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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Professor Stuart Carr with Ishbel McWha.
Professor Stuart Carr with Ishbel McWha.

Better practices for foreign aid

Ishbel McWha was so impressed with the work of organisational psychologist Professor Stuart Carr that she returned from the front line of aid work in Cambodia to work for him and the Poverty Research Group in the University’s School of Psychology.

Professor Carr is now six months into an international project that is expected to lead to better practices in the complex world of foreign aid and the thousands who work in this field – from the poorest of local people to highly paid ex-pats. The project is called ADD-UP (Are Development Discrepancies Undermining Performance).

He has played a leading role in bringing together a team of psychologists and sociologists from 10 countries to examine the human dynamics of aid salary discrepancies and the significance of these big differences in income levels, to the outcome of projects in poor countries.

Professor Carr’s commitment to applying organisational psychology to the world of aid workers was triggered 15 years ago when he was working in Malawi and watching aid projects unravel, as the side effect of unfortunate human dynamics. Many years on, he says in a world “awash” with aid workers, there is growing acknowledgement that there have to be better practices. For this reason, he says, the research initiative has been widely applauded. A cornerstone of a best practice is that pay should be aligned and harmonised across worker groups.

Professor Carr has been establishing working relationships with groups in Malawi, Uganda, India, China, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Ishbel McWha, fresh off the plane from Cambodia, joined him at his Auckland-based office in July as project manager and research officer.

A postgraduate student at the University’s Palmerston North campus, she had developed a strong interest in the social marketing of poverty. In 2003 she headed for Rajasthan, in India, where she worked as the programme officer at a local NGO helping to raise the profile and expand the activity of the organisation.

Later she moved on to a local NGO in Cambodia to help build capacity. She learnt the language, travelled to remote places and embraced a rewarding but challenging time working towards local empowerment.

She blames a rogue mosquito under her desk for the subsequent onset of a very serious case of dengue fever that forced her to evacuate first to Bangkok and then home, to recover.

Determined to continue, she returned to her project in Cambodia. The chance to return to Massey and join the aid project enabled her to apply her education in a way she says she had never imagined.

Now she and Professor Carr have their international networks in place and they are developing the methodology and framework for this groundbreaking project.

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