10 Oct 2012

A failure to serve the poor, part 43

MW sent me this:
I finally got the time to watch the Google Hangout discussion on transparency in the water sector that you posted a few days ago. Truthfully, I was rather underwhelmed and was wondering if you had any more thoughts about this discussion and its true efficacy in terms of changing the culture of aid and development of sustainable water resources. I'm not denying that these speakers were knowledgeable about water and/or intelligent but I felt like there was something missing from the discussion.

What I mean by that is, with the incredible resources at the disposal of the internet (the blogger), the Gates Foundation (the independent consultant), the World Bank, WIN, etc. you would think that there would be more of a push for these individuals to come up with concrete ideas or plans that could really institute change. Instead, I felt as though the majority of the time during this Hangout these individuals were really just patting each other on the back for a job well done. They spent so much time discussing this mythical concept of non-governmental "corruption" but then seemed to disregard the obvious irony that their organizations (and they themselves) are the ones that may be most at fault for such a state of affairs. These speakers discussed learning from their failures (even alluding to how they are like Thomas Edison) but, to me, it represented an hour of blowing smoke on how great they are each doing their jobs and how they are slowly making a difference in the world. There seemed to be a sense of individual detachment from responsibility for organizational failures. Also, It was striking to me that there was so much uniform agreement on what should be done in the future - where were the professionals that believe in market-based pricing, water privatization, or other methods of solving water problems? Isn't that the point of social media - to spark innovation through debate rather than just like-minded group think?

I spoke with a woman recently who installs wells in small African villages and what she told me is that before her charity comes in all of these villagers know the names of non-profits like Charity Water and Water.org but only because they have big decals on the side of their SUVs as they drive by. Maybe creating these massive non-profits that are answerable to a Board of Directors and wealthy donors isn't the best way to develop sustainable change (in terms of aid not water resources in general) and is inherently susceptible to the search for quality quarterly reports.
In my reply, I said:
I agree that international aid is driven more by the needs of donors (i.e., more PR, jobs for friends, religion) than the people (I've published on that topic), and I'm looking forward to discussing this performance gap in the next webinar (Friday, Oct 12).
Bottom Line: People who depend on the kindness of others may receive "gifts" that are more the result of selfishness than altruism.

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