Who benefits from development?

A few years ago, I was standing in a field in the coastal area of Ghana, West Africa. I was there with Irish Methodist World Development & Relief (WDR) as part of my work and had travelled with my colleague and volunteers from Ireland who had photography and videography skills that they were sharing with WDR at no expense. We were visiting work being managed by Methodist Development and Relief Services (MDRS) and farmers were planting new strains of coconut trees to replace those that had been devastated by a killer virus. In that one field, we had donor organisation staff, donor supporters/volunteers, staff from the partner NGO and beneficiaries, the farmers, all ‘doing their thing’. A nice illustration of working together to improve things.

Spot the beneficiaries: Tim West (photographer), Grace Quansah (MDRS volunteer) and Mr Addison (local coordinator).

Spot the beneficiaries: Tim West (photographer), Grace Quansah (MDRS volunteer) and Mr Addison (local coordinator).

In WDR, we have tried to outlaw the word ‘project’ as we feel it puts an emphasis on ‘things rather than people’ e.g. the number of wells dug rather than the improvement in the quality of life for the community. That’s why we use the phrase ‘People not Projects’ as a mantra at times, especially when presenting people’s stories through picture, written word and video.

As WDR thinks more and more about how we refer to people and the language we use, there is something about my description of the people in that Ghanaian field that makes me uncomfortable. Three words to be precise. The words are ‘donor’, ‘partner’ and ‘beneficiary’. In the traditional view of international development, a donor gives funds to a partner (typically an organisation) and the partner then carries out work to improve the lives of beneficiaries (typically the materially poor). This paints a rather one-way flow in the system; from donor to beneficiary. It does not describe good development practice well nor, indeed, the reality of what is really happening.

Instead of suggesting we look for new more inclusive alternatives for these terms, I offer another option; one that we at WDR, try to embrace.

Firstly, ALL are in that scene are ‘partners’. Partnership is about people with common values gathering around a common task in order to see it achieved. True partnership speaks of equality and equity, where everyone is of equal value and is treated with fairness by each of the others. The Ghanaian farmer, MDRS coordinating staff, WDR volunteers and staff; all are of equal value and should be treated as such. All are aiming to reduce poverty and improve lives and have gathered around common values such as justice, compassion and solidarity. Thus, they are all partners in the task. Together, they can each achieve more than they would on their own. Economic status plays no part in whether or not a person can be a partner. Another point to make is that WDR partners with people, not organisations. So when I think of MDRS, I am actually thinking of Joseph Donkoh, Mr Addison and so many other good people.

Secondly, ALL are ‘donors’. The ‘donor’ has usually been assumed to be the group that provides the financial input for a project. But money is not the only input required for successful development. Skills, local knowledge, labour, experience and relationships on the ground are also needed and it is usually local NGOs and communities that possess these valuable assets. WDR supporters may have the money to buy new coconut seedlings but they probably do not have years of experience in farming in southern Ghana nor the connections with local landowners in order to obtain new tracts of land. Each partner can ‘donate’ what they have.

Lastly, ALL are beneficiaries. You may have been with me up to this point and in agreement but this last claim may seem harder to justify. A beneficiary is the one to receive the positive changes brought about by the work. The farmer grows new trees and harvests the coconuts. It is clearly the farmer and his or her family that is benefitting. There is no benefit for the supporter who contributes to the fund or the staff of the NGO. Right? I would say wrong.

For example, being part of this wonderful WDR network of people has huge benefits for me personally. I get a huge sense of satisfaction by being involved in something that is good and successful. As someone with a Christian faith, I am able to fulfil my obligation to help the materially poor. Others who contribute from the ‘Irish end’ and yet do not proclaim any form of faith, will also get huge satisfaction and fulfilment from partnering with people across the world to make that world a better place. I also get to have an insight into other cultures and the lives of others; a very enriching experience. The staff of NGOs, like myself, earn a living and they also see their own communities progressing thanks to their efforts; surely a heartening and uplifting experience that does the soul good. These are all good things received and so I would suggest that everyone is a ‘beneficiary’, admittedly in very different ways.

Whether by making our contribution to the world by bringing clean water to rural villages, ensuring healthcare for a woman of a lower caste or providing education for marginalised children; if we do this well with others, we can be a partner, donor and beneficiary all at the same time.

Maybe this is obvious to you already or maybe this has made you think. Just to add, if we claim to be in partnership then we must treat our partners as our equals. If we claim to be a donor, then let us give what we can and give generously. If we consider ourselves to be beneficiaries then let us recognise the gifts we receive and receive them gratefully from those who have given them.

So, thank you to my partners in that field in Ghana. They give me purpose, meaning and fulfilment. On the surface of it, I appear to be giving them coconuts. Hopefully, if we were to scratch beneath the surface, they are receiving much more.


In a previous blog, I reflected upon an annual international list of countries ordered according to the degree of corruption. Rather a negative list. Well, here is the antidote to that list; the Charities Aid Foundation’s (CAF) “World Giving Index for 2016 – the world’s leading study of generosity”.

Now we can feel good about ourselves again, although it depends upon where we find our nation on the list!

So how did Gallup measure generosity when carrying out this research for CAF? Well, they looked at three measures of generosity and asked 3 simple questions.

In the past month have you:

  1. Helped a stranger or someone you didn’t know who needed help?
  2. Donated money to a charity?
  3. Volunteered your time to an organization?

So, good to see that financial giving was not the only measure!

“Money is not the only commodity that is fun to give. We can give time, we can give our expertise, we can give our love or simply give a smile. What does that cost? The point is, none of us can ever run out of something worthwhile to give.”

Steve Goodier


And what’s this got to do with Irish Methodist World Development & Relief (WDR) and its work around the globe? Well, essentially, WDR could not be able to partner with people in organisations if it was not for the generosity of supporters. But also, more importantly, nothing would be happening at all if certain people had not, at some point in their lives, decided to forego what they could have had or done, in order to serve their communities by using their skills and time to change things. I’m talking about many of the staff and volunteers in partner organisations. I would not embarrass them but I could name partners who could have earned more elsewhere; a different location or different career. However, they chose not to do that. I wonder why?

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

John Bunyan


Okay, okay; the list! The top ten most generous countries:

  1. Myanmar (formerly Burma)
  2. USA
  3. Australia
  4. New Zealand
  5. Sri Lanka
  6. Canada
  7. Indonesia
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Ireland
  10. United Arab Emirates

Myanmar’s top position at No. 1 may confound your assumptions as it is only classed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank. So it would appear that generosity is not necessarily linked to wealth. And yes, we can contrast this with ongoing reports of suffering and the contested rights of the Rohingya people within Myanmar’s borders. Interestingly, 80-90% of Burmese people are practising Buddhists with as many as 99% of those being Theravada Buddhists. Followers are required to donate to those living a monastic life. “Required’ is the interesting word here; a challenge to any of us that claim allegiance to a faith which also ‘requires’ generosity and looking out for others. In Myanmar they do it.

“I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”

Abraham Lincoln


Interestingly Kyrgyzstan has fallen from 18th to 34th place. It had risen 65 places the previous year when the survey interviews, in this predominantly Muslim country, occurred during the holy month of Ramadan when followers of Islam are encouraged to help those in need. In 2016, the interviews were conducted one week after Ramadan. It is great to see that religion and faith can better our behavior towards others but a shame if we only follow those prompts at certain times of the year; whatever our religion. Saying that, there has been a general increase in Kyrgyzstan’s ranking over time.

“That's what I consider true generosity: You give your all, and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.”

Simone de Beauvoir


A special mention for Turkmenistan and Kosovo who have both increased their ranking by 56 places. Peru, Jordan, Cameroon and Nepal have also risen significantly. Why? I have no idea.

You want to know the bottom ten don’t you. Is that fair? (You can find the full report at the bottom of this page.)

Further analysis shines a light on some patterns and tends. For the first time, men participated more in financial giving (globally) than women. Those aged 50+ gave more than 30-40 year olds and both of these gave significantly more than 15-29 year olds (well they are still making their way in life and have less disposable income – that’s it, isn’t it?). Men also volunteer more than women (23.4% compared to 19.9%) but I would imagine this is affected by the fact that, in many societies, women are still more likely to be running households and looking after children and so would have less free time.

Volunteering their time is where younger people come into their own as they give more in this way than other age groups. Similar global analysis can be done on ‘helping a stranger’.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version


Where does generosity as part of our make-up come from? Perhaps it can be learned to some extent but I don’t think it can be forced (it wouldn’t then be totally genuine). However, surely it is from within that genuine selfless generosity comes. For some, it is faith that shapes them. For others it may be a lived experience or a living example that moves them. For others, it’s just seems to be who they are. Irish Methodist World Development & Relief is just one attempt by those who call themselves Methodists (and followers of Christ) to give ourselves to others. We don’t always do it and we don’t always do it well but it should be our aim.

WDR thanks those supporters who give their time, skills and money to the work. Thank you to our friends who head up and work for our partner organisations and who choose to stay when others would have left for greener pastures. And thank you to beneficiaries who work with partners and are an example of fortitude, courage and hope personified. Together we are being generous to each other, giving what we can so that life can be better for us all.

Beneficiaries in Ghana, working with Methodist Development & Relief Services

Beneficiaries in Ghana, working with Methodist Development & Relief Services

“I come in a world of make a world of gold”

Dale Wasserman, Man of La Mancha


Read the full report here.


Tim Dunwoody

World Mission & Development Officer


Preparing to leave for Ghana

We are going to Ghana tomorrow (Wednesday 13th April) in order to meet with a variety of partners of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Most are partners via Irish Methodist World Development & Relief but we'll also be calling in on Pat Jamison (a mission partner via the Methodist Missionary Society) and also meeting with the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church Ghana in order to discuss some future work between MCI and MCG.

We'll be covering a lot of miles and some rough country. We'll also be travelling with some great supporters who are bringing their skills so that we can share the stories fully when we return.

The team is:
Tim Dunwoody (WDR and MMS(I))
Laura Kerr (WDR and MMS(I))
Pete Laverty (video cameraman)
Tim West (stills photographer)
Abe Scheele (sound engineer)

Please pray for a safe and fruitful journey and FOLLOW THE BLOG! Thank you!