Episode 15: Power, money and accountability in international development.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, Dev Hub founder Kate Bird talks to us about power, money and accountability in international development. Kate delves into what it means to hold and exercise power and links the control of money to decision-making power.

Recalling John Gaventa’s ‘visible’ and ‘hidden’ power, Kate delves into power as being dynamic, contextual and historical, and why this is relevant in the international development context.

This episode is a prompt review of what is meant when power is discussed across international development, and how we can begin to address power imbalances and promote a power shift.

Episode 15: Full Transcript

The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 15

Power, money and accountability in international development.

Kate: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. In today’s podcast episode, I’m just going to talk to you myself. I don’t have a guest today and I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk to you about power. So today’s episode is on money, power, and accountability in international development, and I think power is really important when we are thinking about decolonising development. And the questions I think are linked together: how does the money flow? So who has the money to start with and who do they pass it to, and what’s the chain that the money goes through? Because with money comes power and the control of money within development is often through contracts and so on.

And how does the accountability flow? So accountability is partly related to the money, but also related to the activities that are undertaken with that money. And related to these two points is who has the power? And I think it’s useful to [00:01:00] think about the different forms of power. So there’s power over, power with, power to, and power within.

And we’ll come back to these different thoughts about power later on in the podcast series, but I’d like you just to hold onto those ideas for a moment. And looping back to the idea about money and where money comes from. If we think about money within the international development sector, the money largely comes from donors, both bilateral and multilateral, and also from foundations and trusts.

And generally speaking, those are headquartered in the minority world or the Global North. And I think it’s this location of the origins of the money is why so many of our podcast guests so far have been interested in the idea of long-term and flexible funding, partnerships in place of contracts, and participative grant making. [00:02:00] Because related to the control of money is where a lot of the power sits. Power in terms of developing strategy power, in terms of ensuring that your global view, your mindset is the mindset and the global view and the priorities that are absorbed and set the direction of travel within the development sector, within development work, and also within the humanitarian sector. So if we think about participative grant making and flexible funding, this looks at shifting power from the minority world or the Global North to the majority world or the Global South, and enabling individuals and organisations there to set the agenda, identify priorities, and be in the driving seat of what’s happening in international development. Long-term partnerships and participative grant making allows the move away from highly specified contracts based on a new public management and [00:03:00] market-based set of relationships, which are low on trust and high on monitoring and control.

I think it’s really useful to explore power when thinking about decolonising development and to think about the tactical entry points for action that generate realistic expectations of change. And a lot of our podcast guests so far have been thinking about what can support change? What are the practical steps that support change?

And within the Development Hub, we’re developing a set of case studies that explore practical ways that change has been made, that is being made. So we’re identifying some examples, of success and progress that can perhaps be adopted, adapted, and put in place in other organisations elsewhere in the sector.

So just thinking a little bit more about different forms of power. Gaventa talks about visible power, which operates in observable ways in [00:04:00] open public arenas. He also talks about hidden power, which upholds existing power dynamics such as who is included or excluded from decision making, and invisible or intangible power, which affects personal experiences of power, such as socially embedded norms and the internalisation of a sense of powerlessness.

And it’s worth bearing in mind that power is dynamic. It’s contextual, so it differs from place to place. It’s historical, and I think this is one of the places where thinking about power and decolonisation is really relevant because a lot of the power that’s in place in the development sector now is based on history and it’s based on the colonial institutions and the rigidities that were set in place during the colonial era.

So power is dynamic, contextual, historical. It’s also relational. So you are powerful in relation to somebody else, or you are powerless in relation to someone else, and also in relation to institutions. And it’s worth [00:05:00] bearing in mind that power has multiple sources. It’s based on a control of resources, which is of course why I’m talking about money.

It’s based on position, role, and identity. It’s based on personal confidence and it’s situational. And I think it’s worth thinking about the intersectionality here as well with race, gender, class, wealth and position influencing who does and doesn’t have power. So that’s a very quick gallop through some of the issues related to power.

We’re going to be coming back to these issues of power later on in the podcast series. And we’re going to be talking about practical tools to explore and examine power. And ways of shifting power from the Global North or the minority world to the Global South, or majority world. So thank you very much and see you in our next podcast episode.

Bye for now.

This weeks guest:

Prof Kate Bird, Director of The Development Hub

Kate is Director of The Development Hub, Professor of Practice at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Surrey, Senior Research Associate with ODI and Associate with the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network. She brings over 25 years of experience to her work designing and leading multidisciplinary research, training and advisory work.

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