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Winter 2014, Vol. 27 No. 3
A LIFE
CAN SAVE
HOW POETRY
POLITICAL TRENCHES
WARFARE TO
FROM GUERRILLA
BODY IMAGE
BOOST
BREAST CASTS
WHAT DO YOU
MEAN-THE
PILL STILL
ISN’T SAFE?
READ ABOUT
THE CLASS
ACTION SUIT
ON PAGE 16
READ ABOUT
THE CLASS
ACTION SUIT
ON PAGE 16
THE LEGACY
OF THE BABY
SCOOP ERA
THE LEGACY
OF THE BABY
SCOOP ERA
20 WINTER 2014 HERIZONS HERIZONS WINTER 2014 21
W
hen Tori Hogan was 20, she visited a refugee
camp in Dadaab, Kenya on an internship.
One day, her desire to be an aid worker was
brazenly called to task.
“If the aid projects were effective, we wouldn’t still
be living like this after all these years,” a 14-year-old
Somali refugee told her. “Do you really think you have
the answer to our problems?”
Hogan would later realize that the answer was no.
However, she still believed she could make a positive
impact by engaging in humanitarian work in some of
the world’s poorest countries.
Eventually, the teen’s question prompted Hogan to con-
clude that effective, sustainable change requires a lot more
than good intentions. And looking deeply at the problems
and proposed solutions to determine the best approach
is a task that’s more difficult than Hogan once thought.
Being critical of international aid is difficult for a
political progressive like Hogan, who believes that people
supporting each other is a critical part of living compas-
sionately in a global community. It’s also hard because
it’s often conservatives who criticize international aid
efforts. And although Hogan often gets lumped in with
conservative critics, she uses a distinct perspective to put
forth a radical argument for systemic reform.
After the young refugee’s comment altered her per-
ception of international aid, Hogan made the decision
to change directions professionally—from aid worker
to aid critic. Along the way, she earned her masters of
education degree in international education policy from
Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
Hogan now uses media such as memoir and film
to encourage development aimed at achieving greater
BY MANDY VAN DEVEN
Why Good
Intentions
Aren’t Enough
THE CASE FOR MAKING AID MORE ACCOUNTABLE
Tori Hogan believes aid should be driven by community needs.
(Photo: Saran Deragon)
self-sufficiency. Drawing on her experience working
within international agencies and as a researcher-film-
maker, Hogan wrote a book called Beyond Good Intentions
and released a 10-part educational series with the same
name that details the experiences of aid workers and
recipients in more than 60 organizations in eight countries.
Beyond Good Intentions examines the sometimes-ten-
uous yet nonetheless indispensable relationship between
local communities and international organizations, and
provides examples of steps people can take to make
positive change.
What was the catalyst for your transition from “bleeding
heart,” as you say in your book, to being a “critic of the
humanitarian regime?”
TORI HOGAN: It was the teenager in the refugee camp.
This was my moment of obligation, where I had to step
back and reconsider what I was doing, how I was doing it
and whether or not my actions were actually benefitting
the people I was trying to help. I realized my critical eye
on the aid industry was perhaps my best contribution.
Shortly after I graduated from Duke University with my
bachelor’s degree, I went to Egypt for a year as a Fulbright
Scholar, where I studied under one of the pioneering inter-
national aid critics, Barbara Harrell-Bond. She really gave
me the green light to think more deeply about how we can
fix the really broken system of international aid. When I
returned to the U.S., I started Beyond Good Intentions,
which uses films and educational programs to dialogue
about international aid effectiveness.
What is your criticism about international aid?
TORI HOGAN: Many times organizations forget to
ask the people they’re there to help what they want
Tori Hogan’s video series, Good Intentions, details the experiences of aid workers and recipients in more than 60 organizations in eight countries.
22 WINTER 2014 HERIZONS HERIZONS WINTER 2014 23
and need. It’s remarkable how often aid is imposed on
communities instead of it being a collaborative process.
The best-case scenario is for an aid project to be locally
conceived and locally driven, with the aid organization
acting only as a fiscal sponsor.
Aid organizations can act as a bridge between local
projects and international donors to link people with
resources to people who need them. The ideal goal of
an international aid worker should be to work yourself
out of a job.
Who should be setting the international aid agenda?
TORI HOGAN: Ultimately, the people who should
be making the decisions are the members of the com-
munity. They know what they need. They know what
they want. They know how to take care of their fami-
lies and neighbours. They just need a little help to
make that happen. Because westerners view people
in the developing world through a lens of pity, we
incorrectly assume that they are incapable of finding
their own solutions.
Many of the problems the poor face currently could
be solved with better access to global markets and the
protection of human rights.
What have you seen that works?
TORI HOGAN: The types of aid projects that are most
effective are locally conceived and led, sustainably financed,
aligned with the real needs of the people, focused on
long-term goals and accountable to the communities
they’re helping. The most effective applications of aid
tend to be in education, health—such as emergency relief
and disease eradication—and business development that
supports local entrepreneurs and creates jobs in the com-
munities. Once people have capital, they can improve their
own lives in dramatic ways. Some of the best initiatives
I’ve seen abroad are run by Ashoka fellows [part of an
international organization of “social entrepreneurs” whose
projects encourage local citizens to be “changemakers”]
who use entrepreneurial techniques to achieve change in
their own countries.
If the system is so inefficient, why does it continue?
TORI HOGAN: Aid is typically structured so that
the only group the organizations are accountable to
is their donors. In reality, the people you should be
most accountable to are the ones you’re serving. [We
need] feedback loops that give recipients the ability
to tell aid organizations what they want and don’t
want, or whether the projects are actually going well.
We need to have higher standards and a better system
of accountability.
I imagine that being critical of the industry you seek to
change can make it difficult for you to do your work.
TORI HOGAN: For many years, there was a taboo
around talking about this stuff. When I started Beyond
Good Intentions in 2006, my biggest fear was the
amount of backlash I was going to get. I was definitely
shunned for bringing the issue up, and a lot of people
wouldn’t even consider what I had to say. It’s been
hard to learn how to thicken my skin to the backlash
that inevitably comes from criticizing a so-called good
industry. Luckily, I’m seeing more willingness to discuss
international aid and how it can improve. I think in
the next couple of decades we are going to see a lot of
changes in the way aid functions abroad.
What can ordinary citizens do to advocate for better inter-
national aid?
TORI HOGAN: I encourage people to start with
themselves and their own communities by volunteer-
ing or working locally. You don’t have to go to Africa
to save the world; there are plenty of problems in your
own backyard that need to be addressed. I have the
ability to make films, write and teach the next genera-
tion of aid workers how to do things better, and that
is a legitimate role for me to play because I’m working
within my own community and my own culture. This
is the way I can make the biggest impact for the com-
munities I really care about.
I also encourage people to be conscientious donors
and be sure their money will go to something that’s really
making a difference. I hope my work inspires people to
think deeply about how they are giving. 
You can find out more about Tori Hogan at
www.beyondgoodintentions.com.
Mandy Van Deven is a writer, advocate and online media
strategist. Her work exploring contemporary feminism, global
activism, and sexuality has been published in The Guardian,
Salon, AlterNet, GlobalPost, Ms. and Marie Claire.
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“In reality, the people
you should be most
accountable to are the
ones you’re serving.”
—Tori Hogan, Beyond
Good Intentions