Zambian Author Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid argues that millions are actually poorer because of aid, unable to escape corruption and reduced, in the West’s eyes, to a childlike state of beggary. But for Siobhan Walsh, CEO of Ireland’s GOAL Global, aid is working if it is applied to its intended purpose.
“We can’t say aid is not working at all, I have seen it when it changes the lives of youth to thrive,” she argues.
Founded by John O’Shea, GOAL is devoted to assisting the poorest of the poor. It operates in refugee camps and places where people are fighting to survive, supporting vulnerable groups by helping them obtain shelter, food, health and emergency services. Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Siobhan Walsh to learn more about Goal’s work in Ethiopia, the challenges of refugees and the best methods to get results from aid. Siobhan Walsh has worked in relief and development in the fields of strategy development, business development and marketing, and has added value to a diverse range of businesses before she joined GOAL Global. Excerpts;
Capital: What does GOAL do globally and in Ethiopia?
Siobhan Walsh: We have been here since 1984 and are working in many different sectors. The core sectors we work on: water, shelter; are emergency services we provide. We also work with refugees and internally displaced people; helping them with food, non-food items, health, food security and livelihoods. To do this job we get money from USAID, Irish Aid, UNOCHA, UK and ECHO but we also have a lot of funding from private foundations and from the public. In Ireland, we depend on the Irish people to support Goal’s work. We have a diversity of funds. In Ethiopia we work in Gambela, Afar, Oromia, west Gedio, Addis Ababa and Hawassa.
Capital: What are Goal’s strategic plans for the next five years?
Walsh: We are known for our work. We respond well to people who are suffering in times of crisis and we will continue that. We also want to focus on youth. In the countries we working in they talk about changing youth and how young people are the future of every country and in many contexts they are also the most vulnerable and we need to assist them. We need to work on food, livelihood, health and nutrition since they are the core areas of Goal and over the next three years we will continue to do that with direct delivery and through partnership with another organization.
Capital: Overlapping work is a major challenge in many NGOs. How are you working to avoid such problems?
Walsh: That is not unique to Ethiopia and to be honest a lot work has to be done with coordination. The UN also has to play a role with that and the government in terms of conversations about whose is what and who should do what where and I think all the NGOs should work on this issue. We need a constant conversation with the UN and other stakeholders to avoid overlapping work.
Capital: The overall context of the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia is complicated due to the IDP crisis and refugees in the middle of the already existing natural shocks and stresses that have resulted from droughts, floods and food insecurity. As an Irish organization, how does your group contribute to alleviate human suffering during this crisis period without compromising the long-term recovery and development programs?
Walsh: I think Goal takes what I would call a pragmatic approach for example with the influx of refugees from Eretria in the north east. Goal will assess the situation and see what is needed because if you have the influx of refugees, it impacts the local communities. Working with the local government to agree on that what we have done is food and water. Yesterday I was sitting with a lot mothers who were attending a session on health, education and nutrition, they are malnourished as are their children, so it is not just dealing with the issue of the malnourished child but is the longer term it is about food and it is about how you keep your child healthy. We also working on shelter because shelter is big issue and a big problem and we are doing that in consultation with the government locally. We are also sending outreach workers into the community to ensure that local people are also identified.
Actually the last few days have been really exciting. We got the chance to meet with the Irish PM. In fact, all the Irish NGOs met with him and we talked about what each of the agencies were doing. The PM is actually is a young guy and he met with the Ethiopian PM, another young leader and they talked about a unique partnership between the two countries. They are lots of things in common between these countries’ cultures and people. They announced a tourism partnership between them. Our PM also went to Lalibela. For me it was exciting because there is a deepening of partnership between both leaders and both countries. The message we gave to our PM is to continue supporting and investing in Ethiopia because our evidence over the year is that investment in development is working and we need to continue that sustained support and we need to make sure that the government is committed. The Irish government has very bold strategy for 2025 to do more development work and by coming here in Ethiopia he was deepening that commitment.
Capital: What is the biggest concern of refugees across the world?
Walsh: Refugees are a reality of every country. Most refugees want to return home. I know a certain situation in Syria. If you come to Ireland and talk to them they will tell you they want to go back home and they want peace. I actually think the Ethiopian government has also demonstrated a lot of courage and leadership by having an open door policy towards refugees because they have over 800,000 refugees and that shows tremendous leadership as a country to be so accepting of people in real need. There is no easy answer for this question. Countries and leaders and governments across the world are dealing with migration. This will change countries in the future so it is an ongoing conversation across the world.
Capital: Some time ago you faced a financial deficit because you spent more than you received from donors. What are you doing now to maintain a healthy balance?
Walsh: Our budget for this year is over USD 100 million. Every year our budget depends on how many emergencies we respond to. There is a plan for each country. For example, Goal Ethiopia’s budget is USD 12 million and with this plan on our table we will go to our donors and ask to partner with us. We are also working with the public and corporate services to raise more money.
Capital: What are the current challenges of international NGOs?
Walsh: The ever changing context in which we work. Conflict areas are the big concern for us. Places like Syria with protracted crisis. Making sure we have sustained commitment and other challenges like trying to build capacity and trying to find key partners, migration and climate change are shaping NGOs.
Capital: In the past there was a scandal at Goal Global with staff corruption in procurement. How you are working now to have a smart internal controlling system?
Walsh: You are going back three years now which is before I came to the organization. I have spent some 20 years in the sector from the outside. I can tell you my opinion when I look at the organization now, the strengthening systems of Goal are very strong. To be honest with you, many other organizations have come to asked to look at the Goal system which to me is a testament to the strength of how Goal manages and operates. The workers are very tight and the field team sometimes complains about how tight they are but that is for a good reason. For me coming into the organization as a new CEO I am very confident that the organization has good transparency, accountability and my responsibility is to make sure our good work is sustaining and to make sure of our accountability to the people and donors we work with.
Capital: There is a quote saying: “give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day: teach a man how to fish and you will feed him for a life time.” Many people say that aid organisations operating in Africa just give a fish for a day. What is your point of view regarding this issue?
Walsh: There is a lot of argument about Aid but what I would say is if aid is delivered effectively and it’s how it is done is very important. You can have people coming to places where they decided they are going to for example a water point in particular spot and they come there to live of course there is no ownership and there is no engagement with the people and government coming and saying that this is the best place to do it for me that is not effective. However, if aid is addressing a problem and if it is done in consultation with communities or with local organizations for me that is the most effective way. We have seen in these and in many other countries how aid can help and not just to survive but thrive. If you work on the longer term problem and the root causes sustain what you are doing you absolutely can transform people’s lives. There is an argument about aid not working but I have seen that aid is working if it is done properly and in a sustainable way.
Capital: What would you say to the people in this country and elsewhere who are busy stoking fears about refugees?
Walsh: It is understandable that there is a creation of fear about how it will change culture and shift society when you have big influx of refugees into your country. Even in Europe there is a lot of debate about how refugees will change culture and identity. If you look at the US, it is a melting pot of every nationality across the world and you see the strength of diversity and you see the creation of business and how it is good for the economy in the longer term. So for me there is not just one answer to this question.