Aid in the Age of Woolly Mammoths

Dennis Whittle, CEO of GlobalGiving, kicked off a series of guest posts on Aid Watch, in which he discussed the impending obsolescence of the centralized foreign aid that is channeled through what he dubs “mainframe organizations”—lumbering, uncompetitive entities such as the World Bank, UN, and USAID.

In his second post, Whittle credits the explosion of resources and technological innovation as the key decentralizing force of the capacity to distribute aid. He acknowledges that “PCs, internet, cell phones and related technologies now make it possible to connect all of these people and resources directly to the people who need help” and states that international giving by your everyday American now equals the entire USAID budget.

Organizations in this new decentralized aid model include direct funding connectors such as GlobalGiving, information providers such as Guidestar—which serves as a beacon of the smart giving movement—and tech startups such as Ushahidi. A long time advocate of crowdsourcing, Whittle considers these organizations more flexible, more competent and more responsive to local conditions than ever before. If mainframe organizations hope to survive, they need to accept their new competitors and tweak their top-down, old-fashioned development strategy.

Responding to one reader comment, Whittle admits that new technologies are only tools to facilitate communication between local communities and donors, and “the hard (and exciting) part is designing the systems to run on top of the tools.”

Also in the comments, a collaborator with Nuru International brought Whittle’s claims to life by linking to a blog post by Nuru’s Community Economic Development Field Manager, who composed it using a $40 Nokia cell phone and emailed it to the US-based webmaster.  This is a real-world application that substantiates the potential of decentralized aid to foster reciprocal donor-recipient relationships. (For once, the US State Department may be up to the challenge.


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