Foreign Affairs article on NPO Mission Creep

Foreign Affairs, published by Council on Foreign Relations, is a nonpartisan membership organization
Foreign Affairs, published by Council on Foreign Relations, is a nonpartisan membership organization

Development Bloat: How Mission Creep Harms the Poor

Marc F. Bellemare

It is always important to view supporters and pundits of various pro-poor programs. In this article, Marc Bellemare outlines why a rich country’s lack of focus is actually harming poverty alleviation. Here are is main points:

1. Between multinational, national, and nongovernmental agencies, and enormous philanthropies, the development space creates a scattered, ineffective approach. Further, these large, bureaucratic machines are slow and (usually) have conflicting priorities and incentives.

“When development agencies and nongovernmental organizations try to do too many different things, not only do they suffer from the policy equivalent of attention deficit disorder; they also spread their already scarce resources ever more thinly.”

2. Top priorities are vague across almost all large agencies  Poverty is a complicated, arduous system; an interrelated approach is necessary for success. Widespread, “silver bullets,” do not exist.

3. We must define what is and who are the poor (extreme poor versus merely poor across all countries) and make those in the very lowest bracket our top priority.

4. We must focus on programs that actually help people to achieve basic needs and services. We must refine our policy to be narrower.

“Mission creep ends up materially harming the very people it is intended to help: the extreme poor, or the roughly 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.”

“Even from such a realpolitik perspective, development policy can become a much more effective instrument of foreign policy if it can focus once again on what really matters to the poor and deliver results.”

Bellemare, Marc F. “Development Bloat.” Foreign Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations, 05 Jan. 2014. Web. 09 Jan. 2014. <;.

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