Aid work and failure

A photo of an overgrown tree and a palace in the background

A lot of aid money gets spent on activities that just don’t work. Well more than half, I’d guess. But the thing is, you don’t always now which activities are the ones that won’t work. Sometimes you know in advance. Sometimes a little research (or for that matter, common sense) would make it clear the whole idea is bad. Soccket, anyone?

But not always. Plenty of really good ideas turn out to be duds when you put them into practice. Like the BABIES matrix. It’s an amazing way to analyze infant mortality and figure out how to do better. Unfortunately, people find it hard to understand, even after training. And most people hate using it. I’m not sure there way anyway way to find that out beyond training people and seeing what happens.

I don’t think that kind of project attrition is correctly called waste. Or failure. It’s just the cost of doing business. And if we take that into account, changing people’s lives is vastly more expensive than we think it is. Every cheap, effective solution has a dozen cheap, ineffective cousins that had to be implemented too in order to find the one that actually works. Functionally, that means all our costs are about ten times more than we realize.