If you only read one thing this week…

Building Trust in Emergency Response Teams by Rob Neal
March 26, 2009, 8:37 am
Filed under: organizational learning

“What is trust?  Why it is important in team performance?  What increases or decreases the level of trust in a team?  How can leaders build high levels of trust and effectively manage trust in a team? “

Two publications that are part of a multi-agency program to build capacity in emergency response, the Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB).  ECB’s Building Trust Project attempt to answer these questions,  and to offer methods for measuring, developing and managing trust in emergency response teams.

Scoping study

The first publication is a Scoping Study by the Building Trust in Diverse Teams Working Group.  This group is led by Oxfam, with representatives from Mercy Corps, CARE, Save the Children, and World Vision.

The goal of the study was to “collate and summarize what is presently known about the culture of trust with particular reference to diverse teams operating in emergency situations; to identify factors that can influence levels of trust; and to develop methods of measuring trust.”

A variety of methods are used to look at trust in teams: scholarly works, methods for measuring trust, interviews, and more.  The sum of their efforts are recommendations and guidelines for tools and interventions.


The second publication is a book (or PDF) called Building Trust in Diverse Teams: The Toolkit for Emergency Response. This publication builds on the work completed in the scoping study and other research complied as part of the Building Trust Project.

The authors lay out their goal in the preface, to “create an accessible and versatile set of tools that will be used across the sector to improve team effectiveness during an emergency and to improve our ability to save lives–the primary driving force behind this work.” In the book you will find tools for trust measuring and building, including the “ten criteria for trust.

The ultimate goal of both works is to make teams more cohesive and effective during an emergency.


Jacqueline Novogratz on the Current State of Philanthropy by Rob Neal
March 26, 2009, 8:33 am
Filed under: Philanthropy

The McKinsey Quarterly has a two brief interviews with Jacqueline Novogratz of the Acumen Fund.

Before starting the Acumen Fund in 2001. Ms. Novogratz worked at the Rockefeller Foundation .  She also founded Duterimbere a micro-finance institution in Rwanda. She has just published a book about her experience in Rwanda titled, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World. Ms. Novogratz has also given three TED lectures and serves on several boards.

The Acumen Fund is a nonprofit venture fund.  According to their website, they “…seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services – like health, water, housing and energy – through innovative, market-oriented approaches.

The first interview with Ms. Novogratz is about market-based philanthropy.  Here is an excerpt from the conversation:

“The Quarterly: The charitable community doesn’t understand well how to sell things to the poor does it?

Jacqueline Novogratz: No. In fact, I’ve been in many meeting over the last decades where marketing is seen as a dirty word, which is really unfortunate because we market ourselves, we market things that we do every day. And I was just in one of the toughest slums on the planet and really struck by how capitalist the slums are, how capitalist the farmers are, in the way that they interact with each other, even if it’s within a more social-oriented system.

And so I think in a way it’s demeaning not to think about marketing to the poor. I think it’s not caring enough about what they want, because it’s all about what you think is right for them. “

The second interview is about her book, The Blue Sweater.  In addition to a video interview, there is an excerpt from the book.

How INGOs are funded – what does this mean in the current economic situation? by Rob Neal
March 19, 2009, 12:52 pm
Filed under: Development theory

According to a new study by Development Initiatives, private contributions to NGOs account for fifty-one percent of the funding for a group of 114 large NGOs.  These NGOs, based in twenty-three countries, include some of the best known organizations like Oxfam, CARE, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, and Mercy Corps.

Some of the organizations, depend heavily on private contributions, while others are more oriented towards institutional grants.  For example, MSF gets 86 percent of its funding from private giving.  Private donations offer a couple of advantages:

  • NGOs can respond quickly to emergencies.  It can often take governments weeks to disburse funding.
  • The contributions are often unrestricted, offering NGOs flexibility on where and how to spend the funds.

You can read more about why some NGOs are more willing to seek government aid in an interesting  briefing paper by the Humanitarian Policy Group available here.

This graph from the Development Initiatives’ study breaks down the sources of humanitarian assistance funding.

Sources for Humanitarian Funding

According to this study,  “the available evidence suggests that all NGOs combined contributed an extra 24% to humanitarian assistance provided from official sources.” This is the £1.760 million seen at the top of the column.

What are the implications for NGOs when private donations are probably dropping in the coming year?  Will they turn to governments for funding, spend from their reserves, or just cut personnel and programs?  The potential decrease in private donations, and the NGOs response, could have significant impact on the level of humanitarian assistance over the next couple of years. If you have read articles about potential impacts or have comments or thoughts, please post them here.

Connecting NGOs to the World by Rob Neal
March 12, 2009, 8:42 am
Filed under: Articles, Technology

NetHope is a consortium of twenty-five NGOs that “facilitates conversations and joint projects amongst its members that focus on ways to best apply technology for connectivity in developing parts of the world.” Members include Mercy Corps, Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE and others.  Combined, the NetHope members work in “180 countries, employ more than 300,000 people, and spend more than $30 billion each year.”

In an interview in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, NetHope’s CEO William Brindley talks about how member organizations can work together to maximize their impact even with with small IT budgets:

“… A lot of what NetHope does is putting people together. Who do you know? How do you find the expert to help with the problem? There’s also the hard side of cooperation where members pool their resources and aggregate their needs. If you’re at Save the Children and you have an IT help desk, maybe you can join forces with your colleagues at Oxfam, Catholic Relief Services, and Mercy Corps who also need a help desk. And by joining forces you can all get a help desk operating 24/7, 365 days a year, in five languages, for less money than you could separately. That’s pretty powerful.”

Mr. Brindley  touches on some other topics in the interview like the evolution of the Network Relief Kit used by emergency responders,  and the process NetHope uses to develop solutions for staff in the field.

Development Aid Doesn’t Work in Africa by Rob Neal
March 12, 2009, 8:41 am
Filed under: Articles, Development theory

This is the argument given by Dambisa Moyo. Ms. Moyo is a Zambian with a masters from Harvard, a doctorate from Oxford, and eight years experience as an economist for Goldman Sachs.

Why does aid to Africa fail?  Ms. Moyo, says that aid creates far more problems than it solves.  Here is what she told IRIN in an interview:

“You essentially have a problem whereby African governments are getting aid because they, the donors, are worried about the levels of poverty in those countries. But that aid then tends to spew out a lot of corruption, it creates a lot of bureaucracy, it kills off entrepreneurship, and it disenfranchises voters in those countries.”

Ms. Moyo sees the argument as an African.  It is interesting to compare her views with those of her former professor, Jeffrey Sachs.  Dr. Sachs is now the Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.  In a piece for the Financial Times, he wrote about his view of the aid problem:

“Aid flows are far below promised levels and are unpredictable; market flows are heavily concentrated in a few countries, and are subject to panicky reversals; and global public goods are disastrously under-financed, good intentions without backing.

There is no point of accountability.  When aid is promised but not delivered, nobody really cares except the poor countries themselves.  And more often than not, the poor get blamed for some malfeasance or another as the reason why aid hasn’t flowed.”

Development ministers piously proclaim that they will honour their commitments, such as to double aid to Africa by 2010, even as their finance ministers are cutting their aid budgets.”

Ms. Moyo says she would like to debate Dr. Sachs at some point.  That may just happen, she has achieved quite a bit of celebrity already.  She has even been given a new moniker: The Anti-Bono.

Update 3/18:  You can hear an NPR interview with Ms. Moyo here.

Learning from Experience by Rob Neal
March 4, 2009, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Articles, Development theory

CDA Collaborative Learning Projects is a Cambridge, MA based nonprofit  focused on learning from the efforts of international NGOs like Mercy Corps by speaking to aid recipients, and agency staff. Their goal is to research the experience of organizations and agencies working in the field, to “derive lessons for improving effectiveness.”  You can read more about the group and their approach here.

One of CDA’s active efforts is the Listening Project. The goal is to learn “based on first-hand experience, about what works, or not, and why and for whom in the current international assistance system.” To date, this project has gathered information from fourteen countries.

In addition to the country listening papers, CDA has produced four Issue Papers (the links below provide direct access to a PDF version of the papers):

These papers provide a nice summary of CDA’s work in the Listening Project and give you a taste of the individual country reports.  Just like the country reports, the papers are full of interesting observations like the following from International Assistance as a Delivery System:

A number of people in the international assistance system seem to equate efficiency with speed. This is especially true for agencies involved in humanitarian emergencies, but this attitude also affects donors and agencies involved in longer-term development work. Donors set short deadlines for submission of proposals and most NGOs claim to be able to accomplish ambitious project goals in short (often one- or two-year) funding cycles. However, there is strong evidence that speed does not represent efficiency in the delivery of goods and services when efficiency is (correctly) understood to mean the achievement of intended outcomes with minimum or reasonable inputs.

All of these publications are a fascinating read for those inside and outside the NGO world.

Are Market-Based Approaches a Realistic Solution to Poverty? by Rob Neal
March 4, 2009, 8:07 pm
Filed under: Articles, Development theory, If you only have 15 mins

Here is how Aneel  Karnani views the poor:

[They] lack the education, information, and other economic, cultural, and social capital that would allow them to take advantage of—and shield themselves against—the vagaries of the free market.

And how we view the poor is one of the main problems Mr.Karnani points to in his article Romanticizing the Poor.  All those able to help the poor:  NGOs, corporations, and government, romanticize “poor people as creative entrepreneurs.”  They are viewed as “as value-conscious consumers and resilient entrepreneurs.”  Because they are already savvy, all they need is a chance to use their  skills in the marketplace.  Regulatory and social mechanisms are not needed; the market will lift them from poverty.

Reality may be somewhat different.  What if Mr. Karnani is right when he says:

I have found little evidence suggesting that poor people are particularly discerning consumers or creative entrepreneurs. Instead, and on many counts, they are worse consumers and entrepreneurs than their wealthier counterparts…

For Mr. Karnani market-based approaches. private enterprise, and  NGOs all have a role in reducing poverty.  The missing player is government.  As he says, “[b]y emphatically focusing on the private sector, market-based poverty alleviation programs distract people from correcting the frequent failures of governments to fulfill their traditional and accepted functions.