Ménage à trois

8 Nov

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).

 

19 Responses to “Ménage à trois”

  1. Elizabeth 8 November, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    I think the problem is that without the profit-feedback mechanism, you need an intermediary to do two things that the market takes care of naturally. Think of Moore’s triangle.

    The intermediary is needed to:
    -deliver quality services (since there is no profit incentive to do so; moreover these are services or goods which are not available on the local economy most of the time)
    -determine the value of the good (no or little price is paid, no profit is made, so we need to ask them)

    It’s easy to suggest a magic indicator that will replace profit as an indicator of success, or a motivator that will replace profit. But ultimately, this is what it means to work in the public sphere. And that is why aid deliverers exist.

    At Insaan we try to connect people as directly as possible with the end-users and integrate performance management into organizations’ and companies’ own management structures. Many NGOs work very hard to empower populations so they can deliver as much as possible directly to social units that use them.

    But we can’t make the no-profit-no-market problem go away. This is a system in which economic power is often less important than brute, social, or biological power. It’s complicated. I am very interested to see what suggestions people have for breaking this triangle up.

  2. maria 8 November, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    hum…….social entrepreneurship? ashoka kind of initiatives?

    (BTW J., you have not replied to my questions about sustainability etc)🙂

  3. Reg Naylor 9 November, 2011 at 3:49 am #

    Could I suggest using potential or intended beneficiaries as apposed to beneficiaries. It assume they will benefit.

  4. Cynan 9 November, 2011 at 8:01 am #

    OECD/DAC figures say their aid in 2010 was ~US$130bn. Lop off $10bn for admin costs and you can give $120bn in direct cash transfers to poor people (nb not poor governments). Focus it on just the poorest 1bn people and they’ll all get a 30%+ bump in their income. Simples! Not sure how many loos would get built though. Or how many kids vaccinated, nurses trained or teachers’ salaries paid. A shift in thinking in that direction is definitely part of the solution. Let’s talk global social protection. But adding a modality means things get more complicated before they get less.

  5. J. 9 November, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Elizabeth – yep, it’s complicated. I’m not necessarily suggesting, by the way, that the menage a trois is bad or needs to go away (although I’m definitely open to that discussion). More whinging on about how much of the rhetoric about and energy directed at “changing aid” won’t.

    Maria – I’d see one way out of the menage a trois as consolidating those who implement with those who pay. Socent tries to take an essentially for-profit thing and make it “good.” The weakness – and I have yet to see something that calls itself “socent” that does not also succumb to this – is precisely that it’s a for-profit thing, and so always always always always ultimately subservient to profit (the “ent”), rather than it’s presumed aid side (the “soc”). Obviously I have a strong personal bias, but in my opinion it would energy better spent finding ways to give more traditional aid providers (yes, I know they’re not perfect) access to their own money…

    Reg – well, you can suggest whatever you like. It doesn’t really change the point of this post.

    Cynan – Indeed, precisely the tension that I grapple with late at night. Do you know (and I’m asking sincerely) of any documented instance where “the poor” were just give the 30% bump in salary and really allowed to sort out their own vaccinations, toilets, etc.?

    • Cynan Houghton (@cynan_sez) 11 November, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

      J: No. And obviously it doesn’t happen in high-HDI, rich industrialized economies either. So why preach what we don’t practice? Albeit with some inequalities, poor people in the OECD still get roads built for them, clean water piped to their homes, building codes enforced, and (in more enlightened countries than the US) free or near-free access to universal health services, just like everyone else. Which is why “[poor] people know best, just hand out cash” is an excellent idea until people start to think it is the only idea, and then it becomes la-la libertarian fantasy island.

      Poor countries need a self-sustaining tax base to provide those core services. So, until then, let’s hand out the $100bn with one hand and tax them for $50bn of it with the other hand and give it as DBS to their governments and to those that can provide the services. Oh wait… we’re back in the ménage à trois. At the macro scale, there *is* no way to get all the way out of this tangled threesome. Might as well enjoy it?

    • Cynan Houghton (@cynan_sez) 11 November, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

      At the project scale though, there is http://givedirectly.org/, but I doubt the folks running that would at all pretend what they do is a 100% solution.

  6. Caitlin Whittemore 10 November, 2011 at 3:22 am #

    Just curious, what do you think of this organization?

    http://www.krochetkids.org/

    Do you find their model innovative, or just another version of the menage a trois?

  7. Sam Gardner 10 November, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    In a lot of discussions, the “beneficiaries”are not even the poor, but someone claiming to speak fro them: local NGOs or local governments.

    @ Cynan: I heard about the Helicopter test to test aid effectiveness already some 20 years ago: is this project more efficient than just throwing the money out of an helicopter above a village of intended beneficiaries? Now we have better helicopters (read mobile phones, cash cards) it is amazing indeed how much more efficient the helicopter often is.

    • Cynan Houghton (@cynan_sez) 12 November, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      @Sam: There is the lovely old saw about aid being about transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. Cash/social prot is v attractive as a way around that. On occasion I have had proposals hit my desk with absurd figures like $1,000 per HH for a <12mo programme in a country where incomes are a quarter of that, and lob them back at my prog managers with words not much different than "are you fecking kidding, let's hire a helicopter". It is still a good sniff test. But as I said, it is an excellent idea/approach until people start thinking it is the only approach. At the pointy end of EFSL responses you don't do cash unless your EMMA says go. Same goes more generally: helicoptering cash won't necessarily fix gaps in state service provision or market failure.

  8. Sam Gardner 10 November, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    In humanitarian assistance, the life-saving interventions should be rights based, and not depending on donor goodwill. More like an insurance or social security. Linked to it is the lack of quality control and value for money approach.

    Most systems start from the hypothesis that all operators are equally efficient and deliver the same outstanding quality.

    So indeed, a more perfect system should be a ménage a trois, but with as third pillar quality/cost control.

  9. Insaan Group (@theInsaanGroup) 14 November, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    “So indeed, a more perfect system should be a ménage a trois, but with as third pillar quality/cost control.”

    Are you suggesting that the third pillar consist entirely of overheads? I’d love to see the EC’s comments on THAT proposal!

    Seriously, though, I completely agree and I am working for my present group because we also believe this. It’s a harder sell than you’d think.

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