To Every Solution There’s a Problem, if only we can find it…

I was thinking yesterday about blogging about these wise words from Clay Shirky (via Kevin Kelly):

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

Yesterday I wasn’t sure which example to use in the charity context; it’s an ever-present problem in all institutions but I thought especially in an under-monitored one like development aid. Well, sadly, the New York Times gave us a searing example this morning when discussing the new data showing major improvements in maternal death rates

For the first time in decades, researchers are reporting a significant drop worldwide in the number of women dying each year from pregnancy and childbirth….

But some advocates for women’s health tried to pressure The Lancet into delaying publication of the new findings, fearing that good news would detract from the urgency of their cause, [the Journal’s editor] Dr. Horton said in a telephone interview.

As Bill Easterly has blogged, there’s a huge incentive for charities to seek out the worst news and highlight it – from photographing only starving Africans to witholding improvements in public health. The only way to fight this is to monitor, monitor, monitor – and support those charities that are transparent and effective.

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