The no. 1 ingredient that almost all donor-recipient relationships contain is the need for the recipient to feel a sense of ownership. Ownership of the project or programme. Of the development process or initiative. Of a change process which has only become possible because of a factor from without: the idea, the rationale, the money, the equipment.
The million-dollar question is: it is possible? It is possible to define the (often narrow) parameters of funding, select the recipients, fund the programme – and at the same time transfer ownership of the objectives, activities and entire process to the recipients?
Ownership means that the (local) recipients own the project and determine a range of factors, from recruitment of project employees to budget allocations. It assumes that you take better care of things you own, that you become more dedicated because you own it.
But the donor often needs to satisfy her own donors, whether governments, larger organisations or the general public in the West, and therefore does not feel that she can let everything be determined by the (new) owners. Because, what if the recipients take decisions with which the donor disagrees? Should the latter step in and ‘remind’ the recipients of the ‘right’ path, the objectives of the partnership, or should she stick it out, risking that the project takes on unforeseen or undesirable dimensions, becomes subject to non-liberal local dynamics, or is used for private rather than public gains? If the answer lies somewhere in between these two options, the question remains whether a path between donor control and local ownership exists at all. And, if so, which amount of donor control would disable the sense of ownership?
The jury is still out, I’m afraid.