In what I would argue is a responsible act, Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) has announced that it has received all the money it can use (41 million euro) to provide its services in the tsunami-ravaged Indian ocean countries. Others are outraged, calling on MsF/DwB to take back this irresponsible remark and desperately afraid that acknowledging that there is enough money at one organization will cause all other giving to stop.
C'mon folks, we can't have it both ways. We want NGOs to be responsible stewards of financial resources and to honor donor intent. We don't want a repeat of the "blood banking" post September 11, when everyone gave blood and there was (sadly) no increased need for it. Blood, unlike money, actually has a shelf life. But - given the challenges of coordinating the tsunami-relief efforts, doesn't it make sense for a fully-funded effort to say, "Thanks, but how about supporting OxFam to provide clean water or to the UN for refugee services or to X for Y" and let donors send their funds elsewhere? WOuldn't it be great if we had a way to do this - refer, coordinate, and move resources to where they are needed and to those who can put them to immediate good use?
Or, wouldn't it be helpful if some of the potential donors to MsF/DwB for tsunami relief would still give to MsF/DwB but for their work in Darfur or Uganda (both appeals appear on the home page - www.msf.org) or to the organization's general operations?
When the final toll is counted, the outpouring of private financial support for the victims of the tsunami will be enormous - probably unprecedented. This is great, and something we as humans can take pride in and express gratitude for. But to really help those in need we need those enormous resources to be well spent. Part of ensuring this happens is for individual donors, nations and NGOs to act responsibly. MsF/DwB is doing so in this case. If the whole doesn't work, its for want of coordination and systemic connections, not due the actions of one organization. What we need are ways to coordinate the moving of those "excess" resources to the other underfunded needs in the region and around the world.
For more on this theme, see yesterday's post on coordination.