Trust, lost and found

Development Policy25 Jun 2009Thea Hilhorst

Last week I stupidly left my bag with my laptop and lots of other things on the train. I phoned every day to the lost and found office of the railways, but it was not reported. Despite the nightmare of life without a laptop, I stalled buying a new one, because I could not believe it was stolen. There are many more honest people than (would-be) criminals, especially on a 8.37 train packed with responsible citizens on their way to work. I therefore reckoned my bag must have been lost in the lost and found system of the railways.In one last huge effort I managed yesterday to get through to someone who could physically check the lost and found pieces. And indeed, he was able to locate my bag! When I picked it up this morning, the guy told me that 50% of items that are found in trains are never claimed by their owners, because people erroneously assume it must have been stolen! The morale of the story: trust in people pays off. The same is true in development. In my NGO research (The Real World of NGOs, Zedbooks), I found that NGOs work harder for funding agencies who invest in personalized relations than for funding agencies that only rely on reporting and formal mechanisms for checks, balances and accountability. I am not against the latter, of course, but too much control breeds resistance and erodes the motivation to deliver programmes. I concluded that funding agencies should invest much more in social and mutual accountability. Exchanging accounts – in the sense of telling each other stories – of what you aim with development and how to achieve it may reap better results than demanding full accountability of activities with the implicit message that you don’t trust your partner.