Aidspeak called for three changes to make aid better by August 1st. Oops – instead they’re getting one by August 3rd.
Give every aid worker (local and international, cleaner to country director) a social change investment fund of US$1,000, over which they have total personal discretion.
Task each of us to find an “under-the-radar” grassroots organization, leader, or initiative worthy of support. The only stipulation is that as fund managers we must find a group that has been in existence for at least three years and has never received international assistance. (With estimates of grassroots organizations around the world at four million, this will not be as hard as some may think it sounds.) Only one-page proposals and reports allowed.
Aid workers spend plenty of our time in budgets and logframes. What will happen if we have total freedom to break the rules…take a risk!?! During the year, the fund managers will also be tasked to just have fun! We must find a person, an organization, or an idea that inspires us. We can learn more about a topic of interest. Our mandate will be to tap into the enthusiasm that drew us into this work in the first place.
At the end of one year, the fund managers in every organization get together and share what we’ve learned through facilitated and documented reflection exercises. We distill good practices and actionable insights. We will let the truth hang out. We will admit that some investments didn’t go as planned.
We will let that be okay.
If we are serious about “flipping the aid system” to put more local and national actors in the driver’s seat of development, we have to let go and learn in myriad different ways. These social change investment funds could help us release the “pressure” of bringing about large-scale impact in order to more deeply understand the local processes that bring about change. If we’re forced to think micro, we may actually build a more inclusive discourse on aid that changes our understanding of what we value (local ownership) and what we measure (social change).
When I started how-matters.org two years ago, I reached out to about 150 colleagues and friends around the world and asked them to respond to:
I asked because the estimated 595,000 aid workers around the world (see “The State of the Humanitarian System” from ALNAP, 2010) are rarely called to examine the bureaucratic rigidities that govern their day-to-day work and that deflate and/or marginalize local activists.
With just $59,500,000, one in ten of these aid workers could try out the investment fund and learn how to change the corporate culture of aid agencies that no longer meets the demands of a rapidly changing world.
Consider that this amount is just 0.002% of what rich countries delivered in aid to poor countries between 1960 and 2008, which the World Bank reports as $3.2 trillion. Consider each layer of the aid system taking its cut in those decades before funds ever reached the ground. Just think about that.
And if $1,000 is squandered or “goes missing” here and there, well, let’s just see that as the cost of doing business—much in the same way hi-lux trucks and school fees for international staff’s children are seen as the cost of doing business now.
Is sixty million dollars too much for a year-long “experiment” with so few guidelines and so little “accountability”?
If the well-intentioned, smart people who are ill-equipped and not incentivized to challenge the aid industry’s linear and hierarchical structures can be enabled to change their roles from purveyors of knowledge to investors in potential, this is a relatively minor gamble.
If we have an opportunity to create more trust, equity and mutual accountability with those we serve through investment funds and see for ourselves how a diversity of approaches and actors unleashes social change, then the system-wide reforms needed become more feasible.
So let me have it. Tell me why this wouldn’t work.
But know you may run the risk of being called a big ole’ fuddy duddy.