Chris Blattman

Good sentences

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When people like me demand transparency and say “We want to know where the money went.”, I think we actually mean “We want to know what the money did.” In this case, I really don’t care if World Vision blew 90% of their budget on strippers and Grey Goose vodka. What I want to know is what did they deliver? What changed on the ground? How many people were helped? I want transparent impact. I couldn’t care less about transparent budgets.

That is Scott Gilmore commenting on the Aid Watch hunt for transparency.

Insiders tell me that World Visioners prefer Absolut.

5 Responses

  1. That’s what they said about the World Bank spending in Indonesia (I remember that was cited in S. Mallaby’s “the World Banker”): they knew that 2 out of every 3 dollars were embezzled somewhere in the government machinery, but were okay because that last dollar reached where it was supposed to.
    Then.. they realized that even that one dollar didn’t reach destination, either.
    And I do care if 90% of their budget is spent on Grey Goose. If all they need is 10%, someone else would do a better job, even if redistributing wealth to poor strippers is a worthy cause.

  2. Gilmore’s comment is slightly ridiculous. Transparent impact is great, too, of course. But transparent budgeting is equally important. Consider this:

    If World Vision spent 90% of their money on strippers and vodka and the remaining ten per cent achieved amazing results in the field, if Scott didn’t know that 90% was blown on hookers or whatever, he’d think that what World Vision achieved was at the limits of what it was capable of. If, however, it spend 100% on its programme of action, it might achieve significantly more than it did.

    As an aside, Scott has also confused ‘budgeting’ with ‘expenditure’. I’m relatively sure World Vision wouldn’t *budget* for strippers and vodka, but they might *spend* on it.

  3. Gilmore’s comment sounds very engaging and pragmatic but it’s actually a vicious statement. “Delivery” and “transparency” can’t be separate one from the other one. Unless you don’t care about the political outcomes of aid, which is the most irresponsible position.

    Take a look at Angola, where President dos Santos’ philanthropic organization canalizes most of the foreign aid. Delivery is unquestionable, but only in regions where the MPLA needs stability (former UNITA provinces). As a consequence, the government, one of the most corrupt in Africa, takes all the popular credit. In Angola, aid without transparency is the best way to feed the status quo.

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