Worst and Best Practices in International Aid

Food aid remains a predominant foreign aid intervention though its detrimental long-term effects are well known. This Studio explores damaging yet widespread programs, purportedly undertaken with the aim of helping disadvantaged people or disaster victims but which do more harm than good. Whether it’s governmental or inter-governmental aid where politics and commerce are the prime motivators, or social enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility programs where profit is the chief imperative, to well-intentioned but naive amateur clothing and food donation drives – the pervasiveness of such bad practice demands focused attention and action to counter the ignorance surrounding these efforts, and turn worst into better practice.

Students went to Nairobi, Kenya. Learn about their experience!

“While it can be fun to criticize efforts that are Worst Practice, the point of the Studio is to design alternative Best Practice interventions that have long term benefits.”
Mark Johnson
Faculty Supervisor

Each Studio participant chooses an intervention, researches its detriments and benefits, and then designs an alternative model that supports long-term systemic change, as opposed to short-term band-aid solutions. While Worst Practice serves as an entry point to these issues, the Studio in fact focuses on Better Practice.  

Our work and results are posted on this webpage (see below) to publicize the work and conduct advocacy. Field work opportunities include the Ethiopia IFP (See “Second-Hand Clothing” below).

Better Practice, Aid, Development, Economics, Micro-Macro Paradox, Social Enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility, Charity, Altruism and Egoism.

Potential programs to explore: You may have your own specific intervention that you are interested in, or choose one from below –


  • Giveaways that are Takeaways – Used clothing, books, toys, sports equipment, malaria nets, food aid, etc. shipped from U.S. to recipient countries that harms local manufacturing and commerce

  • Disaster donation drives, e.g. hurricane relief

  • Consumer “Buy-One-Give-Ones,” e.g. TOMS Shoes

  • “Greenwashing” or CSR programs. Is CSR motivated by doing good or is it a bottom-line investment from which the company’s positive image pays off in profits.

  • “Would you like to add $1 to your checkout charge to save the world?”

  • Voluntourism

  • Misery Tourism – Poverty tours, slum tours, war tours, etc.

  • Unicef programs – Trick-or-Treat for Unicef, School-in-a-Box

  • The non-localization of international aid

  • Charity aid, e.g. LiveAid or Walkathon fundraisers as funding model

  • Sectarian aid, e.g. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity

  • Cash transfers, conditional v unconditional; cash “hand-outs” versus in-kind 

Click below to see past student projects. Throughout the course of the Studio, students engaged in a number of topics and projects ranging from developing a course on fast fashion to slum tourism. 

Combining travel with volunteer service for a needy organization seems like a win-win for everyone, but is in fact fraught with hazards. Can this practice, largely derided as worst practice, be done in a responsible and productive way?

What easier way to promote charity than to buy a product that supports social enterprise? That “do good while you shop” tag on a consumer item boosts sales, but does it actually support the social good? The short answer: we don’t know, due to a lack of corporate transparency.