KaberiWhat? How Much? How?

By: Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy In: 2009 Annual Conference| Philanthropy

11 May 2009

Grinning his trademark smile, Bill Clinton was greeted with a standing ovation from an eager and enthusiastic crowd.  While he joked about answers that he did not have, he also shared the ones that he did.

One of my favorite moments from his speech came when he offered his take on when the economic crisis will end.  “Nov 9th at 3:30 in the afternoon,” he predicted, illustrating the impossibly-false precision of any answer.

Outlining the fundamentals which have not changed in this economic moment, he reminded us that:

  • This is the most interdependent the world has ever been
  • NGOs have an essential role to play in change
  • We need to advocate for policy change when necessary
  • We need to focus on low cost, high volume, certain business
  • We need to identify roles where we need to put ourselves out of business
  • We need to relentlessly answer the “how” question (not just “what” and “how much”)

Clearly drawing upon his substantive background in government and philanthropy, Clinton provided a thoughtful closing session to the conference.   He illustrated how boundaries could be bridged, and provided a clear call to action for other foundations.  He provided concrete examples for how foundations can work effectively in partnership with government and the public sector, drawing specifically on examples from the Clinton Global Initiative’s environmental and health efforts.

While all of his points were relevant, I especially admired his challenge to us to focus on the “how” question.  Reflecting on the stimulus package, he provided commentary on how the process had focused on two questions:  (1) “What are you going to do?” and (2) “How much money are you going to spend?”  He invited the audience to focus on a third question:  “How are you going to turn your good intentions into good changes?”  Using the example of job creation, he pointed out the importance of identifying what kind of jobs and “prioritizing options that employ greatest number of people.”  He warned us that decision-makers will be judged by how we answer the “how” question.   How we do it is up to us.

Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy is a board member of Resource Generation.

2 Responses to What? How Much? How?

Saundra Schimmelpfennig

May 14th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

As people reflect upon the How question, I urge you to make sure that part of the answer is giving an active decision making role to those you wish to help.

Having tracked recovery assistance in Thailand after the tsunami, I saw far too many failed aid projects. Although livelihoods was just an example used by Clinton, it is a good one to follow upon. In Thailand there were dozens of livelihood projects thought up by aid agencies. However, before the four year anniversary of the tsunami, most of them had failed. Either there was no good way to get goods to market, or the cost of gas ate away all profits, or the market for tourist products ended with the decline of disaster tourism, or the jobs aid agencies choose did not match local skills, and the list of reasons goes on.

Today those same people that were once involved in aid agency livelihood projects are living hand to mouth and day to day. Not only was a great deal of aid money wasted on unsuccessful projects, but many of the tsunami victims invested what little money they had left in materials and goods needed in those failed projects.

I urge all donors to ensure that the agencies they fund are following best practices and giving aid recipients decision making power in the projects meant to benefit them. They are not passive recipients of aid, but instead invest their time, money, and political clout in aid projects. A failed project can do far more harm than good.


President Bill Clinton Video Clip - RE:Philanthropy

June 2nd, 2009 at 11:23 am

[...] more on his speech, read contributor Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy’s post along with Christopher Quinn’s piece for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ian Wilhelm’s piece [...]

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