Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing without Organizations” (thanks to Sean Lowrie for the recommendationposted an excellent story about the collapse of newspapers due to new web tools on his blog. Are there parallels to the humanitarian aid sector?
About the newspaper industry, he writes,
When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.
A whole host of North American industries have allowed fabulists to set their agendas for resisting reform: sprawl developers, auto manufacturers, coal-dependent power companies and cattle feed lots.
What they refuse to see is that a business model is not a mandate.
Stefan continues, “The single biggest delusion in North America today is that the interconnected planetary problems bearing down on us can be faced with slight alterations to the current order… [it won’t, because] we are in a situation where incremental reform has already been made meaningless by a revolution in context.”
The same is true for aid, where much of our current efforts towards incremental change have not succeeded in their original aims to stay competitive. See Paul Currion’s excellent post “Welcome to the Future” at humanitarian.info for an excellent summary of why. He writes:
The recent ICVA annual conference took as its starting point the depressing premise that, despite the four previous conferences discussing reform, little actual reform seems to have taken place. Our resistance to reform has developed partly from our lack of transparency and accountability, but that era is coming to an end. Change or die, folks.
As Steffen concludes, “We’re moving more and more quickly into a period of rapid transformation. We could be embracing that change and setting out to build the next smart, bright green economy. Instead, we allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that the current models are “too big to fail.” They’re not, and the longer we listen, the more epic the failure will be.”
Currion agrees: “There needs to be a radical restructuring of the entire sector, not just in the face of growing criticisms of aid at the macro level, but at the roots of the entire humanitarian effort.” This, after all, is part of HFP’s grand mission, isn’t it? Many echoed this sentiment at the 2008 HFP Stakeholders Forum. The issue then, seems to be not if this is necessary, but how and when it will happen.