UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Humanitarian accountability : an ethnographic study of an international nongovernmental organization in South Darfur Ahmed, Sultan


This thesis explores the notion of accountability among aid workers working for CARE International Switzerland (CIS), Sudan. The thesis addresses three key questions: 1) What does accountability mean to aid workers and how do they translate their understanding in providing aid services to the affected population? 2) What are the specific factors that make aid workers committed to their work and the people they seek to support? And 3) What are the implications of their understanding of accountability on the overall accountability culture in CIS Sudan? I address these three questions from an ethnographic perspective by drawing on data gathered through participant observation, in-depth interviews and focus group discussions conducted among CIS Sudan aid workers. Findings suggest that aid workers defined accountability in varied ways, and the term “power imbalance” in general and “social and economic inequalities” between stakeholders in particular were the key ideas behind their understandings of accountability. Aid workers commonly defined accountability according to their relationship with the affected population. Accordingly, they bought up questions of social and economic rights of the affected population. The study also revealed that aid workers directly working in the field tend to have improved motivation for accountability work. Some aid workers put accountability into practice through compassion, empathy, and respect for the affected people. The power imbalance and its effects on the accountability relationship were found to be key barriers to making the CIS’s work culture more accountable to the affected people. In conclusion, improving the workplace relationship, both vertical and horizontal, is key to improving a culture of accountability in the CIS’s workplace, but this requires a better communication strategy and participatory decision making in the workplace.

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