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Quick fixes

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Sometimes quick fixes are a failure, or worse - good intentions that lead to disaster. They can distract and divert resources from real solutions.

Other times, a quick fix is the "low hanging fruit" - something simple that helps individuals in real ways.

There are a million little ideas in international development that don’t fit with any expressed donor priorities, but would so obviously make a useful different in the world. An organization dedicated to these low hanging fruit could work on those. It could document everything to pieces (under an open license, of course), so it would also serve as research on what works. Every community it worked in would have a paired control community with similar demographics, and as soon as it could demonstrate an intervention was working, it could be extended into the control group so they could benefit too.

Because the focus would be on simple solutions, it should be easier to get the individual donations needed to keep the programs going. A hippo roller or better irrigation is an easy sell, and easy to illustrate in photographs.

These kinds of quick fixes are not the answer to the world’s problems. International development needs long-term approaches to major structural problems. But sometimes a band-aid help your wound heal faster, and it's frustrating to see someone hurting when a five cent peice of plastic and gauze could make a difference.

Here is some of what such an organization could do:

  • Irrigation: Irrigation water all over the world runs in open ditches. Water is then lost to evaporation and seepage into the ground. Solution: cement and enclose drainage ditches. We'd do it if farmers in the community agreed to provide a certain amount of labor. We would know if it was working by measuring water flows.
  • Public health: Teach parents how to make oral rehydration solution[2] at home, and work with communities to help them establish emergency transport funds for health emergencies and pregnancy, and nutrition education. Support new mobile phone applications to improve access to data for health care providers and remind patients on ARV and DOTS regimes to take their medicine.

Any large NGO could establish an internal "low-hanging fruit" fund. Country directors could submit projects to be supported from that pool of funds, based on opportunities they have seen that no major donor is interested in supporting. The fund pool could come from dedicated fundraising or general unrestricted donor funds.

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Attribution: This page includes content from the Blood and Milk blog by Alanna Shaikh, posted under the CC-BY-SA license.[3]