Archive for January, 2010

Haiti doesn’t need more donations

January 24th, 2010

Haiti-quakeWith well over $1B donated so far to Haiti relief, the issue is not more donations, but effective deployment of existing donations.  If the Indian Ocean tsunami of Dec 2004 is any lesson, nine months after well-meaning intentions, just 39% of the money promised had been spent.  It was just not possible to spend the donations faster in any reasonably helpful way.  It is even more likely this will be the case in the devastation of Haiti.

What’s Next?

Paul Collier, an economist at Oxford University and author of The Bottom Billion, believes that a temporary new administration (instead of the current Haiti government) is required to administer proper allocation and investment of donor monies.  The emphasis is on investment, not just unaccountable hand-outs which Collier knows have been a complete boondoogle in Haiti and other poor countries.

There is enthusiasm from folks like Jeff Sachs for donors to commit $10-15B to Haiti for a grand 5 year rebuild.  While this sounds all wonderful and hopeful and exciting, this has been tried many times in situations like Haiti and has not worked.  Easterly, a former World Banker, has de-mystified this failed approach with data.  Calderisi, another World Banker has documented the failure of this strategy in Africa.

Bottoms Up, Not Top Down

Status quo approaches to aid are fundamentally flawed because they focus on a top-down “planner” approach where the giver assumes to know the formula which will work.  The real world doesn’t work this way.  This contrasts with the bottoms-up “searcher” approach where ownership is taken locally to experiment to find local solutions which actually work on the ground.

From a previous blog post:

The main issue, [Easterly] argues, is that our international aid agencies … are run by planners, not the entrepreneurial, finding-what-works “searchers”. We in the West are very utopian with a grand plan to eliminate poverty always the goal and what the politicians like to talk about.

If we really care about prosperity for Haitians

In the short-term, many Haitians need help to survive.  Most of this must come from foreign charity.   Let’s not confuse this with what Haitians need longer-term to thrive.

I believe Haitians deserve the opportunity for a better future, not another failed attempt of utopian charity.  To increase their own prosperity, Haitians must attract foreign private capital and generate an export economy which leverages its key competitive advantages … low cost of labor and proximity to the USA export market … to grow its economy.  A purely super-sized continuation of what some have called Haiti, “The Republic of NGOs” is recipe for continued human misery for most Haitians.

UPDATE 4-20-2010:  Interesting recent post:  Haitians don’t deserve our Sympathy

1,000,000 books for Myanmar libraries

January 6th, 2010
Bogalay book donation ceremony in March 2009

Bogalay book donation ceremony in March 2009

Last summer, I officially joined as a founding board member of a new start-up non-profit called Nargis Library Recovery (NRL). This NGO was started last year in response to the devastating 2008 Nargis cyclone (hurricane) which wiped out large portions of the Irrawaddy Delta leaving an estimated 135,000 people dead, 800,000 homeless, destroying much of the infrastructure … including about 2,000 libraries.

I want to do this until I die

In late 2007, I first met NRL’s founder, Dr. John Badgley, a well-known grassroots activist who started the Institute of the Rockies in the 1970’s and has had a distinguished career in the academic world with specialties in Asia Studies and libraries. Dr. Badgley is a Burmese speaker (Myanmar was previously known as Burma) and has extensive relationships in Myanmar with scholars, monks, librarians, business leaders and more. Dr. Badgley retired a number of years ago, but like most activist leaders, that just provided him more opportunity to focus on changing the world! At our inaugural board meeting, when we asked John how much compensation he would like/expect for being Executive Director, he responded by saying that it really didn’t matter as he was committed to supporting the recovery of the Myanmar libraries until he died.

2009 Accomplishments

In our recent board meeting, we walked through the humbling list of 2009 accomplishments we were able to make … all on a bootstrap budget of ~$40,000 plus LOTS of volunteer time and in-kind donations.  Here is a sampling:

  • Our “Green Card”. In Jan 2009, we received (very rare) special permission from the US Treasury to export books, computers and other materials needed to rebuild libraries in Myanmar (currently on US blacklist)
  • Two Significant Corporate Sponsorships. 1,000,000 books from Thrift Books and 6 shipping containers (50,000 each) of books from USA to Myanmar from American President Lines.
  • Books Actually Delivered to Libraries. We shipped and distributed more than 200,000 English & Burmese language books to more than 150 hand selected libraries in Myanmar.  Estimated value of books and shipping cost of $625,000!
  • A Scalable Book Delivery System. Now have refined an end-to-end scaled book delivery logistics system which includes: (a) sourcing books in USA; (b) selection, organization and packing of books into a shipping container; (c) transportation to ship; (d) ship transport to Singapore; (e) ship transport onwards to Yangon; (f) sorting and repackaging for delivery to targeted libraries in Yangon; (g) fundraising sales of some books for purchase of Burmese language books; (h) delivery of books to appropriate libraries.
  • Public Charity Application. We applied for IRS 501c3 public charity status (currently operating as a project of Institute of the Rockies)
  • Amazingly Generous Volunteers. Significant personal volunteer time received from many people in USA and Myanmar, but with special recognition to John Badgley (NLR Executive Director), Thant Thaw Kaung (NLR director, Myanmar-based partner) and his wife, May.

For 2010, we have some additional exciting plans including rebuilding our first libraries in addition to delivering at least 300,000 books in libraries in Myanmar.

Read more and see photos at Nargis Library Recovery

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