Space for grace (1 of 1)

“We have let donors believe they are heroes”

– We must be honest about who the real heroes of the development work are, says Matthew Frost.

He knows a lot about development work, fundraising and identity. The last ten years he has worked as a chief executive for the British development organization Tearfund, working in more than 50 countries and with over 1,000 employees. Earlier this year, Frost resignated from Tearfund. Last week he was in Oslo to attend the event of Digni, Swedish Mission Council and Danish Mission Council Development Department named Scandinavian Leadership Encounter under the heading Space for Grace. The seminar gathered about 30 managers for Christian organizations from the three countries.

– All too often, faith-based organizations puts their faith at the door. I believe we must dare to be clear about who we are, Frost said to the participants of the seminar.


Frost points out that Western aid organizations not always are completely honest about the role of the donors. He believes we should stop selling development projects with the mantra that “If you give money, you can create change! You can save lives! You are the hero! “.

– We must remember that if one calculates grants from both government funds, local contributions and others, the contribution from private donors often seems to be less than 5 percent . In humanitarian work, the figure may be a little different, but in the long-term development aid the donors are not the heroes.

– How does it affect projects on the ground that donors think they are heroes?

– More than we might think, says Frost.

– How we implement the projects is limited, because the donor allways have to become the hero of the story. If private donors gave money to work with water projects, they expect that money should be spent on just water – although water is not necessarily the greatest need locally. Everyone agrees that the key to sustainable development is to have real local ownership and commitment. To achieve that, we may also need to change the story we tell to donors, says Frost.

– The people who change their own lives are the real heroes, he says.

– Must be honest

He also believes that organizations need to be more honest at another point:

– The Christian organizations all too often leave their “faith at the door”, he says.

– The world needs faith-based organizations. If we do not bring faith – what extra do we have to offer? Why shouldn’t people just give money to Save the Children and other organizations? We must use our faith to convey the identity of our organizations. We cannot communicate on a Christian, exclusionary manner, but we must find ways that bind people together, he explains.

– What is the reason? Why do so few organizations promote themselves as Christians?

– I think we want to fit in. Both in the secular world, with governments and donors. However, we tend to forget that we have the world’s strongest network in the global church. Our faith must influence how we work. I think most people really appreciate that we are honest about who we are and why we work as we do, says Frost.


One of the participants at the seminar was Dag Haakon Eriksen, international leader in Normisjon. He believes frost has some ‘good points’.

– In many developing countries, the church has established two organisations: A church organization and an aid organization. It comes partly by demands from us donors and partly by national laws. It is unfortunate, because it weakens the church’s role as an important change agent. It becomes harder to see changes at the local level, he says.

On the other hand, Eriksen believes it is healthy with a certain distinction.

– We also need to be tidy with how we manage taxpayers’ money. But we can still cooperate with local churches. They are good partners in the work to achieve the development policy goals of the Norwegian government, says Eriksen.