When 'Effectiveness' Is Not Effective
Two years ago, Port au Prince, Haiti, shook from an earthquake that would kill nearly a quarter of a million people, leave a million more homeless, and set the country's development back decades. When World Vision and a host of other relief agencies and governments initially responded, we sensed an opportunity to not only supply immediate care but to assist Haiti onto a permanent path to prosperity.
Helping people lift themselves out of poverty is a complex task, involving technical issues in agriculture, infrastructure, and health; social issues like the treatment of women and education for children; as well as spiritual, moral, and political concerns. NGOs and governments understand well these complexities, and yet, in Haiti, even our best practices have been put to the test. The work has been daunting, often with modest accomplishments. Even the most stalwart among us have sometimes wondered whether we could show the kind of success in Haiti that we hoped for.
To be sure, the problems in Haiti are tremendous. Even before the earthquake, the country had the poorest economy in the Western hemisphere, with 4 of every 10 household unable to access basic nutritional needs. Only one in every 50 Haitians has a steady, wage-earning job. Today, a half-million people are still living in tents. A cholera epidemic has infected nearly 500,000 people, and in an ironic twist the disease's presence in the country is being blamed on UN peacekeepers.
Many also blame development organizations for creating dependency among Haitians. It takes a deep understanding of the culture and the people's needs, as well as a long-term presence to help without creating problems. Yet even after 30 years in the country, World Vision has experienced its own challenges following the quake. We struggled to build shelters for the homeless as we had difficulty finding staff with the necessary language and skill qualifications. And the lack of clarity about land ownership made it further difficult to identify sites for transitional shelters.
Meanwhile, Haiti has almost no functioning and trustworthy civil institutions. The government has a corruption rating of 175 out of 183 countries. It takes almost two years to obtain the permits necessary just to build a warehouse. Aid workers face an uphill battle as they care for immediate physical needs, engage culturally, and work within government systems that are foundationally broken.
Looking strictly through the lens of effectiveness and bang for the 'humanitarian dollar', Haiti has not been the best investment. But the lens of the Gospel compels us to see the world through eyes that look beyond measures of effectiveness and efficiency. Certainly, we must strive for efficacy as stewards of God's own possessions. As in the parable of the talents, we will be held responsible for how we have used the resources God has given us. Coming to work at World Vision, I brought business practices of accountability and rigor that I think are essential to running an effective organization. I believe that God doesn't value ineffectiveness and waste any more than we do.
Yet God does not coolly calculate returns on his investments without regard to human suffering either. World Vision has a formula for where we direct money and what we seek to raise money for. That formula tries to balance efficiency and cost effectiveness with our belief that some activities are worth doing simply because they a demonstrate God's love. After all, sometimes hurting people just need someone to walk alongside them—even when it may be inefficient to do so based on a strict assessment of "ROI."