I want to write something about Somalia, but I don’t feel qualified to add much to the discussion. Many smart people have already said much (read herehere, and here). One theme is that it’s important to recognize that famine is a human political and economic phenomenon, not a natural one. But others are making those arguments better than I can.

The more you know, the more you want to help, and the harder that can seem to do. I think the work I’ve done this summer in NYC with their Dept of Health has been valuable, but I also feel constrained by my imminent return to the classroom. My emotions say it would be great to assuage my feelings of helplessness now by going somewhere awful and doing whatever needs to be done, right now. But I’m in school because I believe that technical skills are really important when it comes to choosing the right things to do (and measuring their impact) … so for now I have to wait and let others do the doing.

By all accounts, the situation in Somalia is truly horrific and likely to get worse. Honestly, I’ve been avoiding reading too much about it because it makes me sad, and it makes me angry. If you’re looking for something to do too, the One campaign has compiled a list of organizations working on famine relief. I just made a donation to my charity of choice and hope you will too. My only recommendation is to make your donation to an organization’s main donation link, rather than one specific to famine response. Most of the best organizations were likely poised to respond precisely because they had unrestricted, non-earmarked funds from previous donors. They will likely spend as much as they can on these efforts, so your donation will go to Somalia if needed. Or it will go, alas, to the next calamity.


08 2011

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  1. David Kaisel #

    Brett- thanks for the cogent and insightful commentary in this blog. I started following a week or two ago, and it has quickly become a favorite.

    Couple of points:
    1) You’re doing right by getting the technical skills to be able to assess, measure and report what you see in a credible, accurate manner. After several years as a program manager for a large international relief organization, I pursued an MPH in order to properly articulate the objectives and impacts I managed in the field.
    2) Excellent point about the value of unrestricted funding. Kevin Starr, head of the Mulago Foundation, made the same point in an excellent post to the Stanford Social Innovation Review: Just Give ‘Em the Money

  2. 2

    Thanks David, I appreciate it. I think one problem with unrestricted donations is that it’s an acknowledgment that the technocrats/experts might make better decisions re: how to spend money than we do as donors.

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