What is the right approach to aid poor nations?

Poverty reduction is recognised as one of the world’s top priorities. In 2000, all members of the United Nations (UN) reached a universal consensus on the global poverty reduction targets. The UN-led initiatives focused on eight development goals, which were to be achieved by 2015.  The adoption of these goals not only encourages poor nations to align their national development plans with global transformation initiatives but also provides a framework for developed nations and donors to intervene in order to free their neighbours from poverty. 
Although all governments and donors agree on these common development objectives and targets, they have different views on how to achieve this global mission.
From the perspective of neoliberalism, poverty reduction is impossible without the establishment of a free global market. This development model differs from the one favoured by populism theorists, who place emphasis on the voice and participation of the public sector, such as non-governmental organisations, as agents to deliver aid to poor nations. So what is the best development approach? 
While many people argue that the establishment of global trade in accordance with the neoliberalism concept is the best development model for poverty reduction, I view this concept as too generalised and inappropriate in the context of poor nations. I contend that in addition to neoliberalism, the populism approach should be applied in order to balance economic growth with the protection of the environment and cultural diversity.
What is neoliberalism?
Neoliberalism is a development philosophy which strongly suggests that the best approach to improving people’s living conditions is to give them more freedom to do business. From the perspective of neoliberalism, worldwide poverty reduction is impossible without a free global market. 
What is populism?
Populism is another development concept, which puts the voice of the people at the centre of national development and poverty reduction. Populism supporters demand that governments centre development on people’s voices, which are so diverse. Populism theorists also think that global trade fails to acknowledge the diversity of people, who have widely differing values, abilities, knowledge, motivation and talents when it comes to earning a living.
The expansion of the populism movement in the 19th century gave birth to non-profit organisations as agents to deliver aid to poor nations, as they are the ones who interact with local people and know what people need.
After taking a quick look at the key assumptions of neoliberalism and populism, it is now clear that these two development theories focus on different aspects of development. Neoliberalism is likely to pay greater attention to helping poor nations develop a free and fair market as they believe that improving the business climate will boost local and foreign investment and economic growth. Populism does not believe that the market alone can address the problem of poverty. Supporters of this theory stress the need for governments to acknowledge the fact that people are different and define their wealth differently.
The reasons why populism should be applied alongside neoliberalism
Although there is some evidence to show that neoliberalism plays a significant role in boosting economic growth in least developed nations, it does not mean that this development approach is the best and most suitable model for poor nations.
The reason for this is that the neoliberalism development model does not guarantee equal distribution of income and wealth, as global trade creates opportunities for only capable people to earn a better living. There is considerable evidence to show that the income gap between the rich and poor in poor countries occurs because of the emphasis placed on trade liberation and market development. This development approach has led to unequal access to public services and opportunities because people have different levels of income.
On top of that, neoliberalism fails to acknowledge that many people define wealth differently. This is the main reason why I think that in addition to economic growth as favoured by the neoliberalism concept, there is a need to apply the populism approach, which empowers non-profit organisations to act as agents in delivering aid to poor nations.
One of the strengths of the populism concept is that it acknowledges that people have different values, knowledge and abilities to earn a living.  People who earn less may not necessarily be described as poor because although they are relatively poor in terms of monetary income, they are satisfied with what they have, according to populism.
Based on these assumptions, I think global trade helps to boost economic growth in poor nations but it fails to acknowledge cultural diversity and environmental protection. From this perspective, I think that in addition to the application of neoliberalism, developed countries should continue to support NGOs - a key feature of populism - to work alongside the provision of foreign aid to expand global trade. I think NGOs are in a position to deliver aid more effectively. This is because NGOs are more closely in touch with people and know what people want and need, and so can empower them to earn a living.
In conclusion, after examining the two development theories, in addition to helping poor nations under the neoliberalism framework, donors should enable NGOs to perform their duty properly. This is because populism empowers people to fight against poverty while neoliberalism helps only some people earn a living in the age of globalisation. Due to the low of standard of education in poor nations, NGOs are needed to equip people with the necessary knowledge, skills and financial support to earn a living before an inflow of foreign companies into the country.
In addition, with help from NGOs, people will be in a better position to protect their culture and values, which are the most important aspects of life for most human beings.
--Ekaphone Phouthonesy, a journalist at Vientiane Times with more than a decade of reporting experience and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Flinders University, Australia. Comments, questions, suggestions or opinion contributions, please Email:ekaphouthonesy@gmail.com

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
(Latest Update September 5, 2018)

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