“The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.”
– The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo





Recent trends highlight the satisfaction of decluttering one’s life; to let go of sentimental attachments to things, and to live more fully with less ‘stuff’. Marie Kondo’s book was a New York Times Best-Seller and flew off the shelves this past summer. Why? A fervent rush to ‘tidy-up’? Not quite. People are recognizing the freedom and joy that comes with owning less. The main take-away from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is to only surround oneself with what brings joy.

But then, what do we do with all of our discarded stuff?

It is satisfying to give someone something they need. I recently went through my closest to give away items I did not need nor use. All it took was a quick call to my local women’s shelter to determine if they had need for my used clothes and jewelry. Subsequently, I drove my donated goods over to the shelter and knew exactly to whom I was giving my in-kind donations. Not only was I paring down but also giving to a good cause.

If I had not called my local women’s shelter and determined their need, I most likely would have dumped my donations in one of those metal boxes in the grocery store parking lot. I would not have known if my things were needed, nor have seen who it was that my donations were going to, or whether all of it was sold as scrap cloth. Too many mysteries and not enough empowerment – I’d rather give locally!

This holiday season, as we seek to help those in need and share the wealth we have been given—let’s consider needs in our own communities. Blankets, winter clothes and food for local shelters that house the homeless in these cold winter months. At the end of the day, we want to give, but its best and most satisfying to donate locally when giving away goods.

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“If everyone donates cash, the effect is cumulative and more tangible as such aggregate impact would improve the lives of not only the recipients but would also boost the local economy.”

I donate cash because I know that cash can be used for many needs. As the recipients know their needs better than I do, donating cash avoids my second-guessing of their critical needs. For example, instead of sending clothing to some needy families in Somalia, I donate cash so they can determine how to best use that cash. The critical decision of whether to have a change of clothing or necessary medication for a sick a child can be made on the ground by the recipients. This has made a world of difference to those receiving my cash donations.




On the larger scale, if everyone donates cash, the effect is cumulative and more tangible as such aggregate impact would improve the lives of not only the recipients but would also boost the local economy. Therefore, I look at the bigger picture when donating and, as a result, I donate cash. Simply put, cash is the best.

Barlin's photo

Barlin Ali, Program Coordinator for Center for International Disaster Information

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“What is altruism without effort?”

As a researcher at USAID CIDI, I have spent a great deal of my time conducting research on humanitarian supply chain logistics.  As a result, I now know that the effectiveness of the humanitarian supply chain is critical to the success of disaster relief efforts. We as donors can help logisticians working for professional humanitarian organizations more effectively plan disaster relief operations and better serve survivors by making more effective donations.

When we contribute unsolicited material donations, these can create “logistical bottlenecks” in the humanitarian supply chain that can slow down the provision of aid to those in need.  For this reason, I donate cash to professional humanitarian organizations responding to international disasters because I want to provide them with the opportunity to respond as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While it’s not always easy find NGOs that are trustworthy, actively involved in a relief effort, or participating in a way that we as donors want to contribute to, the internet is making it easier for us as donors to do our homework and identify professional humanitarian organizations that we want to support. Websites like GuideStar or Charity Navigator allow us to read reviews from other donors that share their experiences with donating to a particular NGO and offer donors the ability to measure an NGOs legitimacy by evaluating their financial statements, tax returns, and more.  This process does require some time, but what is altruism without effort?

As donors, we rarely consider what happens to our donations after we make them. When I think about what would need to happen for an item to leave my hands and enter the hands of an international disaster survivor, it becomes clear that an incredibly complicated and expensive journey must ensue. How much would it cost to send a pair of jeans from Los Angeles, California to Kabul, Afghanistan?  The answer is roughly $202.05 if you bought the jeans at WalMart and sent them to Afghanistan through FedEx.  Though this isn’t the primary method donors choose to send donations, the process for NGOs that receive unsolicited in-kind contributions is much the same and equally costly.

Monetary contributions, by contrast, provide NGOs with much greater flexibility in the way they can carry out disaster relief operations.  NGOs can exercise bulk purchasing power in countries where the cost of goods in general is considerably less than the cost of the same goods in the United States.  With monetary contributions, NGOs can more easily respond to changing needs on the ground, which is a common occurrence in the wake of severe natural disasters.

I donate cash to international disaster relief efforts for all these reason and simply because monetary donations allow efficient humanitarian supply chains that provide goods and services to disaster-affected people faster.



Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

Eric Chavez (second from left) Senior Research Analyst for The Center for International Disaster Information

“Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts were unnoticed.”

So if you haven’t heard, #GivingTuesday is all the rage around the holidays! Recognized globally on December 2nd, this day is dedicated to bringing communities, families, organizations, causes and students together for one common goal: to give.

There are so many ways to give back;  whether it’s done anonymously or intentionally, the warm feeling you’re rewarded with is indescribable. The holidays are a time where you are around people you care about the most and every memory is special and imbeds itself into your psyche. That’s what makes it the best time to start traditions; giving a reoccurring role for all to take on and share with their other communities and families.

Whether you choose to give your time, talent, or money, giving back can be done in any fashion. This day fits perfectly between Thanksgiving and Christmas time. So with one day encouraging you to give thanks, another infecting you with cheeriness and acts of generosity, and the one in between actively encouraging you to give, why not donate the best way possible?

Giving money assures that you’ve done your part, and the recipient, who knows the situation best, has comfort in knowing a need is about to be met. I think that is the most important position to view donating from: the position of the recipient. Maybe the need is food and not clothing? How much? What do people need or want to eat? These questions will circulate through the head of the giver who practices #smartcompassion, a giver who channels the desire to give back in the most effective way.

We’re no strangers to donating and giving back. Just because you didn’t receive a tax write off, recognition from a local organization, or a thank you card doesn’t mean your efforts went unnoticed. I think giving money to a friend or family member and not expecting it in return is considered donating. To me, the act of giving itself is what is appreciated by the donor, the recipient, and everyone else.

If you stop and think about it, money travels faster than goods. Cash can meet any need and fill any gap in most circumstances. I think when giving cash, it feels just as good learning that I was responsible for helping build the infrastructure of the organization that feeds children after school as it would feel being responsible for the food they are eating.

With hash tags like #unselfie and #GivingTuesday, this holiday is an excellent way to help push social impact while also giving millennials a chance to be a part of something emerging before our eyes on the platforms we know and love! Great job New York’s 92nd Street Y.



Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

Lauren Chatman, Online Communications Specialist for The Center for Disaster Information.

In the summer of 2005 I worked at a summer camp, earning enough money to purchase my school uniforms and excited by the prospect of riding Metro without an adult. When not working I was glued to the television, watching events unfold after Hurricane Katrina and related flooding in New Orleans . Thousands of moms, dads, children, and elderly people were in desperate need of relief. So many thoughts raced through my mind. What could they have done to prepare for this? What would I do in their situation? What can I do to help them? As days passed, I saw more and more initiatives to support the survivors of New Orleans, yet none of them inspired me to act.

Soon, I started high school; classes and extracurricular activities occupied by mind and time until one announcement thrust Hurricane Katrina back into my consciousness. All after-school activities in the gymnasium had been cancelled or moved to a nearby recreation center so the gym could shelter survivors of Hurricane Katrina who relocated to DC.. There were no ready answers to our many questions: how were they chosen, did they volunteer to come to DC, when would they arrive, how long would they stay, and will they have beds and supplies? This sparked a conversation with a girl in my homeroom who moved to DC following flood warnings in New Orleans. Her stories about how drastically her life changed left me sympathetic and scrambling to grasp that we are all at risk of life-changing events. How can we prepare for the unpredictable?

Preparing for emergencies within our families and communities is important and potentially life-saving. So is preparing oneself as a donor, being ready to give aid to people impacted by disasters. Are you prepared to help others in the most effective and efficient way possible? When disasters strike, many people’s first impulse is to collect food or clothing; it is not unusual for community and local groups to collect thousands of pounds of material – typically used clothing, canned food and bottled water – realizing only afterward that they do not know whether it’s actually needed, how they will transport it or who will distribute it. We all want to help affected families in difficult circumstances, and it is important to remember that material donations not specifically requested by relief organizations can actually slow the process of delivering essential supplies, as they take away precious space, personnel, time and other resources from life-saving activities. For those who want to send material things, it’s important to “connect before you collect” and identify a relief or charitable organization beforehand that needs and can distribute the collection. Charitable preparedness!

Being prepared is a skill and it can be a challenge. In light of National Preparedness Month, I am reminded of that summer before high school. There was little difference between what my classmate shared and what the news recounted after Hurricane Katrina; it was the same story from two different perspectives. Both of them inspired me to think hard about priorities in preparedness. As a donor, I may be tempted to donate clothes and other things I no longer have need for, but realized that the best way for me to thoughtfully express compassion starts with being absolutely positive that what I give is needed and requested.




That’s why Cash is Best! Cash donations to relief and charitable organizations working in disaster-affected communities can be used immediately to purchase supplies that are urgently needed, while supporting the local economy. Sending coats that don’t fit any more or out-of-season shoes to disaster sites can disrupt relief operations by taking up space needed to manage and distribute life-saving supplies. Therefore, it’s important for donors to understand that in-kind donations can be useful in the right circumstances but very harmful in others. For more information on donations and why cash is best, please visit: www.cidi.org.

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When people hear I’m writing a book on aid I immediately get asked about specific aid agencies they gave to. Unfortunately, I cannot tell them the quality of those aid agencies without spending time to research them. What I can tell them is how they can research the aid agency themselves.

Evaluating aid agencies before donating is critical

If you don’t have time to research an aid agency, then I would suggest not donating. There is no body that regulates aid and no outside entity ensuring that the aid agency is providing quality aid or working in the best interest of those you want to help. Without properly vetting an aid agency before giving, you risk your donation being used on programs that may do more harm than good. To ensure that your money is doing the good you intended you have to look past aid agency advertising, name recognition, and “happy stories”, and instead look for evidence that the aid agency is following best practices and constantly improving their organization.

Do the aid agency photos show the aid recipients as people with dignity and ability or do they show them as helpless victims. We’ve all seen photos of people in tears looking at their destroyed homes or emaciated African children covered in flies. If that was your child or your sister in that photo would you want it used for an international fund raising campaign, or would you feel it was exploitative? There are guidelines being developed for these photos. The gist of the guidelines is that aid recipients should be shown as people with dignity and ability, rather than hopeless and helpless.

In general I find that if an aid agency uses a photo that shows the aid recipient as having dignity and ability, then the aid agency is likely to have the organizational philosophy that aid recipients are able people, and the projects they develop are more likely to treat them as such. If an agency uses photos that show the person as helpless and hopeless, then they are likely to have a similar organizational philosophy and treat them as such. Which way would you rather be treated?

I have a lot of respect for aid agencies that regularly evaluate their work and share the findings, both positive and negative, with the world at large. If evaluations are rigorous and then acted upon by the agency, it can lead to real improvements in the organization, ActionAid is a good example of this. It is not easy for an aid agency to share their negative findings because it puts them at a disadvantage in competing for donor dollars with those aid agencies that do not share their negative findings. However, it is critical for the industry to grow and improve as well as for donors to be able to hold aid agencies accountable for that improvement.

Evaluations should be done on a regular basis. Either yearly as ActionAid does or at the end of each major operation. Annual reports or “happy stories” do not count for evaluations because their is no independent evaluation of their accuracy, therefore it is far too easy and tempting to focus on the positive or disregard the failed projects.

Some aid agencies may argue that project evaluations are too expensive and donors don’t want to pay for operational costs. While I agree that evaluations can be expensive, there are ways to have a less expensive evaluation done, for example working with a local university to have college students perform the evaluation. If it is not possible to find affordable ways to evaluate your project then share what you have tried with the donor so they understand what you have and have not been able to evaluate. Unfortunately, far too much emphasis has been placed on rating aid organizations by their operational costs, leading to donors unknowingly preventing aid agencies from paying for things such as evaluations. This will only change as donors begin to understand the negative impact of not covering operational costs.

If an aid agency does not have the findings from independent evaluations available on their website you should consider whether you want to donate to them. If they haven’t conducted evaluations they are not being professional, and if they have conducted them but have not shared them they are not being transparent. When donors begin to give preferential funding to aid agencies conducting and sharing needs assessments, they are rewarding aid agencies for evaluating their work and financially encouraging other agencies to improve their practices.

If you want to take this one step further, read the most recent evaluation findings and then check that against the current work or funding proposal of the aid agency. Do they appear to have made improvements to their work based upon their evaluations?

If an aid agency is asking for your money, you have the right to know that they will use it responsibly. Unfortunately, in the past this has meant primarily focusing on the amount spent on administrative or operational costs. As stated above this, unfortunately, can do more harm than good.

Instead, I’d recommend looking for audit results from the past three years. A recent posting focused on one of my articles where I made this same suggestion. One of the comments posted was that audits were only legally required for large charities, and therefore didn’t apply to most organizations working in the field. I would argue that it is good financial practice to have annual audits regardless of the size of the agency.

If the audit results are not available on the website you may need to request them. If an aid agency refuses your request consider carefully whether you want to donate to them. If an aid agency has not conducted some sort of audit they are not actively reviewing and improving their internal processes, if they have conducted an audit but are will not share the results, they are not being transparent. If donors begin to fund only those aid agencies performing annual audits and sharing the findings, they are rewarding aid agencies following sound financial practices and encouraging other agencies to improve their practices.

If you want to take this one step further, look for aid agencies that share their financial information with aid recipients. The aid agencies that have tried this admit that it was difficult at first because the local people may not agree with how an aid agency spent money, but in the long run it made their projects use funds more effectively and reduced fraud.

Often the aid agency will not share their needs assessment, which is unfortunate. However, regardless of whether they are willing to share the actual needs assessment, they still need to demonstrate that they have taken the following factors into consideration.

  • What similar services are provided by the government, why are these services inadequate to meet the needs, have they evaluated how to best support government services instead of duplicating or undermining them.
  • What other aid agencies are in the area and what projects are they implementing. This should focus on areas where there is potential problems with overlapping the work of other agencies or the potential to collaborate with other agencies.
  • Information on the situation of similar schools/health centers/orphanages in the wider area. If you know the general situation you will be better able to evaluate whether the aid that is proposed is appropriate.
  • Information on national standards. What does the government consider to be adequate?
  • If there is no needs assessment, if the needs assessment seems inadequate, or if the project they are proposing does not match the needs identified in the assessment consider carefully whether you want to donate to the agency. If an aid agency has not conducted an adequate needs assessment or is proposing a project that does not appear to meet the needs identified in the assessment, then they aid they are giving may not be needed. If donors begin to fund only those aid agencies that conduct adequate needs assessment and share the findings, they will reward aid agencies that following good aid practices and encouraging other agencies to improve their practices.

    If you want to take this one step further, look for evidence that the results of the needs assessment are shared with other aid agencies as well as the local government and the aid recipients. A common problem in aid is the lack of information sharing between agencies and with the people they are trying to help. This wastes donor dollars by forcing each aid agency to pay for separate needs assessments and frustrates aid recipients who take their time to answer aid agency questions but never hear back as to whether or not they will actually be receiving aid.

    Once you have looked at everything suggested above, if you still feel comfortable about the aid agency, then it’s time to see if there have been any complaints lodged or negative research on the organization. Although this information can be hard to find, two places to look include the BBB and AIP.

    The Better Business Bureau’s Charity Reviews gives BBB ratings for aid agencies registered in the US. Unfortunately, since aid agencies are registered by state, it can be a little confusing because a single agency may have multiple entries. Part of the aid agency rating includes a section stating whether or not any complaints about that charity have been filed to the BBB.

    The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) Articles page has a listing of charities mentioned in AIP articles. It’s worth seeing if the agency you are considering is mentioned at all.

    There are other charity rating systems that can easily be found on line. In general rating systems are based on the 990 tax form and information on the governing board. Several charity rating sites are working on ways to better evaluate aid agency work, unfortunately, none of them currently evaluate an aid agency on any of the factors recommended in this article.

    One commenter states that it is unrealistic to expect the average donor to take that much time to evaluate an aid agency. The commenter points out that the average person doesn’t even do that much research before voting or investing in stock. While this may be true, the unfortunate end result is that people vote for politicians that do not look out for their best interest, lose their life savings on the stock market, and perpetuate poor aid practices that may do more harm than good. Don’t let this be you. For the sake of the people you are trying to help, please take the time to be an informed donor or don’t donate at all.

    Would you want your child operated on by a doctor whose work was never evaluated, even when it appeared that the way the surgery was commonly done may contribute to avoidable illness or death?

    Would you risk hiring a contractor to build your house if that contractor never inspected the quality of their own work and never fixed any problems caused by shoddy or questionable construction?

    Would you want your spouse to invest time and money into a job training program where few, if any, graduates ever found work?

     

    It is likely that you would consider all of these programs to be unprofessional and maybe even detrimental, and you probably wouldn’t allow your family take part in any of them. Yet how often have you paid for these things to happen to someone else’s family. You may have even rewarded this unprofessional behavior by donating repeatedly because they worked cheaper and faster than other agencies took the time and money needed to evaluate their work.

    Always look for whether the charity evaluates their own work

    Unfortunately, many people never look at whether a charity evaluates their own work and may even consider evaluations to be a waste of money. Do you know if the aid agency you regularly donate to evaluates their work? What proof do you have? What changes and improvements did they make as a result of their evaluations? Have they shared country-wide/mid-term/end of project/or organization-wide evaluation with donors? Take a minute to search for an evaluation on their website. If you can’t find one there try ALNAP’s (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) Evaluation Reports Database.

    Pretty stories don’t count

    Even though Nicholas Kristof tells donors that aid agencies should use more pretty stories, they aren’t anything more than a marketing tool. There’s no way for donors to know if that person even existed, if their story is typical, or how many failures the charity had compared to that one success.

    Annual reports don’t count

    Unless the report has been verified by an outside party, there is no way to determine if the report is correct. The pressure for positive reports for donors can all too easily lead to questionable reporting practices from the field worker all the way up to senior management. While many charities are truthful in their reports, there is no way for the average donor to know which ones are and which ones aren’t.

    Only donate to agencies that evaluate their work and share the findings

    Charities are often afraid to share the results of evaluations because if an evaluation is done well it will detail past mistakes and suggest areas for improvement. If a charity shares these findings with the public there is the real possibility that they will appear less capable than a competing charity that chooses not to share its evaluations. To encourage charities to evaluate their work regularly and share the findings with the public, donors should fund only those charities that already share their evaluations. Donors also need to be prepared to pay for the cost of evaluations because in aid, what doesn’t get funded doesn’t get implemented.

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    Related Posts:

    Volunteer surgical teams struggle with common aid problems

    It’s time to stop telling pretty stories and start really evaluating the impact of aid

    “Philanthropy is important and serious work. It does require time and thought”

    More bad donor advice

    Related Resource:

    ALNAP’s (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) Evaluation Reports Database

    What’s the worst present you ever received? A crazy colored sweater from your aunt Martha, questionable cookies from a neighbor, a tacky decoration from a coworker. We’ve all received those types of gifts, but have we given them as well?

    The gift that doesn’t fit

    We’ve all received that sweater, shirt, or tie that just doesn’t work. It’s too big, too small, too tight, too wide, or too something else that means we’ll never wear it.

    From my own childhood it was the year that all of the cousins received little knit hats from our grandmother. They were so small that nobody could actually put them on, they would only fit on teddybears. Reflecting back they were probably baby hats that my grandma got on sale. But at that age few of us still had teddybears and none of us had babies, so the gifts were useless.

    How often do we give to charities just assuming that if people are so poor they need charity any gift is helpful. Just like my hat, there are many times when what is given is of little use. Look for charities that vary their aid according to the needs of the local population instead of one-size-fits-all projects.

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    “You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis.”

    It is Christmas eve and presents are lined beneath my family’s tree. Do you remember that present from a distant relative last year that you opened, cringed and never used? For me it was Barbie dolls when I was sixteen. I appreciate the thought that my relatives put into gifts but sometimes I receive ones I know I will never use. It led me to ask for cash.

    Now raise the stakes exponentially. I’m not talking about holiday gift giving but donations given during times of crisis.

    In Ebola-stricken areas, healthcare workers may give more than a cringe upon receiving in-kind donations of canned food or used clothing when they are not needed or when those needs have been met. You wouldn’t want to receive something you didn’t ask for or need at Christmas, let alone during a humanitarian crisis. Just as I would hate to give a gift I know would be discarded, I would never want to donate goods that would impede a relief effort. Instead, I donate cash.

    It’s difficult to anticipate the needs of a relative; it’s even more difficult anticipating the needs of those in a humanitarian crisis. Cash is best.

     

    photo

    This year’s Christmas tree! (an image from Margot Morris, Program Assistant for The Center for International Disaster Information)

     

    Smart Compassion has recently been an important issue at the “Ocean State” of Rhode Island.  At the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business Administration, students of the introductory Operations and Supply Chain Management course – BUS 355, taught by Professor Koray Özpolat, have been offered an optional semester-long project called “Humanitarian Logistics Project”

    Building on their logistics and supply chain training, teams of three to four students design public service announcements (PSA) to inform the American public about the most effective way to donate in response to the international disasters. These PSAs are then submitted to the national PSAid contest run by USAID’s Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI).

    The outcome has been fantastic. In 2012 and 2013, four URI teams were nationally recognized in this contest which created lots of buzz in the university and state media (below, see a PSA that was awarded the 2nd place in 2012). Not only the winning teams but many other students doing this project received satisfaction. A student evaluated the project as follows:

    URI info

    Educators willing to adopt a similar project may take a look at the Özpolat et al. (2014)* paper recently published at the Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education.

    Overall, contests, similar to PSAid, can successfully be integrated into syllabi of college courses as semester-long team-based projects. While only six PSAs are recognized annually, all contestants are actual winners because their entries are ever-green at the contest website serving the humanitarian relief community in educating their donors.

    * Özpolat K.,Chen Y., Hales, D., Yu D., and Yalcin M. G., 2014. “Using Contests to provide Business Students Project-Based Learning in Humanitarian Logistics: PSAid Example”, Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 12(4), 269-285.

     

    Here are the winners from the stories submitted for the worst in-kind donation contest (related post: What is an in-kind donation). You may have your own personal favorites, all submissions can be read here, please feel free to add more. Thanks to everyone that submitted their stories!

    The most common in-kind donation
    Shoes of all sorts; soccer shoes, running shoes, flip flops, etc… (see post for why this might not be a good donation)

    The most ridiculous in-kind donation
    Knickers for Africa and bras for Haiti – recent requests were made for donations of both of these items recently by two different organizations

    The grossest in-kind donation
    Used soap from hotels are collected and sent to Uganda

    Worst in-kind donation as a tax write-off
    Skeleton shaped suckers leftover from Halloween sent to survivors of Hurricane Mitch

    Worst in-kind donation as a political stunt
    Spam (spiced ham) hand delivered by a US Senator to Muslims after the tsunami (this donation was also a contestant for the next category)

    Most offensive in-kind donation
    The offer of what was perceived as dog food to Kenya to help with their food crisis –

    In-kind donation that wasted the most recipient time
    This was a toss-up between a broken computer that the recipient organization spent years trying to fix or the 15 pallets of random medicine sent after Hurricane Mitch. Critical time was wasted sorting through the medicine and throwing 3/4 of it away.

    Most dangerous in-kind donation
    Baby formula donated after Hurricane Mitch – if mixed with contaminated water could kill a baby from diarrhea within 24 hours.

    Related posts:

    What is an in-kind donation?
    6 questions you should ask before donating goods overseas
    Sending sports equipment to needy children seems like a good idea, but is it…
    The most useful in-kind donations
    Donating shoes and other aid fads
    Why do we so often give aid in ways that does not support the local economy?

    “Hit the ground running”

    As a Crisis Corps Volunteer (part of the US Peace Corps) I was sent back to Thailand to help with the tsunami recovery efforts. Before my departure Peace Corps sent out a press release which stated:

    “The three resource development volunteers will be working with local governments to determine where the greatest need lies and identifying resources to help the local communities. They will also put together a local staff to insure progress will continue after the Crisis Corps team departs.”

    So essentially we were to go into a government office, work with them to determine needs, develop a program, find funding and resources, implement the program, and ensure that it was sustainable – all of this in the span of just six months – there would be no extensions.

    How long would it take to develop a program that solves a problem in your own community?

    Would a six month program be successful in your own city? Imagine if a stranger were sent to your community from an aid agency boasting that they were going to solve a community problem. How would your community react?

    Donations can be misused and ill-spent despite the best intentions of donors
    Deciding whether or not to donate and which agency or project to donate to can be a daunting and frustrating task. Although donors choose aid agencies that they think will have the greatest impact, aid donations often are misused and ill-spent. This occurs both despite of and because of the best intentions of donors.

    How does this happen?
    Concerned about aid reaching those who need it the most, many donors give to aid agencies that work quickly and cheaply. Dependent upon donors for funding and survival, aid agencies feel pressured to develop programs that are fast and cheap. Unfortunately, projects with low administration costs and fast implementation rates often have unintended consequences.

    Last week John W. Yettaw, an American, swam across a lake and into the compound of the Burmese Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result of this thoughtless and illegal act the Burmese government have put Suu Kyi and two of her servants on trial for breaking the conditions of her house arrest, which bans visitors that have not received official permission.

    “Unaware of the problems his actions could trigger”

    According to the Associated Press

    “Yettaw’s family have described him as an as well-intentioned admirer of Suu Kyi, unaware of the problems his actions could trigger. Her supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble.”

    Suu Kyi and her two servants face the possibility of five years imprisonment. This comes just weeks before May 27th when, after six years of house arrest, Suu Kyi was scheduled to be freed.

    A report just released by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies titled Tsunami – Global Lesson Learned, highlighted six key lessons learned.

    “…facing the challenges of leadership and coordination, achieving equity in recovery, embracing people’s participation, countering corruption and ensuring accountability, innovating in disaster risk management and the fundamental question of whether we will do better next time.”

    The fundamental question has to be whether we will do better next time. A quick review of evaluations and lessons learned from both Darfur and Rwanda show that these “lessons” are not new. An evaluation by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) in 2006, describes many of the same problems found in ALNAP’s Lessons Learned the Darfur Experience (2004) and the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (JEEAR, 1994). A quick scan of the findings in each of these reports shows that although major efforts were launched to improve the quality and professionalism of international aid many of the same problems still exist.