Conclusions

This is not to say there have not been bumps along the road. The dairy market is quite complicated and has required much assistance to penetrate - which demonstrates an important role for outside agencies like NGOs. Communities like Illu Aga have shown that, when given the chance and when asked the right kinds of questions, they have the ability to truly design and drive their own development, but there is a "red line" - a point where outside assistance is necessary. For example, the Coady International Institute, Oxfam Canada and HUNDEE, have been looking for ways to make it easier for the cooperative to become more profitable: improving transportation so the milk is not spoiled before it reaches Addis Ababa; linking the cooperative with private sector actors who can collect the milk on a daily basis from within the community, investigating the idea of setting up micro-level selling points around Addis to facilitate access to markets, and working with government to establish quality control measures so that farmers that are producing quality milk are not undercut by those selling adulterated products.

All in all, the experience in Illu Aga has demonstrated that there is a role for everyone in international development, but that it may need a bit of new and innovative thinking around what exactly those roles are. If outside organizations focus on what has been working - and build on that - the community may not be as poor and destitute as once thought. If empowered and given the opportunity, outside actors can facilitate genuine and meaningful change - defined, planned, undertaken and owned by the community itself. As this community - as well as countless others around the world - have illustrated, it's all in the lens you choose to use.