A Must Listen

This American Life covers the “byzantine system of aid agencies, NGOs, and government bureaucracy” brilliantly in the following episode.

This American Life 408: Island Time, Originally aired 5/21/10

Summary: Unprecedented amounts of money have been pledged to Haitian relief in the last few months. American households have given over $1 billion and in March, 120 countries pledged over $9 billion(!) to rebuild. The only problem is that – historically – blanketing a country in aid and money has never really worked so well. Is there a chance this time things could be different?


This episode is so relevant and so right-on. I shared it with all the folks I know who have or are working to spend the pledged $9 billion to rebuild Haiti. But the key issues highlighted in this excellent piece of work speak to larger, more widespread issues about relief and development aid worldwide. The quotes below highlight these, which I we will continue to explore at how-matters.org.

Highlighted quotes from the episode

“And with 10,000 organizations in the country, doing nothing but trying to make people’s lives better…how come the average Haitian makes half as much as they did 50 years ago?” ~This American Life Reporter

“Again, that’s the habit. It’s the norm. They [NGOs] start something and they don’t finish it…they make promises…and they don’t deliver.” ~Haitian businessman

“It’s not us designing. We have bosses in Washington and they’re the ones that make those decisions.” ~Deputy Director for USAID in Haiti

“We all, um, we struggle. We all struggle.” ~ American Red Cross staff person


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