“Has aid failed? For me the answer is ‘yes’…but only because it hasn’t failed enough.” – Christopher Fabian,

Failure is so intermingled with aid that last week UNICEF held a FAILFaire to explore “projects using mobiles and ICTs in international development that have, to put it simply, been a #FAIL. Busted, kaput…”

Neal Ungerleider commented in his piece on the event (illustrated with the superb photo below depicting the classic ‘face-palm’ moment)…

  • “Other participants talked of failing to take local sensibilities into account when conducting foreign aid work, and of tech projects gone wrong. As Verclas puts it, ‘as a field, we explore the use of technology in our work that ultimately has as a goal to increase the human and social capacity of people much less privileged than we are. Sharing success stories and case studies, while helpful, isn’t enough, in the end to truly move our field forward. Talking openly about where we have failed may help us learn, make better decisions, and avoid making the same mistakes again. We believe that only if we understand what doesn’t work in this field, that we can collectively learn and get better, more effective, and have greater impact to truly change some things for the better.”

These discussions courageously up the ante on embracing failure. Unlike Leslie Koch’s comment about keeping things in perspective that ‘no small children will die’, in the world of international aid, “epic fails” can have “serious consequences.” Such implication just intensify the pressure to focus on the positive and ignore the negative. Furthermore, so much aid is dependent on highly precarious donor goodwill that fear of losing donations for a ‘water well that didn’t work’ further aggravate the syndrome.