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Working paper

A dignity framework for respectful development

This Working Paper, based on three studies, provides a framework for identifying where Dignity misalignments may occur.

Jack Okoth, Alex Neymar. ©The Dignity Project/Calvin Ochieng

First steps toward building respectful development require overcoming misalignments: Three experiments on dignity in aid in Kenya and the United States

Dignity is frequently held up as an important value by those delivering and receiving global development aid. Yet, the content and delivery of development efforts often disrespect the dignity of those it seeks to help. Despite the stated commitment to dignity, there have been few sustained attempts to examine how the present global development aid equilibrium regards dignity and whether there is room to be more respectful.

In this paper, we develop a conceptual framework of dignity – the dignity chain–across the global development sector and, then, empirically assesses components related to the funding, design, and development outcomes of receivers through three experiments:

  • First, we examine how US citizens value respectful development in their charitable giving. We find that individual donors are not willing to compensate charities for costly efforts to affirm dignity.
  • Second, we examine how US-based non-profit professionals perceive respectful development in their work. We find development professionals state willingness to take pay cuts or serve fewer recipients if that means enhanced dignity efforts of their organizations.
  • Third, we examine what difference small acts of respect by an NGO make to low-income Kenyan participants. We find that low-effort actions of the kind that development professionals anticipate their organizations would support do not improve aid recipients’ altruistic behavior, self-efficacy, or well-being.

Recipients of aid may desire to be treated respectfully, and people working in the non-profit sector may desire to treat them respectfully—but donors are unwilling to pay for additional costly efforts to this end. This suboptimal equilibrium could be explained by misaligned incentives and beliefs, leading those in the non-profit sector to support only superficial actions that are inadequate to build a more respectful development.

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