I attended the first of this year’s peace talks organized by Peace Geeks. I recently started volunteering for the human rights NGO and thought I would come meet the team. It was also an opportunity to hear from speakers experienced in different aspects of aid and aid accountability, a topic that I know very little about.
Between the numerous stories of successful aid missions, those that created more damage than anything, and some where the finances were a bit wonky, two ideas stood out. First, I was intrigued to hear about Engineers Without Borders’ culture of admitting failure through the publication of a yearly failure report by the first speaker Emma Houiellebecq. Learning from ones mistakes in order not to repeat them is a lesson our parents teach us from an early age that we perhaps forget to carry with us in adulthood.
The second thing I learned was from Nora Lester Murad who gave her perspective on the other side of the aid donor-receiver equation as an NGO worker in Palestine. She brought up the too often neglected fact that aid is helpful only if it is helpful in the eye of the receiver. With that in mind she argued that accountability is an opportunity for both donors and receivers to understand the intended and resulting impact of aid. Though this fact seems logical she stressed that it does not reflect the reality of international aid efforts. I particularly liked her talk and will be checking out Nora’s blog. I am looking forward to reading the story she uncovered about the supply of temporary housing using metal caravans to homeless Palestinians that went sour come the cold winter nights and then the heat of summer.
To illustrate what I took home from the talks, I drew the “aid burger”. Directing money and aid at a crisis is not useful, and often can be harmful, if there is no infrastructure to facilitate its use. Diligence in accountability can fix that.