Adult swim with Oxfam

Oxfam is busily providing relief to drought- and famine-struck people in the Horn. On Wednesday, Duncan Green, Oxfam’s research director, asked his blog readers whether Oxfam’s Nairobi guesthouse should stand by their policy to keep the pool closed (it came with the house).

Some might think the question trivial, but I find these things symbolically important to the outside, as well as the inside. One of the worst transgressors in my mind is the World Bank, frequenter of business class and 5-star hotels–possibly more than any organization in the world.  That has to shape organizational people and practice, and not necessarily in a good way. (See my diatribes here and here).

Duncan gets many good, serious responses. No one brings up the issue that most people only go into humanitarian aid in order to do things like skinny dip with other thirty-something single do-gooders.

Nonetheless, I agree wholeheartedly with his winning comments. I particularly admire B and D.

Calvin: ‘Use the pool but don’t enjoy it’

Ros: ‘How we all agonize that we are not Gandhi’

But by popular acclaim, the prize for best comment goes to Matt for this gem:

A) Form a swimming pool collective with a rotating chair, with use of the pool to be voted on every week. Pool to be funded by bake sale at the local international school.

B) Divide the pool surface area into 100 square use rights – sell rights to the staff and/or guests, who are only allowed to swim within their allotted area, unless allowed to by other freeholders. Let residents buy and sell these rights to each other and let the market reach an efficient outcome

C) Let NGO workers use the pool, but constantly make them feel guilty about it: surround the pool with posters of photos from recent/ongoing drought. Actually, this could be a win win situation – if you run into anyone who seriously objects to the idea of Oxfam using a pool, let *them* stand on the side and heckle the swimmers.

D) Randomly allocate 50% of your guests with passes to the pool. Use pre and post survey data on stress levels, health, etc to evaluate the actual impact of pool usage. If you’re concerned about financial viability, charge a high price and then randomly distribute vouchers of varying levels to the treated group to tease out the demand curve for pool usage.

7 thoughts on “Adult swim with Oxfam

  1. Dear Chris,

    Please get over criticizing the Bank. It is a bank, not an NGO. Its employees are bankers not peace corps. To help build a dam in Laos you need more than good intentions.

    So please travel economy and cover your carbon footprint but go easy on the proselytizing.

    Last time I checked the IMF was having a hard time recruiting third rate economists from first rate universities. I guess your HR policies will bring in the teachers with masters in puppeteering.

    Since OXFAM is an NGO, I think they should grow tilapia in it to sell to five star hotels hosting world bankers and give proceeds to charity I.e. OXFAM.

  2. It seems like this must have hit a nerve with a previous commenter; I think such things are rather undeserved to say about Blattman’s collective criticisms of the Bank. After all, Chris consults for the World Bank, and although he has criticisms, they are accompanied by ideas for improvement – in other words, the criticism is constructive and not merely a collection of rants. Criticizing a behavior doesn’t necessarily imply that the critic would wish the organization away into oblivion.

    As for the quip about a 3rd rate economist from a 1st rate institution, I must object. Chris has had his doctorate since… what, 2007 or 2008? If I am in a position similar to Blattman’s five years after finishing mine, I’ll consider myself to be doing well and being on the right track. It’s also nice to have economists at our fingertips who are so open and personable on the web with regards to their work and ideas.

  3. “We are not a bank, We are a development agency.”
    –Barber Conable, at the time he was heading the World Bank

    I work for a private sector Bank and I have a friend who works for the World Bank. Our jobs have really nothing in common, I price derivatives and calculate Value at Risk figures whereas he works on the Doing Business report for Rwanda.

  4. The comment on third rate economists was made by Joe Stieglitz. It was not directed at Blattman, who is a very nice guy.

  5. In Blattman’s defense, I have to say I agree the 5 star hotels and business travel is bad PR — for a Bank pretending to be an NGO.

    The solution is not to cut such travel etc but for the Bank to get back to basics and stop pretending it is going to save the world (“Our Dream: A World Free of Poverty” and other nonsense).

    Rather than cut business travel and good hotels I would cut a third of the staff. Do we really need a strategy report on Rwanda, in three different flavors, year in year out?

    @Martin
    You should look up the Treasury department at the bank. That is where the money is and where options, derivatives, repos, etc.. are written, sold and purchased. Also MIGA, as part of IBRD sells insurance, etc… The rest is no different to the Research departments in Investment Banks. Client-focused sell-side props.

  6. I don’t really get this. The mid-sized NGO I worked for had a guesthouse in Nairobi that had a pool on the premises. I never used it, and never saw it being used, mainly because it always felt so cold in Nairobi after being in South Sudan. If the climate had been warmer I would have been all over the pool (as I was at the pools in Wau, Rumbek, and Juba).

  7. Yeah, like I said at the original post, in the US, pools are not a class markers. There are public pools in almost every town of every size, and most hotels have (indoor! heated!) pools to help travelers take care of themselves.