USAID Branding: Pressure still on to end the dangerous desire for self-promotion

It may be off the headlines now, but the pressure remains on USAID from many prominent NGOs like World Vision, Oxfam and Save the Children to end its requirement of putting the American flag on donated materials.

I wrote about this dispute last week and a USAID official told me talks aimed at resolving this disagreement are “intense.”

Humanitarian groups say they need to remain — and appear — politically neutral. They also don’t like getting killed just for PR purposes.

Some leading NGOs say the required USAID logo basically puts a target on their backs in some places, such as certain areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan where there is hostility to the U.S. government.

And even if the logo doesn’t pose a danger, many say it ends up making the assistance they provide look more like self-promoting politics than a basic humanitarian desire to help. Some of the NGOs say they may have to refuse to accept USAID funding if the agency doesn’t relent in slapping its labels on everything.

But this issue of labeling may be just the tip of the iceberg.

Apparently, the U.S. and British military (probably with the best of intentions) want to play a bigger role in foreign aid.

Here are two articles worth reading on the potential problems with this: By CNN’s Elise Labott on the “blurred lines” between NGOs and military assistance efforts; and another along similar lines about the head of Oxfam warning against the British government mixing up aid with military and foreign policy.

Perhaps the most tragic example of the risk of combining the military approach with that of the humanitarians is the death of Linda Norgrove. The Scottish aid worker was likely kidnapped because of her association with US agencies working in Afghanistan, and then accidentally killed by US special forces in a botched rescue attempt.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.