David Damberger: What happens when an NGO admits failure
David Damberger - Engineer, Social Entrepreneur
David Damberger’s work with Engineers Without Borders has taken him from communities in India to Southern Africa to help build infrastructure -- and learn. Full bio
had just gained access to fresh water.
in Southern Africa,
more people like Inook in Malawi
is that this picture is a lie.
sparked a movement across Canada,
that it was completely unacceptable
did not have access to fresh water,
were working on problems
increase its speed
to 151 pages per minute.
on problems that mattered.
the Calgary chapter here.
of overseas programs
with hundreds of businesses,
for Engineers Without Borders
on hundred-million-dollar projects,
the problems in local Africa,
would spend most of the time
learning local languages,
was to get a really deep understanding
Without Borders experiences,
of what's going on in this aid industry.
a lot of attention lately.
and have written about it.
about its effectiveness,
the question, "Has aid failed?"
Without Borders staff members
that the aid system is broken.
what the media usually talks about.
or about corruption.
than they are the mainstream today.
stable governments with no civil unrest,
that 80% of the people in Malawi
in Malawi, this is Owen,
by the Canadian government
basically is a bunch of pipes
from an elevated region
where there are taps,
turning on some of those taps,
had sprung leaks and broken down.
pipes break down everywhere.
with this project was that,
who was going to maintain the system.
and tried to fix the pipes themselves,
of affordable spare parts available.
of Malawi, I think it's an urban area,
are functional water points,
but breaking down,
has done some work
coverage of water points,
end up focusing on
of the software side of things.
of course you have to do maintenance.
as people donating to charities,
to something tangible,
something like a school,
to tell your friends about
or paid for teacher salaries.
this picture of Inook is a lie,
a year or two afterwards.
one of my great colleagues said,
from Africa doesn't matter.
from Africa, people don't get to see."
that just broken down water points.
discovered not more than 30 feet away:
that look really broken down, too,
government gravity-fed water system."
about a year and a half later."
that failed ten years ago
the same technology, same process,
ten years later?
that sells goods online,
fair-trade goods --
eBay or Amazon.
being a private sector start-up is,
the product they need,
and adapt to their needs,
quite as fast as the private sector,
the needs of its constituents,
to vote them out of power,
of their beneficiaries --
and businesses as well --
to vote them out or to fire them.
are the donors.
you can see some of the challenges.
that focuses more on pleasing the donors
and communicating to them,
the needs of the beneficiaries.
is very slow to innovate,
built ten years later
and public sectors
to be more sustainable
to hold them accountable.
in sub-Saharan Africa
a day and are still in poverty.
the private and the public sector
and governments in Africa,
for the problems to be fixed.
more creative and more transparent.
coming up with really neat ideas --
a chance to rate their projects
closer to our beneficiaries.
Development Agency's African staff
like VCs fund businesses:
funded ten projects
need to be that complex.
one that's actually quite simple;
Without Borders was in India.
the untouchable caste.
who was in one of those schools
two to three hours a day
to bring it back to the school
to drink and for cooking
was to help solve the problem.
during the monsoons,
and store it for the dry season.
of months, and by the time I left,
and being implemented.
to Canada almost a hero.
were like, "Wow, that's fantastic!
and gas sector to go volunteer in India.
to see how everything was going
was still operating.
of them had been built,
schedule put in place.
that I criticized earlier.
and family back home
I didn't help her at all.
that helped me feel better about this --
Without Borders had failed, too.
this culture of embracing failure openly
of us talking about failure
we're making a lot of mistakes,
and can learn from them.
is drastically different now,
Engineers should be doing in development.
in fact, we don't build anything
the problems are not hardware problems;
that software side of things.
to get across to people;
the software side of things,
to fund those things.
to share this failure internally,
of letting other people know.
were getting upset at the management
going to make the same failures;
publishing our failures,
an annual failure report
"What do your donors think?"
and saved up and generously donated
reading the failures,
of those lessons learned
not to be sharing these.
everyone reads reports,
and start admitting their failures,
a discussion about failure.
month, published their first review
have also dealt with failure.
in other sectors and they're like,
that has this challenge,
one of them publicly admitted the failure
from it and what they'll do next time.
to not talk about it at all.
to see which of those strategies works.
think about and share failure?
some really interesting conversations.
to this question, "Has aid failed?"
the answer is "Yes,"
About the speaker:David Damberger - Engineer, Social Entrepreneur
David Damberger’s work with Engineers Without Borders has taken him from communities in India to Southern Africa to help build infrastructure -- and learn.
Why you should listen
David got his start with Engineers without Borders when he founded the organization's Calgary chapter. He then worked for four years as the Engineers without Border's director of Southern African programs, consulting with governments and NGOs on agriculture, sanitation and development. In 2009, he co-founded Ethical Ocean, an online retail company focused on ethical and fair-trade goods.
David Damberger | Speaker | TED.com