“Treading heavily on each other’s toes, bickering violently amongst themselves and competing in sometimes unseemly ways for ascendancy…” – Graham Hancock, Lords of Poverty
In last few months of the fellowship, I have had chances to meet top management of other NGOs, decision-makers in central health ministry and country heads of international development/aid organizations in Cambodia. With an aim to build partnerships to combat tuberculosis in the country, I tried to approach these meetings objectively. But many a times, I got to hear subjective opinions from the other side. The situation got worse in one such meeting with one of the world’s largest bilateral aid organizations; I was taken aback by a question from the Country Head on the definition of ‘default’ in tuberculosis treatment (one of the most important KPIs for the evaluation of a TB program).
There are numerous accounts on how multiple development and aid organizations with their own agendas and specializations (plus ignorance) are at the core of third world catastrophe. With funding tied to regular appraisal of targets, non-profits race for the results every day in isolation.
Imagine the scenario where impact investor funds a non-profit to treat patients and measures impact simply on the basis of number of patients and population under coverage. Now take the non-profit (investee) out of this scenario and 60-70% of patients end up receiving healthcare from the public sector. So the impact gets reduced to 30-40% in terms of patient numbers. In an ideal scenario, the investee would deliver solutions [through service models], which or where the government is not able to provide, there by complementing the existing system. Though it’s a simplistic example and real world systems are very complex, but it does give a sense of direction.
Working as a single agent to create impact may not be efficient and in some cases, the work may actually prove to be overlapping or damaging. In contrast, a complementary set up of impact investors working between philanthropists and governments might be better equipped to create long-term effect on policies and models employed by the public sector. Knowingly or unknowingly, I am also a part of the system now. But the current state needs a change and impact investors, prioritizing social returns, would required do so in future. Otherwise, they might be reduced to yet another agency funneling thousands of dollars into a country on a program doing temporary work but failing in bringing a long-lasting change in peoples’ lives.