I’m going to start the year off with a rant. Yes, i’m sorry, not the best way to start the year. If it makes you feel any better consider it a warning foghorn.
Let’s be clear. The Problem in international charity / aid is not that no one knows where the money is going. This might be a problem (small “a”), but it is not THE problem (yes, all big and bold).
There are a plethora of companies cropping up touting the future of efficient aid or charitable giving, via blockchain. Promising:
“Complete transparency on your charitable donations”
“We …drive[s] the transparent, efficient & effective flow & delivery of development & humanitarian aid.”
“We…bring[s] transparency to social funding through blockchain technology”
The reason behind the rise, apart from the availability of technology, is that public trust in charities has declined. The logic is, if everyone can see where their money is being spent, trust will rise and the more honest charities will get more money. Great! But it misses the point about the purpose of charities or non-profits or NGOs completely.
The purpose of these non-profits, civil society actors, call them what you will, is to affect a positive social change for the communities they work for and the world in general. That is what we should be measuring.
What is all your money and all their activity actually achieving? What are the small social changes that have occurred? How can we know it is happening consistently and not just a blip?
Here is a question for you…
…why do we not use blockchain to track investments in the private sector? You buy some shares using a blockchain system, with its own cryptocurrency, and via a smart contract your money is only delivered to the company if product x is delivered to person y in country z. If they don’t, then they don’t get the money.
Does anyone else see how running a company in this manner might not be very easy? How could they grow or become better if they couldn’t invest in their people, their systems, new technology, failed projects…?
So why do we think that this is the right solution for charity?
When you invest in a private company you can (in general) independently verify if their products or services are doing well. Online reviews, forums, star ratings, sales figures, income figures. In simple concepts, a company can’t get really get away with giving away poor quality products or services. Because there is a feedback loop. The end-user can voice their opinion about the services and products, either with their voice or with their wallet. You invest (again, more or less) without conditions.
“Here is my money, just make sure you keep selling products and services people like and use, so that my dividend goes up”
In the charity sector you don’t have that ability. Because hardly anyone knows what the communities and individuals who receive support actually think.
So what is the problem?
The PROBLEM is, and remains, that the outcome of an initiative, or the satisfaction of the communities charities work with, is not independently known.
Therefore knowing if your money really bought a school kit / vaccine / mosquito net…etc won’t really guarantee that there will be any change. That is not to say that the blockchain technology isn’t useful. From the little we understand of it, it’s applications can be great. But it has to be used cautiously, and applied to the right things, not just the easiest things.
FieldWorks believes that it is those charities who have been given legitimacy by the communities they work for; who strive every day with them to collaborate to do the right thing; who turn down funding to stay true to their vision and communities; these are the ones that should be supported. For these are the ones who have committed to changing their communities because they are part of the same community. There is no packing up and leaving if the funding dries up.
And it is these organisations who are willing for their communities voices to be heard, that should be prioritised.
We need to work together to bring out the voices of those who receive support from charitable organisations. And use it, not to batter them over the head for failing or falling short. But to learn from the work of those organisations so that they can achieve their missions, and we can all contribute to improving society.
Transparency is important.
But getting stuck in the weeds, risks us losing out on getting to the horizon.