Saturday, March 6, 2010

Consider this an Invitation to Africa

It is five years since an article from the UN News Centre warned: "Donor fatique, cynicism could lead to millions of death in Ethiopia". And today, it seems to me that there is not only donor fatigue, but donor paralysis has stepped in. And who is to blame them?? Well-meaning people take their hard earned cash and hand it over to respected international aid agencies in the hope to make a difference.  Then, the scandals  and stories of corruption hit the media - true or not - and taint the process . Hearts and hands close. One recent story that broke on CNN caught my attention, simply because I remember well how upset I was with the images  of dying children as a young  South African in a rural town, quite sheltered from realities of Africa by our self-important leaders at the time:
An investigation by the BBC has found just 5 per cent of the money raised by Live Aid and Band Aid actually made it to the victims of famine in Ethiopia. Instead, the millions of dollars of international aid intended to buy food for starving Ethiopians was used by rebel groups to buy weapons. The 1985 Live Aid and Band Aid concerts, organised by Bob Geldof in the UK and the US, raised $250 million.
The comments on this article are even more interesting and disturbing, and show the disillusion of people with aid projects, and their future intention to do it themselves instead and not support the agencies any longer (let alone local agencies), like MiWi saying:
There is only one way to ensure that AID is received by those in need and that is to deliver it personally and ensure that the intended recipients actually receive it.

Let me say outright that I believe many lives were INDEED saved by the funds tof the 80s that found its way to Ethiopia at the time. I do believe that there were good people in the country and at these aid organisations, and good people with good intentions are still working tirelessly to make an impact on poverty. However, most of the time,  its not enough to WANT to do just DO something, anything that seems to be a great! idea .  Do yourself a favour like I did and spend a few minutes with entries at this blog - part of The Charity Rater: Good Intentions Are not Enough


Oh, and I am not pointing fingers at all. Our own organisation made its share of mistakes and learned some wonderful tough lessons in this regard.  Good intentions.  Some of our projects not executable due to realities that were unforeseen at the time.  Some even in our virtual world of Second Life. This is as much part of the business of development work than it is of any other kind of business practice. Change is inevitable. 


The point is: there is value in respecting local civil society organisations when implementing local projects, simply because it reduces the risk of being wrong. More importantly, it becomes indispensable to LISTEN. And this is very much the new thinking of social innovation that has been emerging in development community since the 80s when Africa still stood with a grateful open hand, and the best minds in international development came "to solve its challenges". Some Universities like Stanford Graduate School of Business took the lead in a discourse on different and more appropriate ways to deal with social problems than a top-down hand-out of resource and intel - see there Centre for Social Innovation.


We need to rethink the models of giving. In a big and bold way. We need to distill the lessons learned and unpack them into uncompromisable principles that apply globally to all agencies operating in developing countries. Poor people without skills should not become the marketing vehicle for the latest 'bottom-of-the-pyramid' product nor the 'convenient angle' to any other superior agenda of self-enrichment or power. Which is exactly! why I am so over the moon with the newly launched EVOKE multiplayer serious game on social innovation and social entrepreneurship:


I would encourage any parent and educator to encourage young people to play this game, to become an agent. It will change minds and shape views. I am in love with it. I have the greatest respect for the developers, the World Bank Institute with funding from Infodev and the Korean Trust Fund on ICT for Development. (And by the way, do look at the most amazing project related to spacial data and the Millennium Development Goals - also by InfoDev). The team describes their aim with the EVOKE serious game as:
EVOKE is a ten-week crash course in changing the world. It is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.
Life is no game - especially not for people living in hardship every day. We all know this well. However, their is much to be said for using the principles of games in learning about development in the world. In the first Mission in Evoke as 'secret agent', we are called upon to 'shadow a social innovator' and to listen and learn from someone we respect. This is the best possible way to start in development. Absolutely! For us, the Uthango iPekX tool generates indigenous knowledge for decision-making prior to social investment. We know not to develop where we could not listen, or are not listened to.
Why then does THIS simple principle of listening with attention not apply when international well-meaning and good intentioned development workers and volunteers and academics land in Africa, with a healthy budget and sense of adventure? Listen to local organisations and enhance their financial and skills apacity as long-term inheritants of any programme. Marieme Jamme the CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions, is one of my favourite motivational speakers and strategists and makes many more good points about 'How NOT to give money to Charities working in Africa'. My favourite hint is this one:

11. Why not consider a visit to Africa to see for yourself before donating ...

Maybe then we will not have so many paralysed donors now...because we will have confidence in the ability of social innovators from Ethiopia and other African countries to evoke the change we seek... And maybe we will not be so quick to judge...
Ps: Consider this a personal invitation.


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