24 August 2010

2,000 Hits and 83 Comments Later…

I am learning a lot from the MetaFilter beating I took over the past two days.  There are some interesting and constructive comments that have and will lead to some learning on my part.  So, I am going to try to show some of the comments here that were posted on MetaFilter and show what I have learned. (In going through them the post deviated a bit as I wrote a few reactions, pointed out some comments and shared where I made mistakes).

I would encourage anyone else to jump in with ideas in the comment section here.

  1. Add updates to all posts, you never know when a mediocre post can come back to haunt you.  The post that caused the stir was written three weeks ago.  It lead to a response by Jina Moore, a response by myself, many comments and further discussions.  In hindsight, I should have added the update to the post itself so people who come across it would see the conversation that ensued.
  2. I need to make clear that I am not doing this for or in support of any specific organization.  If there is ever a conflict of interest that would involve my current employer I will be sure to state it.  However, I avoid such conflicts intentionally so that what I post is not to say that a specific organization or group of organizations are the best.
  3. The focus has to be more on what can be done better rather than what is being done wrong.  Many of the comments seemed to focus on my criticisms as if they were meant to knock down the Hughes family.  My intent was to point out that there are complexities to the implementation of aid and development.  A simple solution is not always so simple.  In hindsight, it would be best to be more subtle without losing some bite.
  4. The perceived assault on good intentions can be met with strong emotional reactions from people who feel connected to the same ethos.  In other words, there were a lot of, “not everyone can start their own charity. Not everyone can take a few years off before law school to take on a relief aid contract because they've got parents to come home to when they're done,” and “they are just trying to help.”  Which leads me to my next point…
  5. Trying is not good enough.  I may still get some reaction to this, but it is not a reasonable way to evaluate the success or failure of a program.  To me, it is unacceptable to excuse a failed program that causes more harm than good.  When it comes to people, there is no such thing as a trade off.  J. discussed this a bit on the post that got him in some trouble as well.  We cannot have a different set of standards just because people are living in extreme poverty.  If giving out bikes cause damage to a community it is a bad program.  No question about it.  If it is beneficial, than it is a great program.  There has to be some room for failure to allow for innovation, I get it and believe it.  However, it is not excuse bad ideas, poorly run programs and shoddy initiatives.  I cannot say I know the solutions, but there is no room to accept anything less that the absolute best when livelihoods are at stake.
  6. I do not speak for and never will speak for recipients of aid projects.  I am fortunate enough to have never been in that position and will not pretend to know what it is like.  The realization of this leads me to understand that they should be, for the most part, directing what are their own wants and needs.  My concerns arise when this is not understood and actions are taken without  learning enough about a given community.
  7. I need to state that I support individuals.  Many outsiders come up with great ideas.  The point of considering other programs that are already in existence is to also consider the fact that there might be overlap.  So, if a person wants to start an orphanage, s/he should look to see if anything similar already operates in the area.  There might be another small NGO that has opened an orphanage that is looking to grow from one to two.  The people can get together, share resources and work together to realize the opening of the new orphanage.  It does not have to be reaching out to the big guns, but why start from zero if someone else has already laid the ground work.  To put it another way, why would you put down a new road next to one that was just constructed? All the prior work has been done, maybe you can join the existing one to maintain and grow it beyond what you could have done alone.
  8. It was perceived that the point was to beat up on the Hugues family, it was not my intention and something I tried to avoid.  However, it was what many commenters seemed to take away.  Though I tried to point out the positives of their fundraising, I need to be more explicit in saying that the point is not to demean them.
  9. Hypothetical exercises can be taken the wrong way.  I tried to come up with some hypothetical outcomes of the donated bikes.  Big mistake. I probably should have balanced it with the complete opposite side in a more clear fashion.  Or, I might have to stay clear of such examples as they seemed to have lead readers to believe that I thought those were the only outcomes and that the donation of some bikes would lead the the destruction of the village.
  10. Not a lot of comments were in support, but I think this nails what I believe on the head, “Experienced aid workers are saying over and over that good intentions can cause a variety of discrete, direct, indirect, and diffuse harms in communities receiving the aid.  To ignore this is to ignore the entire debate and provide a strawman that simply protects our collective guilt at benefiting from a systemically inequitable economic system.”
  11. These two just makes me laugh because it could not be more of the opposite of J and I, “Meanwhile, effete dorks sitting at typewriters decry the effort, and then go downtown to buy lattes and fume because they feel like they are doing something. They feel like their words are ever so important, much more important than outright deeds. They may even donate a little once and a while to a worthy cause, especially if it will attract the attention of babes who like guys who seem to care...may vintage typewriters become the mouths of devouring robots, and go for these metro-sexual wags, tout suite.” And “"They" walked downtown in their vegan hemp shoes, and drank tap water from coconut halves, decrying the gift, suggesting rather they donated wooden goat-chariots with linen tackle, to the village. Then they hit on some hairy vegetarian ladies, trying to guilt them into freegan love, via discussion of how the cows suffer to make the yogurt, they eat to keep strong bones. You can't please everyone...”
  12. A few touch on the subject of personal decision.  Again, another thing I will have to be explicit about.  I do not want people telling me how to spend my money and I will not tell people how to spend theirs.  Anything that is suggested is to make careful evaluations when using money for charity, philanthropy, aid and development.  It is, again, why I did not push a specific charity, organization or program.
  13. Maybe I will add this into my header, but I am not an expert!  I am young and learning.  The best part is I get to be wrong and people who know a lot can help me understand what I have missed or said wrong.  I make no claims to know everything (though nobody should do that anyways).  Many of the posts are myself working through my understanding of aid and development.  I lean heavily on the more experienced because time will be the only thing which will lead to more learning and a better understanding.  I invite comments to avoid it getting to this point.
  14. People ask if there was proof that harm was done.  I can agree with most that the answer is no.  That was never the point.  The point was to say that we don’t know.  However, should something be praised when there is absolutely no understanding of the impact of the program?  I would argue no.  Maybe it is unfair to be critical, but the point of my post was to focus on the Washington Post not the Hughes family.
  15. Another comment, “isn't one of murphy's laws that no good deed shall go unpunished?” Being that I share the name, I get to break it… (extremely sarcastic)
  16. And I thought that I was being accused of being strident, “Look, giving out 1Million t-shirts to Africa or a few hundred bikes does not absolves [sic] anybody from their FirstWorld exploiter sins. on the contrary, these gosh-golly charities are exactly a symptom of the world-wide wealth exploitation system that created the world-wide systems of poverties in the first place.”
  17. This comment troubles me, but might be either for a future post or for someone else to pick up. “Help is help, anything functional is better than listless nothing”
  18. “Just because a couple of bloggers fussed about it, doesn't mean that it would raise the ire of the majority of development workers.” This is very true of the aid/dev blog community.  Sometimes it can be a good thing, other times not so good.
More might come later, but that is a lot for now.