Sunday, August 22, 2010

NGO accountability ... World Vision and its stories!

Dear Colleagues

I started to write this post in May ... almost three months ago. The delay changes little. My views are as valid today as they were months ago ... and in fact years ago.

The NGOs are great story tellers ... and World Vision is one of the best. The stories help to raise a lot of money which then gets used in a variety of relief and development settings around the world. The text of the story below and is accessible at this URL:

Villages in Niger that no longer need to wish for clean water wells
May 2010

A wish for clean water comes true for villages where dirty water and disease were once the norm. Now, with deep wells and water pumps installed by World Vision, good health is common.

In the village of Mekaka, Niger, women and girls are gathered around the village well. Their lively conversations match their fast-paced arms pulling up heavy water containers from a 130-foot deep well.

Drawing water in Mekaka takes an average of four hours each day. Hadiza Moussa, now 50, started to draw water from the village well when she was 8 years old.

Hadiza says girls come to the well and work beside their mothers once they are strong enough to help. For girls, drawing water is a higher priority than attending school; therefore, they often miss class to help at the well.

However, in Mekaka, drawing water will not always be this difficult. The village is part of a World Vision sponsorship project area, and two water pumps will soon be drilled here.

“We’ve seen the change in people’s lives, in other villages where there is already a water pump,” explains Hadiza. “Women spend less time fetching water, and it is less tiring, so they have more time and energy for their families.”

A change in the community

Drawing water from traditional wells in Zakara Hanou, another village in Niger, once took over three hours of intense labor. However, since the construction of the boreholes by World Vision, that same task now takes 30 minutes to accomplish.

Hassana, a 14-year-old girl, remembers how hard it was. “I had to lean over the deep, dark well, and when the bucket hit the water, my heart was beating so fast and the rope burned my hands,” she recalls. “I got dizzy looking down into the well, but had to keep steady to finish the work.”

Prior to the boreholes, women needed to pull the rough plaited ropes, 130 to 200 feet in length, which would often cut their hands. However, the installation of the water pumps made it easier. Women now have more time to spend with their families, girls are able to attend school, and Chief Saidou Abdou even says the boreholes brought peace to the village.

Before, disputes would break out in line at the well, and villagers would quarrel over the water. But now, they no longer have this problem.

If you could see this village as it was five years ago, you’d realize how much our community has changed,” says Chief Abdou. “No other [non-governmental organization] came to our village, so World Vision was a God-sent presence to us, as they came here to help.”

‘Drink to quench our thirst’

The health and well-being of the Zakara Hanou villagers has improved significantly since they got access to clean, safe water.

“The well water was smelly and unclear,” says Chief Saidou Abdou. “When we used to drink it, we were always sick, and our children had stomach problems.”

And how have things changed? “The water that we pump out today is crystal clear, it tastes good, and you don’t even have to put it through a sieve to take out insects and dirt. Now we can drink to quench our thirst,” he says.

“Many children in our village were sick with [trachoma],” adds Harouna, Chief Abdou’s wife, “but now that water is clean, we don’t have problems anymore.”

Three ways you can help

>> Thank God for how the well in Zakara Hanou village has already changed the lives and improved the health of the children and families there, and pray that the village of Mekaka will soon enjoy the same benefits. Pray that someday soon, every child would have access to clean, safe water.

>> Donate now to World Vision’s Water and Sanitation Fund. Your gift will help us dig deep wells for safe water access, provide purification equipment, distribute water storage containers, develop sanitation systems, and more.

>> Sponsor a child in Niger. Your love and support for a boy or girl in need will help provide essentials like clean water, a building block for a healthy, hopeful, and productive future.
There is no question that some of the work done by World Vision is very good ... but there is a very big question about the relationship between the amount of money raised and the amount of good work that gets done. As far as I can tell there is solid "accounting" at World Vision, but everyone knows that good accounting tells very little about performance unless there are people in management and associated with the accounting unit that are interested and experienced with cost accounting and performance metrics. World Vision has not shown me up to now that they are skilled in these matters ... yet the money flows that World Visions handles are huge.

I cannot prove this ... I do not have access to any of their internal accounting ... but the easily accessible published material shows the multi-million scale of their operations ... how much raised and how much spent ... but does little to inform about the amount of value that these moneys were actually able to deliver. Even if millions of dollars were to be mis-used, the publicly accessible accounting would never show the problem ... there is no accounting whatsoever for the value of the work an organization like World Vision does.

This problem is not limited to World Vision ... every NGO is in the same situation. They do very basic reporting to the IRS and that is about all. It is not good enough and NGO performance is not going to change for the better until there is some substantial reform in the progress and performance metrics that get used!

As I write I realize that the good news reported in the World Vision story of May was overtaken some weeks later by tragic drought stories in the same country ... the disconnect between the depiction of fact about good works on the one hand and the depiction of fact about tragedy a little later should not be possible. Again it is reliable independent and useful metrics about socio-economic situations and organizational impact that is missing.

Peter Burgess

The text associated with pictures in the World Vision article not copied here:

Mariama, 6, smiles as she pumps clean water into a container in her village of Zakara Hanou. The girl used to suffer from trachoma, an eye disease, because of unclean water. But such illness is no longer a concern for her.
Photo ©2009 Dana Palade/World Vision“

Sponsor a child in Niger. Your love and support for a boy or girl in need will help provide essentials like fresh, clean water — the foundation of health and hope.

Story and photos by Dana Palade, World Vision Niger. Edited by Gabrielle Kim, World Vision U.S.

Thanks to World Vision water projects in Niger and elsewhere, children like this boy no longer need to worry about the absence of a resource as critical as clean, safe, fresh water.
Photo ©2009 Dana Palade/World Vision

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