This is a very insightful TED talk by David Damberger. Here’s the summary:
International aid groups make the same mistakes over and over again. At TEDxYYC David Damberger uses his own engineering failure in India to call for the development sector to publicly admit, analyze, and learn from their missteps.
One of the most significant points is a few minutes in when he talks about the out-of-sync power structure in much development work. With businesses, if a business doesn’t serve people well, customers go somewhere else. There is a self-correcting mechanism in place. With government there is as well (though it is much slower!): if those in power fail to uphold their responsibilities, the people can vote them out.
But with development agencies, the beneficiaries of the work do not have this type of influence. Rather, the donors do — and they cannot know directly whether things are working well, as customers do with a business and citizens do (more or less) with their government. Hence, ineffective methods can be perpetuated for a long time.
Hence, the importance of non-profits paying close attention to what works and what doesn’t, and sharing that information. The result is more innovation and better solutions.