The following is to help ordinary human beings understand the impressive but often incomprehensible-sounding terminology of the international aid community. We thank all those for their contributions and look forward to more.

Accountable: Key buzzword. No UN report is complete without it. Indicates readiness to be criticised, but would prefer not to.

African leader: Supposedly democratically-elected politician who has somehow convinced the world that ‘new generation’ Africa is leading the charge to sustainability and green economy, while still ripping off ordinary people.

Beneficiaries: Aid-speak for turning disaster victims and refugees into commodities.

BRIC country: Fast-emerging nation that does not have to deal with rampant CO2 pollution as the West caused it all.

Capacity-building: A desperate attempt to justify a project in the field, but you’re not quite sure what actually has been achieved.

Challenge: Euphemism for problem. Problems don’t exist; only challenges.

Crisis:: Governments and the UN prefer the term ‘situation’. Really bad crises are known as “situation situations.”

Data: UN report with critical information edited to the point of meaninglessness so as not to offend member states.

Democracy: A process whereby political contenders in countries like Kenya and Afghanistan win elections, regardless whether they stuff ballot boxes, declare votes invalid, kill opponents or put on sour-puss faces. Also what Americans like to teach others, but ignore at home.

Development: Tedious term that can mean just about anything: land-grabs; slum removals; luxury villas for dictators; Mercedes with tinted windows for ministers; Chinese bilateral deals only benefitting those in power; Swedish aid as long as it comes in the form of Volvos, Scania tractors or meatballs; well-funded thug programmes to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka embrace their leaders; copyrighting traditional plants for medicinal purposes – and pharmaceutical companies; high salaries for private contractors who have no idea what they are doing; donor reports…

Donor: Government that provides grants to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) allowing them to call themselves non-governmental.

Donor report: Anything that can be said in less than a page, but manages to fill 80 pages with words like ‘sustainability’, ‘equitable’, and ‘inclusive’, not forgetting ‘stakeholders’.

Empower: Allowing ordinary human beings to feel that they have a say as long as they don’t.

First World: Any wealthy country or privileged Third World society ostensibly concerned about the poor, repressed, and miserable, but not really.

Gender-based: Euphemism for females, women or girls, but pretending that men and boys are included. Imperative for all UN and NGO reports, preferably sandwiched between ‘equitable’ and ‘sustainable’, but ‘inclusive’, ‘diverse’ and ‘transparent’ can’t hurt.

Girl-child: Two words to say ‘girl’.

Green Economy: The latest in-approach for making economies more sustainable, just, inclusive, gender-based, eco-friendly, accountable, equitable, diverse, and transparent – as long as “great leaders’ and politicians can continue ripping off their people.

Humanitarian: For ordinary human beings, anything that pertains to helping humanity…. For humanitarian purists, and there are quite a few of them, it has to be emergency-based. But please: nothing political, problem-solving, or long-term that might actually prevent another crisis from happening.

Humanitarian response: Any form of aid operation as long as it is not too difficult, dangerous, or prepared well in advance with foresight; a bit like the World Health Organization and Ebola.

Human Rights Council: A chance for Robert Mugabe to reward his thugs with a shopping trip to Geneva, where they can wear three-piece suits and assert that no one has ever been killed, beaten up, disenfranchised, raped or otherwise brutalised in Zimbabwe.

Humour: A word that anyone who takes this glossary too seriously has no idea what it means.

Inclusive: A ‘challenging’ word that no one really understands, yet somehow creeps into every self-respecting UN or NGO report. It is vital to include ‘inclusive’ so as to come across as inclusive, a bit like Putin’s annexation of the Crimea.

Internally Displaced Person: Refugee who failed to cross an international border. A fourth-class human being.

Mandate: The UN’s original mandate clearly states that it serves the people. Most member delegates of the General Assembly can’t quite believe that people might actually think this is true, when the UN is evidently there to serve governments.

Marketing: An inclusive, equitable and diverse term for fund-raising and propaganda.

MDG: A Millennium Development Goal, or MDG, unattainable by 2015, but soon to be called a Sustainable Development Goal, but this time wisely without a date.

Peace and reconciliation: The Sri Lankan government’s approach for persuading the Tamils to accept its rule – along with a few massacres – so that the country can once again become a key European tourism destination.

Monitoring: Officially-sanctioned buzzword to prove that humanitarians are keeping a watchful eye on aid abuse. Journalists call it reporting, but the last thing governments or aid agencies want is to be held accountable by a bunch of inquisitive and clearly uninformed hacks.

Multi-stakeholders: Those who hold stakes purchased with donor funding so that corrupt elites can drive them into their thoroughly miserable and repressed citizens.

Nansen passport: The only time in history when refugees had an aristocratic class.

NGO: A cheap way for governments to get their dirty work done in the field.

Opportunity: A promising initiative that could ‘empower’ the world but donors could not be bothered.

Poverty eradication: The world is perfect.

Public outreach: Manner with which charities such as Save the Children or WorldVision fund-raise on Sunday afternoon television with demeaning images of pitiful Third World children, usually called Ameena or Samir.

Problem-solving: Trying to explain what ‘challenge’ means.

Refugee: Any displaced person who succeeds in crossing an international border. A third class citizen, but still better off than a fourth-class ‘IDP’ (SEE: Internally Displaced Person).

Russia: Alternative for “Soviet empire” without the hammer and sickle, but still with the bullying.

SDG: An MDG that is now sustainable because that’s how we call it.

Sponsorship: Form of corruption that Qatar has perfected by funding humanitarian initiatives to get the world to shut up about its 2022 World Cup bid and abuse of migrant workers.

Taking the Piss: A UN or Oxfam sanitation project.

The North: Desperate politically-correct term to replace “First World”.

The South: Any Third World country “in transition” with a ruling elite that prefers Range Rovers, weekends in London, and Swiss bank accounts. The Australians like the term because they can belong to both North and South. So, too, can the Falklanders.

Transition: Worsening crisis situation.

Part II will be published next soon. If you wish to contribute to this list, please send us your suggestions. 


  1. Marvellous, but some notable omissions.

    Where is diversity? A way of getting as many disparate individuals and bodies as possible involved in a process – generally a combination of strident single-issue fanatics and apathetic placeholders – with the bonus of ensuring agreement can never be reached and so action need never be taken.

    Or partnership? NGOs and government bodies in receipt of funds are no longer beneficiaries, but partners in a process of change and development.

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