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02 October 2010

Aid That Works

I've read several articles and have seen at least one TED talk about aid situations, usually Africa related, where the writers and speakers, themselves natives to Africa, claim that the vast majority of aid is either only effective temporarily or totally unsuccessful. Apparently building a hospital is only successful if the generator that powers it works too – which it often doesn't after aid has ceased and no one can pay for replacement parts or has the knowledge to fix it. The lack of doctors doesn't help. Wells dug that provide clean water often give out after only a few years and no one is there to help fix it. It essentially becomes useless.

I've never heard of anyone/town of doing this but I think a new model should be tried.

List of assumptions:

1 - There are a lot of skilled people in the US who can't find a job.

2 - Given a sufficiently large group of people there will be members in that group who have expertise in broad topics (i.e. on an airplane there is almost always a doctor on board).

3 - There are towns throughout the world who could benefit from sustained and informed aid.

4 - A lot of aid (especially in Africa) does not seem to work as it's a one time thing. There is very little follow-up.

5 - Areas receiving aid generally have a better grasp of what goods and services they need most. A lot of receivers of aid complain that aid givers do not really understand the local problems and are thus inefficient or unsuccessful. I have a feeling a lot of this is pride too.

6 - Volunteers get more out of charity work than those who just give money (multiple studies have shown this).

7 - There are people who would be willing to give some form of aid but do not because a general sense of apathy. I'd probably fall into this category.

The idea:

A town in the US or anywhere (we'll call this group the givers) partners up with a town in an area of need – say, somewhere in Africa (we'll call this group the receivers). The givers agree to help out the receivers basically indefinitely – it'd be like having a sister city except it would actually mean something. The receivers would form a body that decides what it needs most and the givers would form their own body that would decide how best to accomplish what the receivers are proposing they need.

The group forming the givers would work something like this – ideally the entire town becomes involved and everyone participates in some way. It would seem that a somewhat small town would be a more realistic fit fort his type of scheme. Maybe initially people donate money individually or if the town is really into it they could raise a ½ percent sales tax or something of the sort. Remember that the dollar goes a long way in Africa. The group would use this money to buy the needed goods and materials for infrastructure. The givers would then send volunteers on a rotating basis. For example maybe in the first few months the givers send over a civil engineer and a contractor who help upgrade the towns infrastructure. As they return an architect and doctor get sent over and work on those problems. This continues allowing most or all of the givers to send members of their group.

The benefit for the receivers is that they have a very real hand in helping themselves by choosing what their town needs most and by housing and helping the givers who come to work. The givers are essentially acting as the mentor in an apprentice style relationship. Eventually the receivers will become self sufficient, and in the mean time each culture will benefit by learning about other ways of life and sustained trade – not that economic benefit is the motive but rather in this case an unintended result. It also allows the givers an opportunity to gain experience and experiment a little. I know if I were allowed to do such a venture I would go nuts designing efficient long lasting standardized homes. The point is that people are involved both in giving their money and time, but each reinforces the other as everyone in the group of givers has a chance to be part of the process and can see tangible results.

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