Oh, I’m sorry… was that too snarky for you?
I’m not trying to offend anyone. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “hooo yeah.. I am sure gonna offend me some nice people today.” But doing so is most definitely an occupational hazard in the humanitarian aid world. Sometimes the hard things have to be said. Sometimes – often, actually – those to whom the hard things need to be said simply do not want to hear them. They just do not want to know. No amount of being nice, of sugar-coating, no amount of actual logic works. Very often just saying the unpopular thing, no matter how nice you are about it, makes you “snarky.”
#1millionshirts is a bad idea. It just is. Don’t like my opinion? Okay, ask another aid professional or aid expert. That’s as dispassionately as I know how to put it.
A bad idea is a bad idea.
Some aid ideas are so bad – so obviously bad – that trying to work through a creative salvage is an utter waste of time. Some aid ideas are just so bad that there is really no point in debating them, and there is nothing constructive to add. Some aid ideas are so painfully bad that they can only have come from someone who fundamentally misunderstands (or doesn’t care) what the issues actually are: issues like whether or not the idea causes more harm than it does good, like whether or not the idea is among the least cost-effective ways possible of helping the poor, or like whether or not the idea in any way even responds to an actual need of someone in the target community. And in my experience (more on that below), there is exactly zero to be gained from anything other than calling those bad ideas exactly what they are, straight up, right from the beginning.
#1millionshirts is one of those bad aid ideas.
It’s not about the donor.
Somebody please tell me exactly when aid became about the donor? Why do we insist on coddling people with bad aid ideas just because they “mean well” or their “heart’s in the right place”? Why is it so hard for everyone to remember that aid is not about the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] donor?
I don’t care what motivates #1millionshirts or some guy named Jason or anyone else. Their motivations are not the issue.
I’m sounding like @bill_easterly. Can we please make aid about the poor?
There’s an app for that
If your toilet is broken, you call a plumber.
If you have an infestation problem, you call an exterminator.
If you want to learn to play a musical instrument, you hire a music teacher.
If you need to have your car repaired, you go to a mechanic.
If you want to bundle your TV, internet and phone, you call the cable company.
If your Windows 7 keeps crashing (happens a lot), you get “The Geek Squad.”
If you want a new digital camera, go to Best Buy or Circuit City.
But… apparently… if you want to help solve third-world poverty, you rely on the judgement of some guy who wears T-shirts for a living?
Running interference on Bad Aid since 1991.
I’ve been doing this aid thing for a while, now. In that time have come across more than just one or two spectacularly bad aid ideas. In most cases I was able to successfully run interference such that they died before ever being implemented. A few that stand out:
A floating vocational training school… for southern Nigeria… envisioned 100% by white, American CEOs who’d never been to Africa (let alone Nigeria)… to be funded by Texaco.
Mentioned once before on this blog: the “Guns for Work” project in Kosovo.
A project to “rescue” underage sex workers… in the Philippines… by basically collecting them into a center that would have been a lot like an orphanage… The word “penetration” was in the logframe (the project was going to “penetrate” some of the tough, inner-Manila neighborhoods… but still…).
A group of something like 12 American dentists… to orphanages (what is it with the orphanages?)… in Vietnam (a country that now exports medical professionals). I nearly got fired for putting this one under, actually. I escaped with a strong letter of reprimand in my personnel file.
I’m not drinkin’ the #hatorade, man. Just sayin’… as bad aid ideas go, #1millionshirts is right up there with these.