational Professionals London, Routledge: 149-170

(2007) ‘Battles over booklets. Gender myths in the British aid programme’ in (eds) A. Cornwall, E. Harrison and A. Whitehead Feminisms and Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges, London, Zed Press: 65-78. An actor-oriented approach to the construction of policy text, this is a lively account of a succession of glossy booklets, illuminates the discursive politics of gender mainstreaming inside a development organisation.

(2007) ‘Labelling people for aid’ in (eds) J. Moncrieffe and R. Eyben The Power of Labelling London, Earthscan:  33-47. Introducing into print, Apthorpe’s idea of Aidland,  I analyse  why labels such as ‘the poor’ matter so much in development practice and identify the special characteristics of aid bureaucracies that reinforce the power of labelling.

(2006) ‘Making relationships matter for aid bureaucracies’ in R.Eyben (ed) 2006 Relationships for Aid London, Earthscan: 43-60.

(2006) with F. Wilson ‘Supporting rights and nurturing networks. The case of DFID in Peru in R.Eyben (ed) 2006 Relationships for Aid London, Earthscan:  111-132

(2005) with Rosario Leon ‘WHOSE AID the case of the Bolivian elections project‘ in (eds) D. Mosse and D. Lewis ‘The Aid Effect’ London, Pluto Press: 106-125.  I argue the importance of an insider ethnographic perspective to highlight the political contradictions and challenges in the aid relationship making innovative use of two voices – my own (the principal author) and Leon’s to tell the story from different perspectives, a methodology I was thereafter to use experimentally in my work with the DAC that I analyse in a forthcoming publication. .

(2005)  ‘Donors, rights-based approaches and implications for global citizenship: a case study from Peru’ in Kabeer, N. (ed) Inclusive Citizenship, London: Zed Books: 251-268. Through a case study of DFID’s programme in Peru, problematizes the pursuit of rights- based approaches by foreign governments in aid recipient countries, identifying paradoxes, dilemmas and possible ways forward.

(2004) ‘Linking power and poverty reduction’ in (eds) R.Alsop and A. Norton Power,Rights,and Poverty: Concepts and Connections Washington DC,World Bank : 15-28. Introduces positionality and reflexivity into concepts of power and empowerment and develops thesis of donors as political actors.

(2004)  with Clare Ferguson ‘How can donors be more accountable to poor people?’ in (eds) R.Hinton & L. Groves Inclusive Aid, London, Earthscan:163-180. This chapter is popular on university reading lists and was innovative in introducing  a discussion of multiple accountabilities that I subsequently developed in my working paper on mutual accountability (2008).

(2004)   ‘Who owns a poverty reduction strategy? A case of power, instruments and relationships in Bolivia’ in (eds) R.Hinton & L. Groves Inclusive Aid, London, Earthscan: 57-75. Written while still in Bolivia it represents my early thinking in the development of a relational approach to aid operations.

Journal articles

I draw on my experience as a feminist bureaucrat involved in the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to make the case for multiple feminist narratives of Beijing that woven together can create a myth that points to the importance of collective organising that cuts across state–civil society boundaries.

This article contributes to making visible the actors and the spaces in which discourses of aid and development are constructed and contested. I take as a case study a two year process of the production of texts on ‘empowerment’ involving a group of officials from the head offices of bilateral and multilateral agencies comprising a ‘task team’ in the OECD DAC – the ‘donors’ club’.    I look at how those members of the task team who were committed to development aid in support of social transformation tried to put ’power’ back into ’empowerment’ and explore how and why they succeeded in producing a surprisingly radical text in the current global political environment of development co-operation.

The geo-politics of development is in a state of uncertainty and transition that the Busan High Level Forum both mirrored and contributed to.  By analysing the Busan preparations and conference through textual analysis and participant observation we found it to be a fractured landscape of variable imagined geographies, suggesting that the question of who is ‘North’ and who is ‘South’ will continue to shape global negotiations on the future of development co-operation.

This article historicises the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Development Assistance Committee (DAC) as a site where the meanings of development and the purposes of aid were contested and where gradually a more diverse set of actors were invited to engage in the argument.

Although what has been called ‘the people-centred development decade’ of international aid in the 1990’s can be explained at the systemic level by the end of the Cold War, such an account does not tell us how it actually came about. This article argues that a contributory factor can be identified through the life- histories of a generation of development semi- professionals, women now in their sixties who were caught up and part of two great emancipatory moments in the second half of the twentieth century:  freedom from colonialism and women’s liberation. .

(2010) ‘Hiding relations: the irony of ‘effective aid’ European Journal of Development Research 22,3: 382-397

Using the notion of ‘substantialism’,  I identify the causes and consequences of the significance of relationships staying hidden in aid operations. My article is the subject of lively debate in development policy and practice circles as evidenced from internet blogs, workshop topics and invitations to speak at conferences on this theme.

An ethnographic case study of an international policy conference to examine how the concept of empowerment is being constructed, contested and shaped in international development. Invited speakers were the surrogates in a discursive battle never made transparent or recognized in the design of the programme.

An article about the strategies of feminists in development organisations that introduces a new approach to gender mainstreaming studies by arguing that politically astute feminist bureaucrats work towards transformational goals by exploiting organisational contradictions rather than seeking to resolve them.

(2009) with R. Napier-Moore. ‘Choosing words with care. Shifting meanings of women’s empowerment in international development   Third World Quarterly 30, 2: 285-300.

Based on textual analysis and interviews, we develop a theoretical line of enquiry that explores the discretionary behaviour of feminist bureaucrats in shaping policy and manipulating discourses.

Development practitioners may be unaware of the extent to which strategic choices and debates are informed by disparate thinking about how history happens. Based on workshops with Oxfam staff, the content and approach to which have subsequently developed for a variety of international development organisations.

This article  summarizes the findings from a pilot study and discusses the utility of co-operative enquiry for exploring professional practice in the complex cultural borderlands of unequal power relations that characterise the international aid system and draws some important conclusions about the conditions under which such a methodology is appropriate.

  • (2006 ) ‘The road not taken: international aid’s choice of Copenhagen over Beijing’ Third World Quarterly 27, 6:595-608,

I analyse the construction of the agendas for these two world conferences and argues that the powerful influence of economic rational choice theory associated with bureaucratic modes of thought means the central debate in development policy has remained that of growth versus equity. Beijing’s transformative agenda has remained marginal.

Introductory article to a Bulletin issue edited when I was Team leader of the IDS Participation team to demonstrate the team’s evolving work on power. The article identifies and discusses the team’s varying theoretical perspectives that represented in the articles in that issue.

I use gift theory with case studies from Bolivia to analyse the contradictions in aid operations as these play out in new ways of providing aid.

An early article that contributed to developing my relational approach to the analysis of aid

International Aid and the Making of a Better World

 Power and reflexive practice

How can international aid professionals manage to deal with the daily dilemmas of working for the wellbeing of people in countries other than their own?

I seek to answer that question in a book that provides a vivid and accessible insight into the world of aid – its people, ideas and values against the backdrop of a broader historical analysis of the contested ideals and politics of aid operations from the 1960s to the present day.

Moving between aid-recipient countries, head office and global policy spaces, I critically examine my own behaviour to explore what happens when trying to improve people’s lives in far-away countries and warn how self-deception may construct obstacles to the very change desired. I propose that to help make this a better world, individuals and organisations working in international development must respond self-critically to the dilemmas of power and knowledge that shape aid’s messy relations.

Written in an accessible way with vignettes, stories and dialogue, this critical history of aid provides practical tools and methodology for students in development studies, anthropology and international studies and for development practitioners to adopt the habit of reflexivity when helping to make a better world.

See Duncan Green’s review at From Poverty to Power, and  in Open Democracy the story in Chapter 6 about trust, history and the making of a better world.

Here are the pre-publication Introduction and Conclusion to International Aid and the Making of a Better World

Feminists in Development Organizations. Change from the Margins


 This book , co-edited with Laura Turquet, arises from a collaborative project in  Pathways of Women’s Empowerment.

Between 2007 and 2012  feminists working inside the head offices of multilateral organisations, government aid agencies and international non-governmental organisations came together to critically reflect on their work.It shows how feminists can build effective strategies to influence development organisations to foster greater understanding and forge more effective alliances for social change.

The book is for:

Staff who want their organisations to become instrumental in helping transform the lives of women;

Feminist activists trying to change these organisations from the outside, and

Scholars and students concerned with the politics if gender mainstreaming.

Here is our introductory chapter and Eyben’s chapter two, ‘Gender mainstreaming, organisational change, and the politics of influencing.

The Power of Labelling in Development

What assumptions do we make about their needs, values and politics?

Who develops the labels? What power do labels carry?

How do such labels affect how people are treated?

The book’s contributions analyse labelling’s causes and consequences.

Edited by Joy Moncrieffe and Rosalind Eyben, this is a book for anyone who wants to scrutinise how they think about their practice.