January 26, 2012

Might as well let the dog out, too

By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

I really thought that I was done with writing about the disappointing performance of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and their dubious record of handling the bulk of the world’s charity for Haiti. Honestly, I really thought I had it out of my system. But, I made the mistake of reading a job posting by Save the Children International in The Economist.

 Immediately, my blood began boiling again.

The only place you will see more INGO logos bunched together than in the job section of The Economist, is in the parking lot of the top-rated hotel of a struggling country. I should have known better than to peruse this section of the magazine, but the ad jumped out at me. It had all my favorite empty INGO buzzwords, such as new, innovative, scalable and empowered.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the ad. Believe it or not, they are verbatim.

“We are in the process of creating an exciting and innovative new international programming division, with scalable empowered Country and Regional Offices worldwide as a keystone of our ambitious growth strategy, enabling us to have an even greater impact for children. Once complete, the organization will have a budget of US$1 billion and over 12,000 staff. We’ve already completed 10 countries and there is plenty more to go!”

“A dynamic rapid scale-up of such magnitude needs experienced hands-on change managers with a successful track record gained ideally in merger, acquisition, outsourcing or similar major organizational restructuring initiatives. Results driven, you will be a creative problem solver, strategic thinker and incisive analyst. You will have the credibility and powers of persuasion to influence issues and people at all levels with tact and diplomacy.”

The italics in the final sentence of the first paragraph are mine, but the exclamation point is Save the Children’s special touch. I can’t say that I am similarly excited that relief work for impoverished children is seen as a growth market. Notably absent is any mention of the prospect of mission completion. On the contrary, there is the clear suggestion that this is a job with plenty of upside and security.

The grotesqueness of the intro teaser is surpassed by Save the Children’s shocking description of the ideal applicant. It appears that INGOs are no longer satisfied with merely receiving donations from the Gordon Gekkos of the world—now they want to hire them as well. One has to wonder why Save the Children needs this particular type of talent – should UNICEF or Plan International be worried about a hostile takeover?

These mega-INGOs ask applicants to provide proven track records of success; however, they rely on PR fundraising campaigns focused on the emotionally blinding needs of starving children rather than the actual effectiveness of their work. Yet, the CEOs of the mega INGOs, who earn upwards of $400,000 to $500,000 a year, never have to show proven results or real change to their "shareholders." They just have to wait for another disaster to stir "the market."

The fact that there are hundreds of millions of children in the world at risk daily is unquestionable. What is questionable is assuming that mega INGOs are the most cost effective or progress-oriented solution to the problems these children face. It just does not make sense to employ global conglomerates to do highly localized work. Outsourcing ‘love of neighbor’ and social welfare does not work – neither economically nor socially.

From what I have seen on the ground, globetrotting mega-INGOs like Save the Children International are money-burning machines that impede the local development of proper social institutions and functional government. They keep the local private sector from developing a healthy sense of civic responsibility. From the tone of this job ad, it is clear that they are also more focused on saving themselves than saving anyone else. Their claims of expertise based on years of refugee work should be read as failures rather than accolades. Based on actual outcomes, clearly the only honest promise these organizations can make is that the need they serve today will be there tomorrow.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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