Worst and Best Practices in International Aid

This Studio will offer an in-depth exploration of the damaging yet widespread interventions –  such as donation drives, voluntourism and buy-one-give-ones – undertaken with the aim of helping disadvantaged people or disaster victims. Some of the actors are amateurs and volunteers, though many are not (Unicef). The interventions range from just wasteful (non-local donation drives) to harmful (international used clothing dumps). The pervasiveness of such bad practice demands focused attention and action to counter the ignorance and naivete surrounding these efforts, and turn worst into better if not best 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

This Studio will explore damaging yet widespread interventions – such as donation drives, voluntourism and buy-one-give-ones – undertaken with the aim of helping disadvantaged people or disaster victims. Some actors are amateurs and volunteers, though many are not (Unicef), with interventions that range from just wasteful (donation drives) to harmful (used clothing shipments). The pervasiveness of such bad practice demands focused attention and action to counter ignorance and naivete surrounding these mostly well-intentioned efforts, and to turn worst into better-if-not-best practice. Each Studio participant will choose an intervention, research its detriments and benefits (particularly to the receiving country), design an alternative model, and contact worst offenders to see if they are interested in changing their model. We will also create a website to get our work out to the public and conduct advocacy. 

Field work opportunities include: Ethiopia IFP (or any IFP site, field work in New York). 

Each participant will choose an intervention, research its detriments and benefits (particularly to the receiving country), design an alternative model, and contact worst offenders to see if they are interested in changing their model. We will also create a website to get our work out to the public and conduct advocacy.

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

  • Disaster Drives, e.g. for hurricane relief
  • Consumer One-for-Ones, e.g. Toms Shoes
  • U.S. Used Clothing Dumps Overseas
  • U.S Used Books, Toys, Sports Equipment, etc. Dumps Overseas
  • Voluntourism
  • Trick-or-Treat for Unicef
  • Unicef School-in-a-Box

The specific work will be coordinated according to the project, however generally we will follow Project Cycle phases of Needs Assessment (Research), Project Design and Implementation. For example, donation drive  activities might include:

Best Practice, Aid, Development, Economics, Production and Supply Chain, Micro-Macro Paradox, Corporate Social Responsibility, Charity, Altruism and Egoism.

Click here 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.