The philanthropic nature of our modern western society is based within our capitalist conscience and therefore neither focused nor truly effective in its output. For most benefactors charity ends at the delivery of the sponsorship or donation as a conscience or desire to do some good is personally or organisationally is met. “The West has spent over £ 11/2 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get cheap medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West has still had not managed to get £3 mosquito bed nets to poor families. How can our concerted global efforts at combating such a clearly defatigable issue be so inept. If a business was run in the same way with such a niche aim it would soon be bankrupt. It’s such a tragedy that so much well-meaning and genuine compassion does not deliver effective results to the unlucky and powerless people who reside in such naturally challenging regions.
Where is the vision? Where is the coordination? Where is the leadership?
The director of the United Nations Millennium Project Jeffrey Sachs offered a Big Plan to end world poverty, with solutions ranging from nitrogen-fixing leguminous trees to replenish soil fertility, to antiretroviral therapy for AIDS, to specially programmed cell phones to provide real-time data to health planners, to rainwater harvesting, to battery-charging stations, to cheap medicines for children with malaria — for a total of 449 interventions. Professor Sachs has played an important role in calling upon the West to do more for the Rest, but the implementation strategy is less constructive.
So the vision is there and the planning that naturally follows it is there. Where is the leadership? Where is the coordination?
According to Professor Sachs and the Millennium Project, the UN Secretary-General should run the plan, coordinating the actions of officials in six UN agencies, the UN country teams, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and a couple of dozen rich-country aid agencies. This Plan is the latest in a long string of Western plans to end poverty.
Unfortunately, the West has a bad track record when it comes to meeting its goals. A UN summit in 1990 set as a goal for the year 2000 universal primary-school enrolment. (That is now planned for 2015.) A previous summit, in 1977, set 1990 as the deadline for realizing the goal of universal access to water and sanitation. (Under the Millennium Development Goals, that target is now 2015.) Nobody was ever held accountable for these missed goals nations hide behind national agendas and leaders shirk their duties.
So perhaps the leadership is not there but what about the coordination?
At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2005, Sharon Stone raised a million dollars on the spot for more bed nets in Tanzania. Insecticide-treated bed nets can protect people from being bitten by malarial mosquitoes while they sleep, which significantly lowers malaria infections and deaths. But if such nets are such an effective cure, why hadn’t Planners already got them to the poor? Unfortunately, neither celebrities nor aid administrators have many ideas for how to get bed nets to the poor. Such nets are often diverted to the black market, become out of stock in health clinics, or wind up being used as fishing nets or wedding veils.
The non profit organization Population Services International (PSI), gets rewarded for doing things that work. PSI stumbled across a way to get insecticide-treated bed nets to the poor in Malawi, with initial funding and logistical support from official aid agencies. PSI sells bed nets for fifty cents to mothers through antenatal clinics in the countryside, which means it gets the nets to those who both value them and need them. (Pregnant women and children under five are the principal risk group for malaria.) The nurse who distributes the nets gets nine cents per net to keep for herself, so the nets are always in stock. PSI also sells nets to richer urban Malawians through private-sector channels for five dollars a net. The profits from this are used to pay for the subsidized nets sold at the clinics, so the program pays for itself. PSI’s bed net program increased the nationwide average of children under five sleeping under nets from 8 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2004, with a similar increase for pregnant women. A follow-up survey found nearly universal use of the nets by those who paid for them. By contrast, a study of a program to hand out free nets in Zambia to people, whether they wanted them or not (the favoured approach of Planners), found that 70 percent of the recipients didn’t use the nets. The ‘Malawi model’ is now spreading to other African countries.
The local PSI office in Malawi (which is staffed mostly by Malawians who have been with the program for years) was looking for a way to make progress on malaria when it discovered the solution. They decided that bed nets would do the job, and then hit upon the antenatal clinic and the two-channel sales idea. This scheme is not a magical panacea to make aid work under all circumstances; it is just one creative response to a particular problem.
So the co-ordination can be there through innovation and entrepreneurialism!
What is the real problem? Well it’s down to leadership and in the business world leaders make or break an organisation yet in the philanthropic world of humanitarian aid leaders seem unable to operate effectively and deliver to laudable well constructed goals. They lack the tool sets to deliver, they lack the ability to make a difference and yet the Western world sits back happily resting on its laurels having donated over 11/2 Trillion £ to help those poor people who suffer so much in the harsh environs of the third world.
Let’s get cleverer at delivering aid by employing top leaders, empowering them to deliver and rewarding them when they do so innovatively and with an entrepreneurial flair. Let’s give them the tools to deliver aid far more effectively and close that leadership gap.