Can USAID be Trusted?

In recent press releases we’ve learned of USAID’s willingness to collaborate in the field of social innovation. Partnering with the Omidyar Network and the Rockerfeller Foundation is one example. Another is Dr Rajiv Shah’s recent comments about engaging with Ashoka and the Skoll Foundation and partnering with Devex on an information platform.

It was on Skoll’s Social Edge and the Omidyar Network where practitioners gathered, neither now  longer maintain an open public forum. It was in the former where 3 years ago, we’d raised concerns about the ethics of an emerging social market.

It sounds like good news for social enterprise.  This was the kind of direction being called for by grassroots social enterprise 4 years ago in direct communincation with USAID and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, saying:

“There is increasing congruence and synchronicity in play now, to the point of attunement. What Ms. Fore is describing has been central to P-CED’s main message, advocacy and activity for a decade. That, and helping establish an alternative form of capitalism, where profits and/or aid money are put to use in investment vehicles with the singular purpose of helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. The paper on which that is based is in Clinton’s library, dated September 16, 1996, author yours’ truly. That is reflected in P-CED’s home page and history section. In fact, you might notice a number of ideas and writings there that have now made their way into the mainstream of economics and aid thinking, how to make business and aid work smarter and more effectively in relieving poverty and the misery and risks that result. Bill Gates – as hard-edged a capitalist as has ever existed – reiterated the same things in Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago (ref below.) It sounds as though Ms. Fore’s remarks very much reflect this sort of thinking. Now it’s time to move forward and get it done.”

Their response to our mission however, was not so enthusiatic, telling us there was insufficiant budget for ‘this group of retarded children’.

The background to this is a response to USAID solicitation for local projects and our application for $25k funding for which a 30 day response was promised. After 3 months it was clear we we being hung out to dry, and sent the missive described above aptly named Genesis and copied it to the Senate committee.

What we hadn’t realised at that point was that our work was under threat. Not from predatory local moguls who we’d managed to fend off by publishing our proposal online, but from the agencies we’d introduced it to, namely USAID, Erste Bank and the British Council.

First contact with USAID was with Eric Boyle of the Eurasia Foundation, who invited me to send our draft paper on economic development saying “this is the kind of thing we like to do”. Founder Terry Hallman was sceptical pointing to USAIDs position on corrution from earlier efforts in Crimea and the foundation’s project failure rate of over 70%

In hindsight I realise that our ‘Death Camps for Children‘ article had ruffled feathers even at USAID.

In his notes before his death in 2011 , Terry paints the background:

“Opening up the reality of that situation resulted in threats against me and anyone else interfering with that system.  I came under direct assault by tax police, government’s primary enforcement arm if anyone steps out of line.  This is not a research activity where many, if any, other people dared to participate.  UNICEF was willfully blind to the matter because it was just too dangerous to bother to intercede  Powerful interests remained entrenched with enforcers to make it dangerous.  Jurists were correct, in my view.  It was more a mafia operation than anything else, aimed at misappropriation and laundering of large money.  That was perfectly congruent with how Ukraine operated before the revolution.  USAID wanted nothing to do with it, nor would they fund any organizations or activists who might try.  Some things could be done and some things could not be done.  Helping these children was something that could not be done.  So, I exposed it and made it the central focus and metric of Ukraine’s microeconomic development blueprint.  In that context, it was far more difficult to ignore, dismiss, or argue about.  For about six months, I really did not expect to survive.  Nevertheless, Ukraine’s government finally conceded the point and announced the opening of more than four hundred new treatment centers for children who were theretofore invisible under tight and deadly enforcement.”

Notably when later USAID and the British Council got together with Erste Bank and PWC, the social enterprise initiative they put forward, made no mention of this primary social issue.

Using the position of high office to exclude others from opportunity is the very essence of corruption and kow towing to entrenched interests, the essence of moral cowardice.

USAID may not understand that taking someone’s means of earning a  living is to take away their lives, but Dr Shah as a physician will surely have taken the hippcratic oath, which doesn’t suggest allowing children to perish in the name of profit nor building reputation on the work of those left to die?

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