52 break-up lines for aid workers

It’s that time of the year. A time for giving. A time for family. And, maybe a time to break-up with that special someone you met while in the field. You probably used one of our 52 pick-up lines to win their heart. Now, you can use one of these break-up lines and just be friends.

  1. I have to go. The children need me.
  2. Sorry, baby. This is just emergency sex.
  3. It’s not you. It’s Ebola.
  4. The results of your impact evaluation were just not robust enough.
  5. I decided to go native.
  6. I’m sorry, I just found out you sponsor a child.
  7. You weren’t participatory enough.
  8. Too much input, not enough output.
  9. This relationship is just dead… like aid.
  10. I don’t date people who wear TOMS.
  11. You failed my process evaluation.
  12. You were part of the experimental group in my RCT.
  13. You care more about African children than you do about me.

    One of the best Humanitarians of Tinder.
    One of the best Humanitarians of Tinder.
  14. You just don’t have enough capacity.
  15. I want someone who idolises me the way you idolise J.
  16. I might as well just ride a moto on a bumpy road.
  17. You don’t look anything like the guy with the African kids in your Tinder pic.
  18. I was drunk on indigenous alcohol – I meant to swipe left.
  19. No time for relationships, I’m busy saving lives.
  20. I found #BandAid30 on your music playlist.
  21. You failed to meet the target of 100% access to my heart.
  22. I always feel like you’re facipulating me.
  23. You’re not value for money.
  24. You’ve only ever taken up missionary positions.
  25. You refer to yourself as a global nomad on Twitter.
  26. It’s complex.
  27. Our logframe of love had too many assumptions.
  28. I’m rethinking the framework for our joint family planning and sexual reproductive health program.
  29. It’s time for a structural adjustment, as you’ve failed to adequately liberalise and drop your protective tariffs.
  30. When I said I wanted to scale up our relationship, I didn’t think you’d invite four of your mates to join us on our romantic getaway.
  31. My standing in the aid community has risen since I snapped this photo and put it up on Tinder.

    Our new favourite Humanitarian of Tinder.
    Our new favourite Humanitarian of Tinder.
  32. I’m focusing my efforts on applying for these awesome positions with WhyDev and OIC: The Cambodia Project (shameless, we know)!
  33. I was talking about how disappointing PlayPump was, and you thought I was referring to male genital enhancement equipment.
  34. You took me on holidays for our anniversary and made me sign a per diem claim form.
  35. I thought you would be a hardship posting, but without little blue pills, there was a clear lack of hardship.
  36. There are too many single, available and attractive men in the aid sector for me to focus on just one.
  37. You thought U2 was a special division of the UN.
  38. You volunteered at an orphanage after it became socially unacceptable.
  39. I’m looking for someone whose bedroom activities show a little more sustainability.
  40. You’re about as honest as the lovechild of Greg Mortensen and Somaly Mam.
  41. I’ve met someone on AidSource, the number one place to connect with like minded aid professionals. (Did we mention we’re shameless?)
  42. I’m looking to develop partnerships with other stakeholders.
  43. I just don’t see us in the same way I see Rigby-Yeoh.
  44. You took my request for more bottom-up development the wrong way.
  45. I’m looking for someone a little younger, with less low-hanging fruit.
  46. This quarterly report’s just in – we’re not sustainable!
  47. I need some post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction from an external agency.
  48. I just have so many invisible children who need me.
  49. This relationship has been a disaster, and I need some relief.
  50. Just like Sudan, this relationship is going South.
  51. The budget review found that you didn’t invest enough in capacity building for bedroom activities.
  52. I thought we were the next Brangelina, but it turns out we were just a TomKat.

Featured image is from Wikimedia Commons.

Last Week Today: The Global Legacy Award goes to?

The week in global news

The Global Legacy Award goes to…?

Cue drum roll.

Tony Blair.

Right. Naturally. Of Course. We totally picked him too.

We don’t understand why people are so outraged at Save the Children’s decision to choose an accused war criminal to receive the award. He totally deserved it for his “leadership on international development.” And while this may signify that we can no longer rely on political activism from large and professional charities, we don’t believe any mistake was made, because if a mistake had been made, surely STC would have said, right?

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister


Americans are protesting across the country due to a grand jury’s decision not to prosecute white police officer Darren Wilson for shooting dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson.

Police cleared large protest sites in Hong Kong on Wednesday, but protestors returned and violent clashes continue.

And 40,000 Masai people will be evicted from their homeland in Tanzania, because the Dubai royal family bought the land to hunt big game.

This week on the blog

Volunteering abroad with children: A game of double standards?

Working with children in Western countries requires qualifications and background checks. Not so in developing countries. Ruth Taylor asks what’s with the double standards?

Fair trade: All it’s cracked up to be?

Fair trade-certified companies are ethical and sustainable, and they pay their workers a living wage. Right? Liza Moiseeva investigates how fair trade really affects farmers.

Coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


This week in globaldev

Pictures: Workers in the informal economy

The death of international development

Say ‘burn rate‘ one more time

Raising the minimum wage isn’t enough

Doing development differently

Video: Why are some people poor and others are rich? (08:47)

Current opportunities

Community Manager: Use your experience in content and community management to grow the AidSource network. | WhyDev

Fundraising Director: An experienced fundraiser is wanted to raise much needed funds for a Speech Therapy program in Cambodia. | OIC: The Cambodia Project

You can also check out our events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

Featured image is Tony Blair, UK’s former Prime Minister. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Fair trade: All it’s cracked up to be?

Did you know October was Fair Trade Month in the U.S.? You might have easily missed it if you’re not working within a fair trade-related field. In any case, how much social impact fair trade creates has been in question since the movement took root. So, let’s try to figure out if you should feel bad for missing the Fair Trade Month hype.

As I mentioned in my previous post, fair trade is “an organised social movement whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and to promote sustainability.” Imagine my surprise when a quick Google search revealed that some fair trade farmers receive a lower wage than their counterparts working for private farms! We’re not even talking about bridging the poverty gap (I gotta use the development lingo here, don’t I?) or sending one’s kids to school. One farmer whose story I found (appropriately named Prosper) works for the fair trade-certified Kuapa-Kokoo cooperative in Ghana, and every month he earns $10 less than his peers. So, I asked myself, what is the point?

The “point” can be found in the fair trade premiums paid by fair trade-certified companies to be spent on local projects voted on and chosen by a local community. These projects can take the form of re-investment into businesses or socio-economic undertakings, such as building wells or schools. Don’t we all just LOVE local initiatives, especially those “democratically decided” by the community in question? It must be a development fairy tale!

Unfortunately, it is not. First, the fair trade model itself is partly to blame: Fairtrade International charges a fee for its certification, which strains the already tight budgets of the farms, leaving less cash flow to spend on wages (and lowering their competitive advantage). Point goes to private farms. Second, the prices Fair Trade International offers to farmers are only marginally higher than minimum (not even median!) market wages. Essentially, what the FairTrade Labelling Organization (FLO) does is set up price floors (minimums) to protect farmers from negative price fluctuations. Generally, FLO pays 44 cents/kilogram above market minimum prices and 11 cents/kilogram in premiums. These statistics are for coffee prices only. From them, it is fairly easy to extrapolate the magnitude (or lack thereof) of the fair trade price difference. The point is that guaranteed fair trade prices are, more often than not, lower than market prices, and when they are actually higher, it is NOT enough to create impact. (You can find the full updated list of Fairtrade product prices here.)

What about the premiums and community projects? The Fair Trade, Employment and Poverty Reduction Project at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has a rather unequivocal answer: they don’t make a difference. The four-year research project funded by the U.K.’s Department for International Development had a primary goal of finding out whether the presence of fair trade employment opportunities had any effect on the wellbeing of people living in poverty in rural areas. The resulting comparative and longitudinal assessment of the benefits and disadvantages created by fair trade and non-fair trade schemes concluded: “This research was unable to find any evidence that Fairtrade has made a positive difference to the wages and working conditions of those employed in the production of the commodities produced for Fairtrade certified export in the areas where the research has been conducted.”

In other words, wage-employees working with fair trade-certified organisations are not paid any more than workers working with non-fairtrade certified companies, and their working conditions are no better (and sometimes worse and sometimes involve child labour!).

Yet another troubling finding stated that, in some cases, the structure of fair trade cooperatives was aggravating rural inequality.

These latest (April 2014) findings seem to confirm something that has long been known but has only been whispered about in academic circles. Perhaps this is why Fairtrade International so publicly displayed its disappointment with the research in its statement. While Fairtrade International has a right to challenge the research findings, the company’s status quo should have been challenged long ago. Fair trade is a great idea, and at least some consumers are buying it (no pun intended!). But, it seems ludicrous to me to continue buying fair trade products now that I know the farmers working with fair trade companies are no better off than those working with regular companies! Essentially, what this means is that fair trade’s social impact is zero. That’s disheartening, and calls not only for more research, but for systemic changes within the Fair Trade Movement.

Featured image is coffee farmers in El Salvador. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Volunteering abroad with children: A game of double standards?

This post originally appeared on KickStart Ghana and is re-printed here with permission. It is the first in a two-part series on volunteering with children, so check back next week for part two!

By Ruth Taylor

Let me ask you. How many times have you logged onto Facebook and been greeted with a newly-updated profile picture of one of your friends, volunteer-smile intact, affectionately cuddling a small, rather grubby-looking child, from an unknown African nation? Once? Twice? Too many times to recall?

If you haven’t experienced it personally, you’ll probably be aware of the growing phenomenon sweeping schools, colleges and universities across the Western world. In search of adventure and a desire to break normalcy, our young people, during their gap years or summer holidays, are jetting off to volunteer (more often than not, with children) in countries across the Global South… It’s become a craze. Like over-reliance on Apple products and an addiction to Starbucks, voluntourism is becoming something by which this generation is being defined. It’s almost come to be seen as a rite of passage (albeit for the relatively well-off) – something you do before, during or after university. Something that will “set you apart” and help you land your £40k-starting-salary graduate job.

Let me ask you another question. How would you react if the craze was reversed? Would you allow your children, your younger brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, to appear as the photo fodder within a Kenyan’s profile picture? An Ethiopian’s? A Cambodian’s? Would you be okay with letting the young people close to you feature in the strange online societal competition of foreigners, where you wear your profile picture with a small child of a different skin colour as a badge of honour, boasting about the fact that you – you noble and benevolent being – have volunteered abroad?

I have a feeling we might be slightly less agreeable than others across the world and so starts my second blog for the summer – the complexity of volunteering with children and the complicated way we, in the West, appear to have different ideas and ideals about what’s acceptable with regards to working with young people, depending on where in the world they live.

As I mentioned in my previous post for KickStart, the world of international volunteering is a murky one, although all too often, volunteers and potential volunteers view it through rose-tinted glasses. When we consider volunteering abroad specifically with children, the situation becomes murkier still, what with child protection and welfare, the complexity of cross-cultural teaching and learning and a whole host of other ethical issues regarding the suitability of (usually) unqualified volunteers working with (largely) vulnerable young people. It is a topic that is receiving far too little attention.

The image of the happy, white Westerner surrounded by the beaming faces of black children has become the snapshot associated with what it means to volunteer abroad (put it into Google and tell me I’m wrong!). Accompanied by the emotive language of voluntourism websites, it is not a surprise that volunteering your time on child-specific projects is the most popular form of volunteering abroad today.

I’m as fond of children as the next person, and if given the opportunity to play with kids from any nation for a couple of weeks, I’d have a hard time turning it down. But arguably as the most vulnerable individuals within any society, surely these children deserve a little bit more structured thinking? How exactly is the best way to support their development and learning? Who exactly is the right person to do this for the upmost benefit of the child? What potential damage could be being done to these kids if the project was to go wrong or just be plain neglectful?

By sending out our well-intentioned but unqualified and inexperienced 18 year olds, are we actually actively harming the very children we are so carelessly flaunting on our profile pages?

A recent experiment saw me take to the Internet and the websites of five of the biggest voluntourism companies to see how long it would take for me, a 23 year old white female graduate, with a smidgen of teaching experience, to sign up and volunteer with children abroad. The average was under 90 seconds. 90 seconds, with not a single question about who I am and why I’d be a good person to work with kids. I could be anyone, anyone, with any sort of horrific motivation for wanting to spend unsupervised time with children.

Obviously, in the vast majority of cases, volunteers wishing to work with children are simply young people with a desire to improve the situations of other young people living lives very different to their own. However, there are incidences of people with far darker intentions having the opportunity to volunteer with children abroad, where they are unlikely to undergo any criminal records checks, be supervised whilst on project or ultimately be traced if an indecency is suspected. Would this iewer even be a possibility in the U.K.? The answer is a resounding no! To volunteer with children at home, you first have to wade through thousands of proverbial miles of red tape – why do we think children in other countries should have anything but the same level of security?

Through my research, I also found that the majority of voluntourism organisations do not require volunteers to have any level of experience, let alone qualifications to volunteer with children, whether in a school or a residential care institution. Can you ever imagine this being the norm in the U.K.? How many times have you seen a plane full of well-intentioned but unqualified, 18-year-old Nepalese young people flood U.K. schools or residential care homes to “teach” our children? My guess would be not that often!

This begs the question of why we feel people have to be trained and educated to a fairly high standard to work with English children, but the same does not apply when considering children growing up across the Global South. What kinds of assumptions, whether conscious or subconscious, are we making and thus basing our actions upon? Do we really believe, as our actions seem to depict, that as Westerners, even if uneducated, we are somehow more innately qualified to care for children and know what is best for them, than their own teachers, nursery nurses, even parents? Or, worse still, do we think that the children of Africa, Asia and South America are somehow deserving of a lesser standard of care? If, like most people, you balk at both of these ideas, then maybe it is about time our actions changed to mirror what we claim to believe.

In part two, Ruth details best practices for volunteer organisations and gives some tips on choosing a volunteer position.

Ruth is currently International Development Manager for Student Hubs, leading the Impact International programme, which aims to promote global citizenship amongst students in the U.K., by acting as a platform for them to learn more about international development, human rights and international volunteering. Alongside her day job, she is a trustee for KickStart Ghana, a charity working to enhance sporting and educational opportunities for communities in Eastern Ghana, and she sits on the Steering Committee for YTFN, a youth organisation promoting effective philanthropy. She is interested in youth development engagement, campaigning and the complexities of international volunteering.

Featured image is a classroom in Kenya. Photo by Deepa Srikantaiah.

Last Week Today: What’s wrong with cheap clothes?

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

Career advice from WhyDev

There’s new research out on how to network over e-mail! Begin with a disingenuous question about the other person’s personal life. Then, seal the deal by ending with a vague reference to one of their hobbies.

So, three steps to e-networking in development: “How’s your infidelity? I’m looking for a job and hope you’ll hire me. Enjoy the next Hash!” UNDP, here we come.

The week in news

After a mob attacked a Nairobi woman for dressing “inappropriately,” over 200 people marched in protest. #MyDressMyChoice

A new documentary has shed light on Firestone’s relationship with Charles Taylor and the company’s role in the Liberian civil war.

A new ISIS video depicts a mass beheading of Syrian hostages and the alleged beheading of a third Western aid worker, Peter Kassig.

The week on the blog

The reality (and absurdity) of the aid sector

The aid industry can be ridiculous, and Michael Keller knows it all too well. But one new company is trying to help NGOs function a little better.

Jaden and Willow Smith’s guide to global development

Bono and Clooney have been the go-to celebrity humanitarians for ages. But, Brendan Rigby realised a famous brother-sister pair actually has a pretty solid development strategy.

The week in globaldev

Ebola? There’s an app for that.

The myth of cheap clothes

Refugees, IDPs and the trouble with labels

Saying “no” to Bob Geldof

Who’s donating to the Ebola response, really?

Audio Mark Goldberg talks about human rights abuses in Myanmar and the plight of the Rohingya minority.

Upcoming events

The Institute for Human Security and Social Change: Two seminars with Duncan Green | Melbourne, 24 November

Want to get involved? Apply to be our Community Manager, or the Fundraising Director for our friends at OIC: The Cambodia Project. And don’t forget to join AidSource – one member who signs up in the next week will receive a WhyDev postcard!

You can also check out our other events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

Always on the go? Have a version sent to your inbox every Friday. Just sign up to the Last Week Today newsletter.

Featured image from CareerStair.

Jaden and Willow Smith’s Guide to Global Development

In recent years, there have been tremors around the edges of celebrity activism and involvement in global development. Most recently, it was Bob Geldof getting BandAid back together. Angelina Jolie is a constant, but we can only fault her for her acting. Hermione Granger Emma Watson brought the house down at the U.N early this year and created gender equality. Madonna. Bono. Clooney. Affleck. Persons who have become synonymous with celebrity activism and advocacy. But, we are missing two.

Now, this is a story all about how / two kids got the ‘net flipped-turned upside down.

And, I’d like to take a minute / just sit right there.

I’ll tell you how these two princelings found new flair (in global development).

Jaden and Willow Smith attempted, perhaps inadvertently, to break the Internet, in what is perhaps the most wonderfully bizarre interview ever given by two children.  Willow, after whipping her hair repeatedly, became a youth ambassador for Project Zambi, which provides assistance to Zambian children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Jaden, the new karate kid, is also an ambassador. With their powers combined, they have created a unique framework for addressing global development. Digging through their interview reveals there are three pillars to this framework: education, economics and health.

The Jaden and Willow Smith Guide to Global Development

Education: The distribution of teaching and learning materials to schoolchildren to increase achievement and learning needs to end. Jaden and Willow (henceforth referred to as J-Low) advocate for a self-directed and independent approach to reading, learning and literacy. “There’re no novels that I like to read, so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing”, says Willow. Rather than distribute costly teaching and learning materials, students should be encouraged to write their own books and then read their own books. It is a sustainable and student-centred solution that will lower costly school resourcing and help create a never-ending cycle of reading and writing.

In addition to reading and writing their own books, J-Low advocate for a school-free approach to learning. Jaden explains, “You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver’s ed? What’s up? I still haven’t been to driver’s ed because if everybody I know has been in an accident, I can’t see how driver’s ed is really helping them out.” His philosophy is backed by evidence, which shows that, while more students are attending school, they’re not achieving learning outcomes or completing full cycles of basic education and are instead dropping out. Indeed, teacher attendance, time on-task and other measures of effectiveness are low, forcing us to ask: is school even necessary?

Willow went to school for one year, and then, like many girls in developing countries, dropped out. “It was the best experience but the worst experience. The best experience because I was, like, ‘Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed.’ But it was the worst experience because I was depressed”, she recalls. J-Low back a lifelong learning approach to education, arguing that learning never ends and that the school they go every morning is life. They join other education advocates in ensuring lifelong learning is captured in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Economics: J-Low argue for a return to the economic shock therapies of the 1980s to reinvigorate not only national economies, but the global economic system. The IMF and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) provided loans that came with conditions on public spending, and were aimed at shocking free-market policies and programs into being. “The only way to change something is to shock it. If you want your muscles to grow, you have to shock them. If you want society to change, you have to shock them”, says Jaden, advocating for greater austerity measures, particularly reductions in education budgets as this aligns with their education approach. Willow sees this as more than a pragmatic policy measure. Indeed, there is an art to it, and SAPs can be considered a form of art. “That’s what art is, shocking people. Sometimes shocking yourself”.

Health: As global health challenges continue to mount with Ebola, malaria, polio and non-communicable diseases going uneradicated, it is perhaps time to harness a new approach to global health and well-being. Prana energy. Jaden explains – “When babies are born, their soft spots bump: It has, like, a heartbeat in it. That’s because energy is coming through their body, up and down. It’s prana energy because they still breathe through their stomach. They remember. Babies remember.”

J-Low advocate for the mainstreaming of prana energy into global health policies, programs and interventions. Maternal and newborn health programs need early screening and detection of prana energy, with community sensitisation and public awareness-raising campaigns to educate the public on how to harness prana energy. Although there are no current impact evaluations, it is recommended that randomised control trials seek to understand and measure the efficacy of prana interventions. #PranaForAll

In the end, global development is not about education, economics or health. It’s not even about livelihoods, employment or having enough money to support yourself and your family. For J-Low, it is about the sustainable artistic journey and the footprint you leave. “That’s another thing: What’s your job, what’s your career? Nah, I am. I’m going to imprint myself on everything in this world.”

Featured image is Jaden and Willow Smith. Photo from Pretty Much Amazing.

The reality (and absurdity) of the aid sector

This post originally appeared on AidBits and is re-printed here with permission.

By Michael Keller

“Are you joking?” That was the written response I got from my boss when I suggested moving our cumbersome reporting process to the cloud a few years ago.

Before I bolted for the relative tranquility of the private sector, like most aid workers, the question of efficiency was on my mind at least once a day. Not the effectiveness of the programs I managed, but my own organization’s efficiency, or lack thereof.

Echoing countless colleagues in the field, I often wondered things like, “Why are we doing things this way when the rest of the world uses a cheaper, faster method to achieve the same result?” and “How is it possible that no one in the chain of command has developed a system to keep track of reporting?”

From just a few years in the field, I amassed enough stories of bureaucratic absurdities to fill a book.

In fact, I realized that the majority of my co-workers had similar complaints. Worse, no one seemed to be able to do anything about it. Organizational momentum was always geared towards implementation or fundraising, while fleeting yearly workshops tended to focus on strategy and capacity building. Systems to improve the quality of our work always seemed to slip through the cracks, replaced by ad hoc approaches developed in spite of the bureaucracy rather than as a part of it.

Here are just a few anecdotes to highlight an institutional weakness familiar to most aid workers:

  • One respected, well-funded organization I worked for had many small projects going on in various parts of the country, and a motivated boss developed the mother of all Excel files to track them. The solution was great, but contained obvious drawbacks. Staff adoption was almost zero because no one intuitively understood the system and training time was limited. The file was offline, and so large that new data had to be regularly copied and pasted into a new file, then e-mailed up the chain of command to be pasted back into a master file. Updates required my boss to drive around to 7 offices with a flash drive and new set of operating instructions. Aggregating data input by different people on different projects, with no clear standardization of data values, became a nightmare. And, unfortunately, the macro-heavy file became increasingly buggy; once the boss rotated out to a new mission, no one had the time and knowledge to fix it, and it was abandoned.
  • Arriving in a remote part of Africa to assess refugee needs after my predecessor was prematurely evacuated, I was lost. No handover. Just 3 short reports from my predecessor, found by chance. Hundreds of reports by others concerning my region, but saved to mysterious locations with inconsistent file names. And for orientation, a scan of a hand-drawn map. I spent my first week skimming the reports, furiously copy/pasting paragraphs relating to similar topics into a 180-page searchable document, just to get a basic idea of what had been done where. In the field, I made diligent use of my GPS unit so I could create maps back at the office. I quickly realized we were providing “one-time emergency” assistance for the fourth year in a row to the same population. By the end of my mission, I had the most detailed maps ever made of my region and a well-organized stash of reports for my successor. But the combination of high turnover and lack of institutional backing for these systems meant the maps faded from memory and the reports got lost in the jumble of colleague’s personal filing systems.
  • In another job, I was overseeing multiple local implementing partners. They had to submit their project plans via e-mail in Word documents. I would modify and comment, and send them back for revision. Once I was satisfied with the proposals, I would repeat the e-mail exchange with my own boss. Her revisions and comments would then get e-mailed through me back to the local partners. Throughout this process, entire sections of the document would get accidentally deleted, and information I had intentionally deleted in one version would sneak back in the next. As a direct result of this document daisy chain, projects often did not start until half-way through the fiscal year.

I regularly discussed these frustrations over drinks with a good friend. Despite our years of experience in the sector, we just could not believe that these simple bottlenecks had not yet been addressed. We realized that, though individual demand for innovations was extremely high, the institutional momentum had failed to materialize, despite decades of talk about accountability, transparency and the Big Foot of aid, Results-Based Management (universally recognized but rarely seen).

To overcome the inertia – and the tendency to develop proprietary software that quickly morphs into an outdated legacy platform – a private-sector solution was needed, one tailored to the idiosyncrasies of the industry. My friend jumped on the opportunity and founded AidBits with almost no hesitation; the idea was that obvious. He had his first eager client before even coming close to finishing the beta product.

Moving many of the daily chores of project and program management into browser-based software was an idea way overdue by the early 2010s.  Perhaps no one in the private sector saw the profitability in addressing the problems of the non-profit world. But Feras and Ibrahim knew that with their solution, they could not only turn a profit, they could do so while greatly improving the quality and timeliness of aid work.

Imagine a field office in which data reporting is standardized, with easy-to-understand online tutorials to remind staff of the need for and meaning of key terms like “goal” and “S.M.A.R.T.” Picture a donor institution using a platform to aggregate relevant information with a simple click and chart program progress automatically. Envision a work environment in which past reporting is archived and searchable, maps can be generated by non-GIS specialists, and workflow shifts from MS Office and e-mail to the browser.

AidBits won’t solve all the problems facing development and humanitarian work. But it will make errors easier to catch, reports faster to file and time harder to waste. The drudgery avoided and money saved will allow for a greater focus on the quality results that beneficiaries deserve. AidBits is forging ahead to enhance a multi-billion dollar industry currently stuck in the 20th century. And no, these guys are not kidding around.

Michael Keller is an international development expert, having worked in Africa and the greater Middle East for a number of international aid organisations. You can follow him on Twitter.

Featured image from Robert Francis.

Last Week Today: Is there Christmas in Africa?

Committed to giving you last week’s globaldev news today

Thirty years worth of anthropological research has revealed nothing about holiday practices in Africa.

Today, the world’s leading experts on the continent are asking the same question they asked in 1984. “Do they know it’s Christmastime?”

The next generation of Africa experts. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The next generation of Africa experts. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

We hope in another thirty years, their protégés, the members of One Direction, will finally be able to answer this puzzling question.

The week in news

Russia’s in the news twice this week: for invading Ukraine (again) and for agreeing to build nuclear reactors in Iran.

In India, a government program that pays women $23 to undergo a sterilisation surgery became even more questionable when 11 women died following complications.

Tension between Israel and Palestine seems to be on the rise again, with an arson attack on a West Bank mosque the latest in a series of clashes.

A Canadian man responds to last week’s midterm elections in the U.S. – and essentially asks Americans, “What were you thinking?”

The week on the blog

Famous founders: A blessing or a curse?

What happens when NGO founders become famous – even too famous? Anna McKeon and Natalie Jesionka list some red flags.

AidSource: Under new management (ours!)

The founders of AidSource: The Humanitarian Network were ready to pass the torch, and they passed it to us! We’re very excited to be taking over the management of the site – stay tuned for additional updates.

The week in globaldev

Infectious disease is not a security threat.

Click-bait and stereotypes

Not just Chibok

The neocolonialism of global health

Celebrity humanitarians, or celebrity trolls?

Video Newsflash, Bono: A group of African musicians has already made a great song about Ebola.

Upcoming events

The Institute for Human Security and Social Change: Two seminars with Duncan Green | Melbourne, 24 November

You can also check out our other events and listen to the MissionCreep podcast.

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Featured image is Bono during a visit to Brazil. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

AidSource: Under new management (ours!)

First, a note from the founders of AidSource (J., Alanna Shaikh & ShotgunShack):

The founders and owners of AidSource: The Humanitarian Social Network would like to announce that, effective immediately, AidSource will owned, maintained and moderated by our friends and aid blogosphere colleagues at WhyDev.

Some of you will wonder why. The answer is that over the past year, each of us have made significant changes in various aspects of our lives and jobs, and at this point, we simply lack the collective and individual bandwidth to give AidSource the time it needs and deserves. We will remain “normal” members of AidSource, and we expect to continue to interact there from time to time. We’re very pleased to have found such capable hands to take over what we still believe is a great resource for anyone in or interested in the humanitarian aid and development industry.

We wish to express our sincere thanks to everyone (too many to name individually) who helped bring AidSource into being, as well as all those who cared enough to join and participate as members. Lastly, we wish the very best to our friends at WhyDev as they take on the task of managing The Humanitarian Social Network.

***

With great power, comes great responsibility.

It is with tremendous pleasure and trepidation that we take on the job of managing AidSource: The Humanitarian Social Network. As we move towards a post-2015 brave new world, fostering a community of practice in global development remains critical. We need to continue to break down institutional and organisational barriers to form true partnerships and change how development works. This is at the heart of WhyDev’s mission.

We believe AidSource is a lynchpin of this community. With 1,700+ members from around the world, it brings together aid workers, NGO staff, nationals, ex-pats, academics, journalists, students and donors. AidSource is the space for you to network with industry colleagues, share your knowledge, reflect critically and have a little fun.

Want to get more involved? We’re recruiting a volunteer Community Manager to help manage and run AidSource. This is a great opportunity for someone looking to gain experience in community engagement, social media, communications or partnerships. If this sounds like you, please review the position description, and send your resume and a cover letter describing your vision for the AidSource community (max. 600 words) to info[AT]whydev[DOT]org by 4 December.

We’ll be making some exciting updates to AidSource in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Featured image is Cape Coast, Ghana. Photo by Brendan Rigby.

Famous founders: A blessing or a curse?

By Anna McKeon & Natalie Jesionka

Bob and Jane take a sabbatical from their careers in Sydney to travel the world. On their trip, they travel comfortably but authentically and are moved by the poverty and daily struggle they encounter for the first time in their life. They are especially moved by the children they see begging. Having had a transformative experience, they talk about how they can “give back” in some way. When Bob and Jane get back to Australia, they decide to establish their own non-profit organisation to promote education, so the children they saw will never have to beg again. Enlisting high-powered friends to help publicise their mission, they raise half a million dollars within two months. They’re bombarded with requests from radio and TV shows, get featured in magazines and are soon hailed as heroes.

The rise of the hero NGO founder is becoming an all-too-familiar story in the development sector. Whether it’s people we know or individuals we discover through magazines and TV, we quickly place a trust in those who inspire us, giving them our respect, our support, and often our money, with few questions asked.

As a result, such individuals can quickly become beyond reproach. Blessed with unrestricted – often private – donations, they’re working in a system with few checks and balances. It is in these circumstances, when the PR machine can take over, that the individual begins to overshadow the organisation, and significant problems go unchallenged.

What we as supporters don’t often see is what happens when Bob and Jane actually go back to the country they visited to launch their project and their NGO. We don’t hear much about their struggles in establishing an education organisation without a background in teaching, dealing with legalities in a language they cannot speak or working in cultures they don’t understand.

While they may remain dedicated to their mission, they now inhabit two worlds – and neither one properly understands them.

Inevitably, the times we do hear of those struggles is when problems become too big to be ignored. The exposé of Somaly Mam earlier this year is perhaps the most compelling example of a hero NGO founder whose public profile overshadowed not only her whole organisation, but also her entire cause. Mam’s was the classic hero’s journey, complete with the tragic fatal flaw and fall from grace. As Laura Agustin points out, even in apparent disgrace, the media is still focused on the founder: most people became involved with the Somaly Mam Foundation because of Somaly Mam – not because they were interested in understanding how to change the structures and systems that create and sustain human trafficking.

It’s time for a reality check: in order to improve the way founders and organisations do good, we need to start talking about the challenges of managing a high profile. Here are some ideas of how to recognize the red flags and avoid falling into the trap of Founder’s Syndrome:

  1. Overshadowing the organisation

The problem that frustrates many people in the development sector (aid professionals and commenters alike) is that the focus on an individual founder’s story often quickly overshadows the mission and activities of their organisation. One way to demonstrate that your passion is for your cause and not your profile is to refrain from propagating such an attitude. Lose the “About Me” or “My Story” page from the organisation’s website. Organisations demonstrating a strong foundation try to reduce the focus on any one individual and ensure their visual media and narrative represent the people they’re working with.

  1. Believing the PR machine

Somaly Mam’s story (and Greg Mortenson’s before hers) demonstrates that it’s all too easy for a PR machine to run away with itself. If some details are slightly wrong, but the coverage is generating donations for a good cause – where’s the harm? Once a hero has been created, few people are keen to question their standing. As Daniela Papi put it,

With aid, it often seems that all you need to do is state the dedication of your life to some cause, and that statement of altruistic intent alone is all you need to get the media and donor community supporting your stock.

This can mean the opinions of high-profile founders are sought above experts, regardless of their actual level of knowledge of an issue. The founders become the face of the movement, the coveted photo-op and editorial, but may not have the skills or knowledge to actually implement what they represent in the field.

Some founders keep connected with reality through talking openly about their organisation’s challenges. If the media does get caught up in your personal story, make sure to correct their version of events. Make it clear that there are always things the organisation can do better. All NGOs are (or should be) constantly learning, constantly developing. In role modeling this attitude, you’re less likely to get caught up in a cycle of PR fluff and fabrication.

  1. Threatening organisational sustainability

How Matters has a great overview of some of the problems of Founder’s Syndrome. If an organisation relies solely on pedaling an individual’s profile, donors will likely dry up if that individual leaves the organisation. In addition, the presence of a high-profile founder can make staff or board members more likely to defer to their opinions. This may not only result in misguided choices, but may also leave a decision-making vacuum when the founder moves on.

To ensure that your organisation can function without your involvement, prioritise capacity building and local leadership, encouraging program and strategy decisions to be made by those with the most knowledge and experience. Decide how to evaluate your impact, and use measurables to back it up. Go beyond the anecdotes and the easy visuals.

  1. Perpetuating unhelpful “saviour / victim” concepts in aid and development.

Representations of founders as “saviours” and communities as “victims who need saving” are not helpful to overall portrayals of global inequities. It’s all too common for such “victims” to be turned into commodities in the name of fundraising. To try to avoid this, integrate your communications into your organisational structure. Let your staff tell the stories of their work, and decide as an organisation how best to communicate about the issues you’re tackling. Be respectful of those you serve, and know where to draw the line when fame does hit. Having a media policy can help you avoid exploiting individuals or communities in the name of publicity.

It’s clear the top-down founder model needs serious overhaul, but new models of social good and high-impact development are still lagging behind (or getting lost in the hype of the next founders like Bob and Jane trying to change the world). Just as we look at corporate CEOs and politicians, we need to start looking at founders with a critical eye–understanding that it’s a difficult place to be in, but also pushing them to be better, more accountable and ever more transparent about their work. With this in mind, we’ll be able to move beyond sensation-driven development work and really consider our impact and best practices on the ground.

Anna McKeon is a communications consultant, specialising in research and strategy development for social change initiatives. She has a background in television and digital media in the UK, and has recently worked with Save the Children UK and The Better Care Network to lead a global, inter-agency project aimed at discouraging orphanage volunteering, as well as with Bigger Boat and PEPY Tours. Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict and human rights at Rutgers University. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.

Featured image is the Karakoram mountain range, the site of Greg Mortenson’s now disproven story about launching an NGO. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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