Executive Summary - The Donor's Dilemma: Thinking Politically About Difficult Choices

Development aid donors are often faced with a dilemma when giving aid to non-democratic developmental states. Giving aid to governments that are committed to achieving development seems desirable, yet such assistance can also be seen as condoning or even supporting rights violations committed by non-democratic regimes. 

This paper suggests a conceptual framework to help donors to address this dilemma in a normatively justified way. It suggests that there are three analytically distinct types of ‘donor’s dilemma’: complicity, double effect and dirty hands. 

It seeks to show that a ‘thinking and working politically’ (TWP) approach to the donor’s dilemma does not have to be normatively silent; on the contrary, analysing and understanding political contexts and constraints is indispensable for normative evaluations of the dilemmas generated by development aid. 

Download the two-page summary below, or see the full paper (PDF)



About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

Find out more


New article - To Boldly Know: Knowledge, Peacekeeping and Remote Data Gathering in Conflict-Affected States

Thursday 12th October 2017

In this article in the Journal of International Peacekeeping, DLP researcher Suda Perera critically evaluates crowdsourcing's uses and abuses, and warns against an over-reliance on remotely gathered conflict data.

Read more

Why political settlements matter

Thursday 5th October 2017

Join us on 5 Oct 2017 at ODI (10-11:30am) to discuss the research featured in a special issue of The Journal of International Development co-edited by Alina Rocha Menocal (DLP and ODI) and Jan Pospisil (Political Settlements Research Programme at the University of Edinburgh).

Read more

Follow: @dlprog