In this interview, Carolin Gomulia, senior consultant at MzN, interviews Shannon Paige. Shannon is the author of the report “Time to Decolonise Aid” which was published in May 2021. The report gives insight into how inequality and power imbalances are deeply entrenched in humanitarian and development aid. 

The interview is captivating as it portrays the complexity of the issues around decolonising aid. Both the interviewer and interviewee are not shy to clearly articulate issues relating to systemic racism and structural issues. Yet, there are very practical ideas and suggestions for organisations on how to start the journey of addressing systemic racism and decoloniality. The interview does not only bring into sharp focus INGOs and NGOs but explores how consultancies such as MzN could contribute positively to decolonising aid.

Who is Shannon Paige?

Shannon Paige is a Policy Associate working at Peace Direct. She leads Peace Direct’s research and advocacy efforts around decolonising the aid and peacebuilding system, is co-leading efforts on legislation to address the over-militarisation of U.S. foreign policy and is helping develop Peace Direct’s U.S. peacebuilding programming. She holds a B.A. in International Studies and Arabic from Kenyon College, where she wrote her senior capstone on how public perceptions of migrant domestic and sex workers impact the hostility of the legal system in their destination countries. She has interned at a number of small international non-profits, most recently at New Light, a non-profit based in Kolkata, India that works with migrant sex workers. She is eager to build upon her first-hand experiences working with conflict-impacted communities to better integrate diverse perspectives into peacebuilding efforts.

How does Shannon define „decolonising aid“?

Identifying and addressing the matrices of power that are resulting from colonialism and larger global power inequities and starting to shift them. It is everything from alternative funding to rethinking the modalities that we use when developing a programme to reconsidering what it means to do research.

What are the key takeaways from the interview?:

Process matters

Shannon outlines how the „Time to Decolonise Aid“ report was conceived and, in doing so, describes a fascinating journey that prioritises inclusiveness every step of the way to avoid basing the report solely on western perspectives.

Acknowledgement is the first step

Acknowledging the existence of structural racism, and spending time understanding what it is and how it is personally being perpetuated, is the first very important step that each organisation, and more importantly individual, need to take to instigate change. 

Don’t pass the buck upwards

The inability to mobilise shifts due to static or conservative boards, trustees or donors is often a welcome excuse to not become active. Shannon challenges this convenient complacency and highlights how decolonising the aid sector begins with each individual, team and department.

Fear and defensiveness are natural reactions

Many people become defensive when confronted with the topic of systemic racism and decolonising aid. Particularly people working in this sector are often attracted to this work because they want to make a difference and do good. It is hard to hear and accept that, despite all these good intentions, they might still be perpetuating injustices. Shannon invites us to say thank you – „it is a gracious act to be critiqued.“ How can we view the criticism as an invitation?

The system is to blame, not necessarily you as a person

Shannon reminds us that the system, not necessarily the people, are racist, but that people in the system still perpetuate systemic racism. We are therefore responsible for initiating change but are also not to blame for these decades-old institutions and erroneous beliefs.