Sahel_map_2Why has development been unable to break the cycle of poverty in one of the poorest and environmentally damaged regions in Africa? Flawed aid, says a new report:
The short-term nature of many contracts in international development makes it difficult for staff members to develop profound and detailed understanding of the situation, and the management systems in development agencies do not demand such understanding.
Many aid initiatives are based on the shallow analyses […] and are almost always driven by externally imposed ideas of development. Notwithstanding the lip service paid to ” participation”, the majority of aid organizations develop their programmes on the basis of their own priorities and their own visions. In most cases there is an external analysis of what local people lack, and plans are designed to address this lack.
I just came from a discussion session of Parsons’ students working on their research projects for my lecture series, Design at the Edge. They are amazingly smart students. They’ve broken up into groups of five or six. Each group is about to do ethnographic research on their own Gen Y generation and create a design brief for a project/service/experience that will help their cohort get through these tough times.
In their early discussion, one of the most dominate and defining themes is the enormous amount of tuition and debt that defines their generation. They worry about how this debt will limit their future choices and reduce the amount of risk they can take. There are all kinds of differences between the Boomer and Gen Y generations but debt load is one of the most striking. Gen Yers are paying much higher tuition than the Boomers and their debt loads are much, much heavier. Yes, I realize that many Boomer parents are paying the tuition for Gen Yers, but it is amazing how responsible, if not guilty, their children feel about this burden. And for a huge percentage, borrowing is the only way they can get through school.
So why not have the federal government take on the debt of these students. We’re breaking all the rules at the moment to survive, why not do this and help the American, Korean, European and all the other kids studying at US colleges and universities? Declare a debt holiday on our college students.
Where can we find the billions to relieve students of their debt? Start with the billions of tax-payer money that was transferred as bonuses to Wall Streeters. That should come to around $20 billion. Throw in the $70 billion in the Senate Stimulus bill for the AMT—Alternative Minimum Tax. It gives upper income middle income tax payers money back on federal income taxes. In other words, it’s a tax break for Boomers. Better to give the break directly to Gen Yers. They are, after all, the future.
So this past week I raged about the ‘putting pipes in the ground’ approach of a corporate-philathrophy project. I realise what I need is for these City Councils in Australia not to keep putting money into ineffective ‘feel-good’ and ‘look good in report’ projects – but to smarten their act and participate in genuine and sustainable change.
I am a designer and as such a member of a community that for fifty years (looking just at the post war boom in the total design economy) has lied to itself that it was doing good. I have little respect and faith in justification that claims design makes the world a better place. If that was the purpose of design – it would have done things differently.
But before I get sidetracked too much let me point you to a project that changed ‘operation smile’ (sure it benefits people – but is just not good enough, we can do better) in to ‘smile train’. So instead of building rooms in slums in India – wha would you do? Give that some thought and if you ahve any ideas I would love to hear about them.
Meanwhile take a look here (below) and at Freakonomics – which sparkles with brilliance.
Mullaney helped conceive a plan. Instead of using Operation Smile’s hard-raised millions to fly doctors and equipment around the world for limited engagements, what if the money were used instead to train and equip local doctors to perform cleft surgery year-round?
Smile Train works as a charity because it is run like a business. Fixing a child’s cleft lip or palate is a relatively cheap procedure with outsize payoffs: cleft children in many countries are ostracized and have a hard time going to school, getting jobs and marrying, and the surgery reverses those disadvantages. Indeed, when pitching a reluctant government, Mullaney refers to cleft children as “nonperforming assets” who can soon be returned to the economic mainstream. He fights bad incentives with better ones: when Smile Train learned that midwives in Chennai, India, were being paid off to smother baby girls born with cleft deformities, Mullaney started offering midwives as much as $10 for each girl they instead took to a hospital for surgery.
Smile Train has also harnessed technology to create efficiencies in every aspect of its business, from fund-raising to charting patients’ outcomes. It developed surgery-training software that helps educate doctors around the world. There are high-tech quality-control measures: using digital imaging, a Texas cleft expert grades a random sample of operations performed by Smile Train doctors around the world, in order to know which surgeons in, say, Uganda or China need more training. These are the sort of innovations that likely make Smile Train one of most productive charities, dollar for deed, in the world. Over the last eight years, Smile Train has performed more than 280,000 cleft surgeries in 74 of the world’s poorest countries, raising some $84 million last year while employing a worldwide staff of just 30 people.
This is amazing.
MARK and Cathy Delaney don’t need to see the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire. The Brisbane couple experience slum life in India every day.
For 13 years they have lived in the shanty towns of the Indian capital, New Delhi, raising their children and sharing their lives with the locals. Their two sons, Tom, 12, and Oscar, 7, were born in India and have lived most of their lives in slums.
The family home, in a neighbourhood called Janta Mazdoor Colony, is about the size of a typical Australian bedroom. They have no running water, no TV, no fridge and no washing machine. Two mattresses, used to sleep on at night, double as a “lounge” during the day. Meals are eaten sitting on the floor and they share with neighbours a squat toilet in a small bathroom.
But the Delaneys are not complaining. For them, living in a slum has been deeply enriching.
I have been unable to get a straight answer from any of the local politicians that represent my district to a simple question. How much money is spent each year in foreign aid. Foreign aid to make sure other people of other countries get the medical treatment they desperately need. Foreign aid to building housing. Foreign aid to give food to those that are hungry. Foreign aid to build schools to educate their children.
Why is the United States trying to take care of other nations when it can not take care of its own people. We allow so many foreigners to come into our country both legally and illegally and we support them. The government helps them realize the ‘Great American Dream’. Yet that same dream is out of reach of the average American today. Scholarships are given to those coming here to study, when many of our own children can not read let alone pay for a college education.
I was at a presentation of a project in India – funded from Australia and built in a slum in India. Very good yes?
But I listened to speaker explain the project – mainly the technical process – so far so good. Then the talk veered towards the narration of the experience of interacting with the people. Yes it was said that they were so friendly – you know Indians are so friendly. Such friendly people – and in case you haven’t got the point – really friendly people. So this was the ‘noble savage‘ take on India. I was beginning to feel I should not have been there. This for me is an aesthetic problem – its about feelings. I am like many others who cant stand the patronizing tone of the ‘expert‘ when they talk about ‘the other’. But these were architects – and so technical people, so they cant be expected to have a sophisticated take on the history of Aid and on the ‘missionary’ discourse. We will leave this for now – as I am a bit sensitive to hurting someone who is (was?) a friend.
Today I went on to the web and tried to find a out a bit more about the project and landed up at this blog – Bholu. I looked at it and was appalled – this is one face of fair trade and CSR – and one way to live a fulfilling life in Australia. I start a shop in Australia, and I get the things made in a developing country – its a business. I then say I am ethical – so I give back to the community by getting corporates to distribute toothbrushes to the slums and then I build child care centres. Good so far? Yes a fantastic livlihood project. And the text in the blog is enthusiastic – so simple, and gently patronising.
But I am not happy – nay irritated. For no I will leave this as a problematic discourse. I will leave you with an excerpt from an interview with Michael Maren – the author of a Road to Hell.
I had this picture of development and aid workers being often insufferably pious, a little sanctimonious about what they do. Sure, they inhabit this special zone of privilege, but at the same time, they view themselves as deliverers of a kind of civilization.
Well, it’s missionary work, essentially. The thing is, it’s more than pious. There are some really good people out there doing aid work, but I have to say-and this mostly comes from experience as a journalist-that without a doubt, some of the most sanctimonious assholes I have ever met in my life, some of the worst people, and I mean really bad people, work for charities and aid organizations on The ground.