- “Local people may be the experts, but for outsiders deciding where their donations can do the most good, getting access to local knowledge and acting on it appropriately requires real-time feedback loops that most aid projects lack.
- Over a little more than a year, GlobalGiving combined staff visits, formal evaluation, third-party observer reports called visitor postcards, and internet feedback from local community members to create a nuanced, evolving picture of a community-based youth organization in Western Kenya that had received $8,019 from 193 individual donors through the GlobalGiving website.
- Initially, youth in Kisumu were happy with the organization. Among other things, the founder used the money to fund travel and equipment for the local youth soccer team. But the first tip-off that something was going wrong came when a former soccer player complained through GlobalGiving’s online feedback form that “currently the co-ordinator is evil minded and corrupt.” The view that the founder had begun stealing donations and was stifling dissent among his members was expanded upon by other community members, visitors to the project, and a professional evaluator.
- In the end, a splinter group broke off and started a new sports organization, and the community shifted their support to the new group. Reflecting the local consensus, GlobalGiving removed the discredited organization from its website.” (Emphasis mine)
Aid Watch stresses the “new way to evaluate a project” angle on this story, and we think it’s a good angle. But another angle is that most aid projects don’t receive this level of scrutiny, and the project that was put under this particular microscope – more as a way of testing the microscope than because there were concerns about the project – turned out discredited.
This is a story that I feel should affect your default assumption about whether an aid project is working.
The comments on Aid Watch’s post are also worth reading. One problem with the “funding a project at a time from many different organizations” approach is that it isn’t clear what one does with evaluation and feedback, when it’s available. Knowing how a project went is certainly better than not knowing, but the ultimate goal is to translate knowledge of what’s working into improved performance.
That’s an argument for focusing on the organization rather than the project level. Organizations can be given incentives to learn from their mistakes and improve their projects. Funding tiny organizations for one-off projects, it isn’t clear how to impose any kind of accountability.