April 7, 2011: Sheila Nair

International Aid in Southeast Asia: Empowering Change or Perpetuating the Status Quo?

WASHINGTON, DC (April 15, 2011) --International aid has been critical in supporting non-state actors in Southeast Asia, specifically non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in a wide range of development and related issue areas, such as public health, food security, the environment, and human rights. However, Dr. Sheila Nair believes that the many problems associated with aid are generally being approached by technocrats and solutions are not exactly fitting recipients’ needs.
In outlining the international aid picture in the Southeast Asian region, Dr. Nair shared that some problems faced by aid organizations include the sensitivity of reporting NGO work to the governments, competing interests between donors' advocacy of issues and actual local needs, and aid lines being dissolved, creating a vacuum in services.

In this presentation, the speaker highlighted key international aid discourses, and the role of NGOs as aid recipients and intermediaries in these discourses, drawing from examples in three countries: Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia. She argued that despite the fast pace of economic growth in Southeast Asia, aid has not been very successful in helping communities grow out of poverty. In her concluding remarks, Dr. Nair voiced her concern that "we are at somewhat of an impasse on the way we we think about aid." 

Sheila Nair is presently a visiting fellow at the East-West Center in Washington and is also a professor of politics and international affairs at Northern Arizona University, specializing in international relations and comparative politics with a regional focus on Southeast Asia. Dr. Nair’s work on a range of topics, including labor migration and migrants’ rights in Malaysia; political reform, state-civil society relations, and nationalism in Malaysia; and the Burma and East Timor human rights campaigns, has been featured in journals such as Critical Asian Studies , Global Society , and Millennium: Journal of International Studies . She has written chapters for several edited volumes and is also co-editor of two books, the latest of which is International Relations and States of Exception (Routledge, 2010). Dr. Nair received a PhD in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.