Below is the executive summary of our business plan, for a shorter introduction to DISAO, please see our presentation.
“Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor, the more people are watching aid.” by William Easterly at the discontinued website: http://aidwatchers.com/
Don’t worry, DISAO is not another charity aiming to provide international aid. DISAO aims to radically alter the aid system itself, through disruptive innovation that favours aid recipients and provides them with more leverage, and therefore more power relative to those funding and providing aid. The objective is reaching a more equitable balance of power as an incentive to change international aid practices in favour of aid recipients. DISAO capitalises on the rapidly evolving digital technology and increased private and non-profit sector interest in the ICT4D, ICT4E and M4D sectors1, as an opportunity to implement an independent online platform for aid recipients feedback as an incentive for change, directly populated by them, without the interference of traditional actors.
Imagine you visit your local Starbucks and before you can place your order they present you with a cappuccino, instead of the skinny latte with soya milk which you wanted. They attempt to charge you for the beverage and accuse you of dishonesty while explaining that your only other option is to leave. This scenario is unlikely to happen, as your choice to leave and not spend any money at Starbucks, and the option to press charges, is your leverage over Starbucks. They want you to return, spend money and tell others how amazing they are – without it they will go bankrupt. These basic market mechanisms and legal frameworks ensure a certain level of accountability and an equitable balance of power between the end-user and the provider.
Aid recipients as end-users of aid have no choice, no access to legal measures and no spending power, and therefore no leverage within the aid system. Essentially, the aid system has no mechanisms, legal frameworks or other incentives to assure acceptable levels of accountability or an equitable balance of power among those partaking. All efforts for regulation or accountability are voluntary and occur through self-regulation, undermined by a lack of incentive for aid providers to adhere to even the most basic mechanisms. Malfunctioning of the voluntary and self-regulatory system for accountability is evident from the low number of HAP-certified aid providers in contrast to the amount of HAP members and total amount of humanitarian organisations in the world.2
Globally the aid system includes over 21,000 international organisations3 and has consumed over 3 trillion USD in the last 60 years with questionable impact and regulation.4 As part of this system, the humanitarian sector consumes almost USD18 billion5 annually to implement organisational priorities that are increasingly dominated by organisational survival instead of the needs of aid recipients. This became obvious again in 2013 when in the UK the priorities of several charities were questioned.6 The system is often condoned by others as convenient or as part of the moral high-ground on which society places charities. The largest interest for change resides with aid recipients themselves, but the aid providers hinder the recipients’ access to leverage by monopolising their feedback.
The DISAO online feedback platform will allow aid recipients to use their own feedback as leverage in the aid system, disrupt the aid providers’ monopoly on aid recipients’ feedback, and provide an incentive for change in an otherwise inert system. For instance, through this platform, Syrian refugees in Jordan can, without the interference of any third party, directly share their feedback on aid they received with a global audience. The refugees can use mobile phone voice or SMS, or the internet to submit feedback in different languages, both positive and negative, without incurring any costs. All feedback will be consolidated in the cloud and processed to produce a narrative of their experience with the aid provided. The narrative can be presented in different formats and filtered on for instance location and name of the organisation. On the other end are the aid providers, donors and supporters who can access the platform through the internet, allowing for almost real-time independent verification and review of international aid practices to guide their activities, funding and support.
Overview of DISAO’s Aid Recipient Feedback platform.
Mobile phone and internet use in the developing world has dramatically increased in the last few years with mobile phone connections indicated at 5.5 billion7 and with mobile broadband subscriptions increasing from 43 million in 2007 to 1.2 billion in 2013 (see figure below). Increasingly these technologies are reaching more people, including countries suffering from armed conflict, as even the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan have GSM coverage around 50%.8 These developments fuel an increasing involvement of charities and private business in the M4D, ICT4D and ICT4E sectors to secure future market share.
Figure showing mobile phone and internet use in the developing world (2007-2013 – Source: ITU – * = projected values )
DISAO capitalises on this development to support the implementation of the online platform for aid recipient feedback. This will be achieved by maintaining a network in both the private and not-for-profit sector, among organisations interested in supporting the online platform as part of their CSR, impact investments or their mission in the case of charities. The majority of components needed, from sending a promotional SMS to aid recipients to cloud processing and storage are potentially available pro-bono, through external funding by donors or as part of already existing initiatives by specialised organisations such as Télécoms Sans Frontières and umbrella organisations such as the GSM Association. The challenge resides in finding how to combine the necessary technologies, while connecting the key-stakeholders that provide them, to ensure smooth communication between both the technologies and the key-stakeholders in the demanding environment of the developing world.
The initial stream of aid recipient feedback, with limited filtering options, will be available for free. A more sophisticated online visualisation dashboard will be available behind a paywall for those interested in more detail and conducting their own analysis. Subscriptions will also include the option for analysis and reporting facilitated by DISAO. The raw data will always remain with DISAO and will not be shared with others beyond legal obligations. DISAO will use the profit to ensure sustainability of the platform. What differentiates DISAO from any of the current initiatives to improve the aid system, is its unique approach of combining aid recipient focus with a business plan of financial viability, while keeping the role of the aid provider limited.
DISAO strongly believes that for the aid system to evolve beyond its current imbalanced status-quo, the time has come to abandon the attempts to tweak the system and seek disruptive innovations that aim to drastically alter the system in favour of aid recipients. DISAO can make this happen with your support. Initially DISAO will not make a profit and, as a registered charitable incorporated organisation, will seek donors to fund the initial operating costs and implementation of the platform. Support DISAO and be part of the organisation that will be the biggest buzz at the UN 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
1ICT4D; Information & Communication Technology for Development / ICT4E; Information & Communication Technology for Emergencies / M4D; Mobile for Development.
2The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP); “The HAP Certification Scheme provides a rigorous verification of an organisation’s accountability and quality management. When an organisation is HAP-certified, it means that it is compliant with the 2010 HAP Standard in Accountability and Quality Management.”, http://www.hapinternational.org/what-we-do/certification.aspx, last accessed on 10 January 2014.
3See Global Civil Society 2009, Ashwani Kumar, et al. (eds), London: Sage, 2009, at 315.
4See for instance the debate around the Haiti earthquake; Haiti earthquake: where is US aid money going? Get the data, Guardian, 10 January 2014 at http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2014/jan/10/haiti-earthquake-us-aid-funding-data & Haiti: Failute to Deal with the Consequences of the 2010 Devasting Earthquake, Amnesty International, 9 January 2014 at http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AMR36/002/2014/en/8ae764ad-c95c-49cd-93da-0786b9fcf3e7/amr360022014en.html & Haiti Quake: Four Years Later, We Still Don’t Know Where the Money Has Gone, Vijaya Ramachandran, 7 January 2014 at http://international.cgdev.org/blog/haiti-quake-four-years-later-we-still-dont-know-where-money-has-gone.
5The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2013, Global Humanitarian Assistance, Development Initiatives, 2013, p. 4.
6Media revealed that Comic Relief was investing its money in arms, tobacco and alcohol producing companies, that Save the Children UK decided not to advocate on energy bill issues out of fear of loosing funding and Amnesty International wasted money on social events. See BBC, Panorama, ‘All in a Good Cause’ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03nkp7s – See also; Time for beeb to ditch the red noses, Ian Birrell, MailOnline, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2521077/Time-BBC-ditch-Comic-Relief.html and Comic Relief money invested in arms and tobacco shares, Declan Lawn, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25273024.