International development charities should face a ‘big reckoning’ on racism ties, academic warns

Khadijah Diskin says the third sector has ‘so much to own up to’ on its historical and ongoing links to empire and violence

Khadijah Diskin
Khadijah Diskin

International development charities should face a “big reckoning” on their ties to racism, an event heard today.

Khadijah Diskin, an academic specialising in empire and decolonisation, said the third sector as a whole has “so much to own up to” on its historical and ongoing links to empire and violence.

Diskin was speaking on the first day of the BAME Online conference.

Asked how aid charities can be held accountable for their work, she told the audience that development bodies “very much operate on the whims of their funders and their investors, and sometimes on the whims of whatever the political doctrine is in nations in the imperial core”.

Diskin argued that, as a result, political assumptions based in the countries providing funding “get exported oftentimes to the global south, without necessarily [any] consideration of the actual needs on the ground”. 

She said: “Oftentimes they are ideological things, not things that people actually need, which are resources and an end to the exploitative and extractive relationships that a lot of nations have with the global south”.

Aid work is inherently political because of its links to “high-powered capitalistic ventures in the global north”, she said. “When we talk about accountability, the third sector and the philanthropic sector has so much to own up to.”

Responding to a later question about whether these links could be broken, Diskin said charities “need to have a big reckoning” on “the imperial question”.

She continued: “We want to know their dirty laundry, actually. We want to know their historical ties. We want to know the changes in their names. We want to know who their founders have been throughout history.” 

Introducing the discussion, Martha Awojobi, a fundraising consultant and founder of BAME Online, said: “Charity work does not exist outside of the history of empire. Fundraising is not neutral.”

At an event last year, Diskin raised concerns that the aid sector had made “very little attempt” to engage with its past.

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