florence and the (aid) machine

We raise it up. We raise it up:

This is a gift, it comes at a price.

Who is the lamb, and who is the knife?

Midas is king, and he holds me so tight

And turns me to gold in the sunlight

Hello from Juba. Bit tired for profound thoughts but thought sharing this tune would do for a Friday night blog post. There in four short lines are the conundrums of what we do, the chains of donor/INGO/partner, the HQ/country/field, the power imbalances, the accountability, the getting played, and the… belief? Misplaced belief? Transmutation of leaden money into golden change and personal redemption of those who think they bring it?

I take no issue with the disappointment and disavowal by @giantpandinha of ‘big aid’. But like I said when kicking off this blog, colour me incrementalist. Aid exists. It grows. (At least from my primary back donor it does.) It grows and grows and with that comes risk and with that comes scrutiny. With scrutiny comes systems and layers and compliance and bureaucracy…. much of which sucks.

Deal with it. We campaigned for it. We got what we wanted. Ergo: do it better, or else. Do it better, or the imbecile million-shirts myNGOs will fill the attention vacuum. (While eschewing the desperate needs in the more challenging corners of the world, obviously. Hello, Abyei!) Do it better or @giantpandinha will show you up. Actually, that wouldn’t be so bad at all.

I had someone say to me today: we don’t do engineering, we don’t import blueprints. What we do has to be context, it has to be relationships, it has to be political moments. Normally, so what? But the person saying it was a very senior manager in my HRI affiliate. Now maybe there’s people who’d say he’s objectively wrong. Maybe the cynics will say I’m deluded for taking a moment of hope from that, in spite of the fact that much of what I do is down in the guts of the aid machine, greasing the cogs. But there it is. Be conscious of your limitations. Be clear eyed about institutional faults. But raise it up.

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2 Comments on “florence and the (aid) machine”

  1. […] to be Steve Jobs. I’m just trying to solve problems of cornerstone effectiveness down in the cogs of the aid machine. We’re pretty good at giving people heroically crushing expectations of quantity and quality of […]

  2. […] it is futile. Wrong. We have to try to fix it. We have to make aid better. Cynan puts it very well, here. Systemic brokenness is very understandably disheartening and disillusioning to many. Sticking with […]


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