Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Give Aid Direct

The idea of Give Aid Direct has evolved over the past 10 years of working in some of the worst disasters on the planet.  Humanitarian Aid is a wonderful and infuriating thing to be involved in as you see the best and the worst of humanity mixed together in a very stark way right before your eyes.  Along the way, I have met some of the most incredible people - some with millions and some with pennies to their name.

Over the years the issue of choice became a common theme as I continued to wonder how we can give the people who have been affected by disasters more choice.  Somehow, I sensed there is an intimate link between choice and dignity.  I've sat in many meetings discussing assessments of a disaster and heard the stats of the dead, the homes destroyed, children missing, etc., but rarely was the question ever asked - what do the people affected want us to do?  We make lots of assumptions, but often forget to ask them.  We forget to test our assumptions.  So I began to wrestle with questions like how can we, as aid workers or donors or people who want to help, enable the possibility for those affected by the disaster to have a greater role in the rebuilding of their communities?  How can we innovate our models of the delivery of aid to bring more money into the local economies?

In my view, there will always be a need for handouts after a disaster.  People homes are destroyed, family members killed or missing, livelihoods washed away.  Sometimes we just need to be given stuff to help us get through the day and see tomorrow.  However, can we change how we "give stuff" so that the people affected have a greater say in the process?

For the past decade, aid agencies have been doing more and more work with what are called "cash transfer" programmes in which they give the recipients a voucher for food rather than actual food, or give cash to be used to buy food, etc.  Through mountains of skepticism (including some of my own) this idea prevailed and now is an acceptable method of delivering aid.  However, it is still rare that unconditional cash transfers - meaning recipients are given cash and can spend it on what they deem most appropriate - even though many evaluations have shown that the money is spent on what we would deem "appropriate" things like food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, etc.

At the same, I was always fascinated with technology and how we can use it to improve the lives of people living on a dollar or two a day.  I was particularly fascinated with M-pesa - mobile banking system that has taken off in Kenya and now most of Africa.  In essence, it allows you to send money from your phone to someone else's by sending a SMS.  Now it has further developed and you can pay most of your bills using M-pesa.

Then one day, I was walking the streets of London with a good friend debating social media.  We began to wonder why no one had connected the dots between social media like Facebook and cash transfers using a M-pesa type system.

This is where Give Aid Direct came from - the desire to create a platform where individual donors can choose the people affected by the disaster they wish to give their money to and where the recipient of the money can decide what to do with the money.

This is what we are building.  Join us!

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