Hearing Voices

We all receive lots of materials to read these days, whether over the Internet, in the mail or some even by our own choice.  Sometimes it’s difficult to discern what is worth reading and what is not; certainly, it’s impossible to read everything that’s available.  But I was introduced to something of significant value this week and am compelled to share it here.

The book is entitled, Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid, by Mary B. Anderson, Dayna Brown and Isabella Jean.  Our colleague in Nicaragua, Rene Mendoza, sent the link to the book only with the comment that it was “very interesting.”  But upon a thorough reading of the research done by the authors- interviewing over 6,000 recipients of funding around the world- I found the book to be a completely revealing look at the world of international philanthropy.

While not exactly a blueprint for international aid providers, it nonetheless lays open some of the most important and limiting facets of international project funding, told honestly from the voices of those who are intended to benefit.  For those beneficiaries, the book served as an opportunity to express the frustrations and suspicions experienced by the very people we seek to assist.  For the readers who are in the funding community, the book is a valuable checklist of pitfalls to avoid and strengths to cultivate.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that a majority of the observations in the book are directly in line with the experiences and conclusions of WPF over the past 30 years.  Naturally, any treatise that affirms one’s own world views is likely to be embraced.  But with the observations coming from the recipients themselves, my inclination is to ascribe great credibility to these perspectives, whether the views are in concert with our own or not.  But in this case, they align almost perfectly.  I’m pleased to now have an independent, objective source of affirmation for the very philosophies and protocols that guide the work of WPF, voices coming from the very heart of the field.

For the philanthropic industry, as well as for those not necessarily associated with international aid, the conclusions offered provide a stark picture of the “business of giving,” and why the results from significant philanthropy are often much less than expected.  If you are simply a charitable donor, the book offers help in terms of what to look for in organizations which you might wish to support.   If you are affiliated with any organizational charitable activity- and especially on an international basis- then I strongly recommend this book for your careful reading.  This is how we often look to the people we most want to help.

This research was published in 2012, after almost six years of listening to recipients and distilling their observations.  It is a simple format, made up of the real-life assessments of poor people who have lived the experience, and the authors’ synthesis of what improvements might look like.  One might choose to ignore the opportunity to improve the efficacy of aid delivery, but there is no denying the reality of so many voices….

 

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