Friday, 28 December 2007

The Voice of the Poor

Around about now is the third anniversary of the Indian Ocean Tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people. Immediately after this disaster, aid organizations were swamped with money.

The major fear I have with aid organizations is whether they are doing a good job. There are sites like Charity Navigator that rates charities based on the proportion of money going towards helping and feeding the poor rather than being wasted on administration. This information comes from tax returns. The problem is that even if a charity gives 95% of donations to the poor, the money may not be used well. The aid workers may not know what they're doing.

For example, there has been news that Save the Children built environmentally friendly houses in Indonesia after the Tsunami that were untreated. Because of this, the houses were quickly eaten up by termites and subsequently they had to be destroyed.

There needs to be a way to force greater accountability onto charities. I have a solution.

If you give money to, say, Oxfam to help some Indonesians, you want Oxfam to make the Indonesians happy. The best way to know if the Indonesians are happy is to ask them. The problem with charity or philanthropy is that often the poor people who need help don't get to tell donors which charity they prefer. There is no democracy in the system.

When I have enough money, I will set up an organization. This organization will send people into poor areas. Workers will go around randomly asking poor people which aid organization they believe is the best. The information is then published on a website.

After a disaster like the Indian Ocean Tsunami, workers would go to places affected like Aceh, Indonesia, and randomly ask people questions. On the questionnaire the subjects are shown some logos and names of aid organizations working in the area. The subject then identifies which aid organizations he or she likes most. Once the results are tallied, they are published on the Internet. This allows donors and philanthropists to identify which aid organizations have the greater support among the poor.

One potential problems with this idea is if there is fraud. A worker from Oxfam may dress up as a World Vision worker and start hitting people to defame World Vision.

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