Monday, November 8, 2010

I’d rather not sit on implementer roundtables, either…

Well in the grand tradition of biting the hand that feeds…

Scott wrote that outstanding piece a few months back, all about CIDA's choice to de-fund the CCIC, an aid industry lobby. Right—Canadian taxpayers had been paying for Canadian aid groups to ask the government for more Canadian taxpayer money. It's easy to cheer for reform of a blatantly rigged system, and easy to see solutions when you're not beholden to the status quo.

Now, PDT has some great ideas for the future. This little G20 thing, expanded services in Afghanistan, offices in new countries in Africa, and more. It's a wet dream to work with such a vibrant, growing team. In trying to make those dreams come true, we find ourselves in the same position that the CCIC was in a few months back. We need money! It's all really worthwhile stuff, stuff that will get all sorts of international organizations to be more effective, and stuff that will pay my salary.

So in order to implement all these great ideas, PDT is deep in the throes of puberty: growing pains, and not really sure what to do with this weird new hair*. How do we grow? Where are we going to get our nutrients, our funding? Does she (that RAdm) like us or not? It's the same process that any small business goes through when they want to join the big time, be one of the cool kids.

*Under our nose. What were you thinking, exactly?

Times of transition are fun, they're when the best rise to the top. But transitions are also when it's easy to get locked into the comfort of doing things the way they have always been done. So in my own mellifluous tones, here is a blatantly obvious, overly facile parallel to Scott's own advice to donors. I'm offering this up both as an outsider new to the industry, and as a concerned insider that wants to see PDT lead the way into the future, not fall into lockstep with so many others:

  1. Untie funding first of all, which means we separate ourselves from the status quo of public money, creating a more sustainable and agile stance for delivering services.
  2. Insist on clear targets, such as "PDT in Afghanistan will transition to a 100% local NGO by the end of 2012," as opposed to saying "PDT intends to transition to an Afghan partner."
  3. Insist on donors and investors that will measure impact not disbursement or process. The more that we ennable intrusive and bureaucratic oversight from publicly funded agencies, the more we allow intrusiveness and bureaucracy to define our little NGO. We should be focused on working with partners that will spur on our creativity, entrepreneurialism, and effectiveness, instead of saddling us with entire departments dedicated to compliance!
  4. Make our case with data—which we do very well! The hundreds of millions of dollars we've funneled into the economies where we work is justly impressive. Thing is, we're playing Guitar Wolf for a Bono audience. We all know that large donors aren't going to respect us for our results; it's going to be far too easy to fall into the repetitive cycle of funding for compliance for funding. No one in their right mind asks Guitar Wolf to play Beautiful Day (click that link if you don't believe me), but here we are out looking for the songbook.
  5. Manage resources and make decisions from the field, not from HQ. International and local staff in the field offices will know better and faster if a project makes sense and if it's working.
  6. Don't take money from donors that worry about the overhead because otherwise we'll end up making Ericssons, looking wistfully over at Apple and wondering what the hell just happened.

That's more than a screed against taking money from the large donors. It's a philisophical question that might not have an answer. Is our mission to spend donor money more efficiently? Or is our mission to deliver the greatest possible benefits to Afghan, Haitian, and Timorese people, by linking their businesses to new opportunities with international buyers?

If we're serious about an aid and development structure that spends money efficiently, we should hold ourselves to the same standards that we want to see from donors.



  1. 7. Whatever you do, don't count the tortured metaphors.

  2. Sounds like the NGO world is not much different from the corporate world, eh? And the "decision makers" in neither world have learned that the real decisions should be made in the field/on the production line, not by some PR or Purchasing idiot who doesn't even know which way the water flows in a pipe. Ernie Schumacher's Small is Beautiful should be compulsory reading for every college grad. (Not that anyone would believe it now, if they haven't believed in in the past 30 years).

    Peter T