Universiteit Leiden

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When International Organisations Undermine State Capacity: A Responsibility Paradox

Thursday 1 June 2023
Diplomacy and Global Affairs Research Seminar Series 2023
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague


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About the lecture

Capacity building has become an increasingly central component of the operations of international organisations (IOs). Many IO projects now have a capacity building component, and lack of state capacity is often flagged as one of the main issues inhibiting countries’ development. However, capacity building exercises are not always successful. Even more so, IO funded or implemented project may undermine government capacity without realising it.

In this paper Valerie de Koeijer argues that IO projects may inadvertently undermine government capacity by exacerbating existing tensions or even introducing new ones in communities in which the projects are implemented. De Koeijer shows how this happens through what she refers to as the 'responsibility paradox': government employees are assigned highly visible roles in the implementation of an IO project, interacting directly with populations, yet do not have a full understanding of the project and very little to no decision-making power. When something goes wrong in the project, or intended beneficiaries perceive a problem, they blame these government officers for issues outside of the officers’ control. Such blaming can then undermine the government’s relationship with their population, making it more challenging for them to carry out their jobs, thus undermining state capacity.

To make this argument De Koeijer focuses on the response to Hurricane Maria in Dominica, a category five hurricane which devastated the country in 2017. De Koeijer draws on interviews with 122 participants, including employees of the government as well as international organisations, and members of the local population.

Valerie de Koeijer

About the speaker

Valerie de Koeijer is an assistant professor at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs at Leiden University. Her research centers around relationships between international organizations and host governments, with a focus on disaster response. For her most recent research she focused on the Hurricane Maria response in the Caribbean Island of Dominica. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University, an MSc in Development Studies from the London School of Economics, and a BA from University College Roosevelt (the Netherlands).

About the seminars

The Diplomacy and Global Affairs (DGA) Research Seminar is a series launched by the Research Group on Diplomacy and Global Affairs at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs. The seminars of internationally acknowledged guest researchers and faculty members deal with current research topics in diplomacy, international relations, global affairs, and political economy broadly conceived and target a broad audience through their interdisciplinary focus.

If you have any questions, please contact Arash Pourebrahimi 


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