There is no shortage of data in the humanitarian aid and development world, and no shortage of people collecting data. Much of that data is aimed at The Donor, and understandably so. Money makes the world go ‘round. Calls for accountability and “value for money” have increased in recent years. Aid and development agencies are ranked on the percentage of donor funds that are spend on recipients, versus, say, spotless white Toyota Land Cruisers, a headquarters in a classy part of town, and business class air tickets for agency executives.
But as difficult as it is to measure the impact of humanitarian aid and development spending, there are other measures of success. One of which – an important one of which – is how the aid/development recipients feel about the results. Do they feel respected? Do they feel empowered? Do they feel they are making progress? Are the needs of aid/development recipients your organization’s first priority? Or second? Or third? Or farther down the list?
Most people in this business will say aid/development recipients’ needs come first, but you and I know that’s not always true.
A few years ago, in the aftermath of a major disaster, a guy I know started a conversation with me about creating a comic for his organization’s aid recipients. This fellow told me he wanted to create a comic that clearly expressed aid recipients’ rights in the context of sexual harassment and abuse they might encounter from his organization’s workers and volunteers. The implication was that this behavior had occurred, and was occurring, as a result of the imbalance of power between aid givers and aid recipients.
I was surprised at the request, because my many years as a corporate communications consultant have taught me that few organizations are willing to risk negative publicity, no matter how positive the overall outcome.
And that’s how this story ended as well. After working on the project for several weeks, my contact told me it was dead. He did not offer details, but the implication was that he had run the project farther up the flagpole (he was already quite senior) and been told to forget about it.
So in that case, although the development of a comic for aid recipients outlining their rights might have been the best thing for the aid recipients, it was judged (by the organization) not to have been in the interests of the organization.
I understood the decision, but I didn’t respect it.
But it’s not enough to simply say and believe that the needs of aid/development recipients are your organization’s first priority. As in the commercial world, it pays to ask your “ customer” what he or she thinks. Are you asking your “customers” what they want and need? What they think? Are you asking them for feedback on your efforts? And are you using their feedback to reshape your offerings.
Humanitarian aid and development, like many other “industries”, ultimately can be looked at as a service business, in which the customer is (or should be) king (or queen). Do your “customers” believe you see them that way? Why not ask them?
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant who has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. He is the editor of Aidpreneur.com and producer of the Terms of Reference podcast.