Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter to our Donors

Dearest Donor,

For a long time now, I have wanted to write you a letter, as yet another opportunity to flatter you and reassure you that you are doing a tremendous job of alleviating the poverty of the miserable lot we are are mandated to help, one prudent coordination initiative at a time, and to thank you one more time for a strong, mutually beneficial partnership.

I said it before: we have also always been delighted about the high complexity of your award procedures. Our reasonably paid consultants do a way better job than those small-timers who try to compete partner with us of putting together  a decent application and our roster of "Key Staff" has always been better populated by the sort of degree-flaunting over-achievers that have implemented the shit out of so many other paradigm-shifting projects you have so generously funded in the past, both here and elsewhere.

I should also mention how thankful we have always been to be able to exploit your high interest in stories in the local media reflecting your generosity and support; an interest far superior to your interest in developing an independent media in respective country, if you know what I mean. Sure, as your partner we have always been keen to create an enabling environment for an independent media, where "creating an enabling environment" is an euphemism for inviting the media to residential "trainings" at the Dusit Thani about the universal and inalienable right of any journalist to write positive stories about the programs you are supporting and the partnership between relevant governments.

May I also take the opportunity to commend your commitment to transparency. We love the fact that you choose sometimes to publicize your partners budget on the internet, as that allows us to compete against them with a symbolically lower overhead rate, as a way to ensure we always remain competitive. The fact that your performance indicators are both mind-boggling complicated to define and impossible to measure in any reliable fashion conveniently ensures that evaluating performance remains in the realm of politics where it belongs, a world we naturally navigate much better than any of our competitors partners.

We also need to mention here your brilliant approach to staffing your own presence on the ground. We have always been excited to work with a large team of inexperienced micro-managing bureaucrats, fond of back-stabbing each other while faking cooperation and incapable to take any decision that would threaten our own unwillingness to move away from life-saving meetings as expressions of smart aid. We love to exploit their inability to interpret data, the reassuring comfort they take in a well crafted progress report and their general fondness for the right kind of visibility not to mention their commitment to coordination meetings.

Speaking of progress reports. We love your reports time-lines, always. And the fact that there are the same with all other affiliates, which ensures your overworked staff love a well-edited copy-paste affair, with flash photos featuring the right characters and heart-lifting success stories.

We love also your predictability. The detailed negotiations years before implementation. The difficult procedures involved in revising budgets and strategies. There is nothing HRI loves more than spending millions on irrelevant activities and promoting dated development theories around the world.

In short, you are the best, Donor. Please don't change anytime soon.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Alden M. Kurtz


  1. PS I would also like to thank you for your insistence on us documenting the lessons learned. Thanks to this section in your reporting form, you can be sure we will spend valuable time finding new and interesting ways of saying "involving communities helps increase support for our work" and "remember gender - it's important".

  2. PPS: love your politically-motivated priorities that ignore local needs.

  3. Did we schedule the participatory meeting with the beneficiaries yet, to document how our priorities are accidentally just what they always wanted?

  4. Yes, all of this is wonderfully true of donors and NGOs. What counts is that you all care so much. And with your salaries and comfortable accommodations, you can report out how inexpensively you provided the assistance. Why look we only paid $100 for each plastic tarp and $250 for those nice tents. Aren't we frugal! No matter that they will be in tatters in a year or so. We will be back with transitional shelters soon then real homes. Oh wait a minute, now there is a crisis in _____. Sorry about that but we have just enough money to send some tents over there. How about some plywood and tin sheets. I am sure that will give you enough to build a sturdy, healthy home. Good luck!

  5. Dr. Kurtz!

    Too long have I been without your wise wisdom in the matters of development. i am glad to hear that business is going very well for you, in spite of donors trying their best to complicate matters with all the folderol they come up with. Honestly! One would almost think that they are trying to give the impression that they care about "impact" and "sustainability" blah blah blah.

    Forgive my silence, things have been busy. Africa has become very cool these days, I don't know if you have tapped into that? There is much work these days for an African, in development but increasingly in Tokenism and in Fashion and Entertainment. I am discovering that my hungry face and angry eyes translate well to "chiselled cheekbones" and "inscrutable gaze" once the PR people have worked their magic. Don't worry, they pay more than those photographers who are constantly producing coffee table books with abundant African "tribal" nudity.

    En tout cas, we might bump into each other in the lobby of a luxury hotel sometime soon, yes? Look for the woman with the tall headdress- I am channelling African First Ladies Past these days as my fashion inspiration. Buy me a drink- I am partial to congac these days. How tastes change with a bit of regular income, haha!

    La Negresse.