The list of articles and blog posts related to Three Cups of Tea-gate, as of this writing, is at 110 and counting. I don’t suspect there’s much original content I can add to this conversation.
Actually, you know what? There was not much original content to add to this conversation before it even got started. Outside of the details of how the Central Asia Institute (CAI) proved itself incompetent to the mission that it set out for itself, in my opinion there is really nothing new here. Certainly nothing really surprising, and certainly nothing that hasn’t already been said many, many, many times before.
Thanks to all those awesomely intuitive peeps in the mass media, what, exactly, are we learning from all of this? Well…
It turns out that doing long-term programming, and doing it properly is hard. It takes commitment. It costs a lot of money. Who would have thought? No Kidding.
Going someplace where there are a lot of brown people and having an epiphany about how simple the needs of the poor are is easy. Doing something about it takes a lot of knowledge and skill and experience. No Kidding.
… And even with a lot of knowledge, skill and experience, there are no guarantees of success. Sometimes programs fail. Even ones that are well-planned, resourced and executed. Sometimes they fizzle or deliver marginal results. No Kidding.
Greg Mortenson is a big, lumbering, completely disorganized (according to a “friend”) oaf who thought this was all nice and easy, but who – as it turns out – was just plain wrong. No Kidding.
A famous journalist who thought he understood aid better than he does (I know, almost never happens, right?), whose own career has been made by inaccurately portraying the issues (“it’s simple, really”) in the name of “raising awareness”, and who got all misty over Three Cups of Tea… is now heartbroken and covering his own ass. No Kidding.
Err... well.. 1) Impossible to prove; 2) not an excuse for fraud.]
Oh, wow. It’s all more complicated than we thought. Very few programs, strategies, ideas, or contexts are cut-and-dried. No Kidding.
The happy propaganda (some bloggers insist on calling this “the narrative”) that aid providers of all sizes and colors feed to their constituents bears somewhere between zero and very little resemblance to what they really do and what the issues really are. No Kidding.
Aid workers – even the really really altruistic ones – are not above Botox-ing their own “narratives” for the sake of a good story. No Kidding.
Maybe we shouldn’t put eccentric visionaries in charge of practical things. Like designing and running programs in other countries? No Kidding.
D.I.Y. aid based on larger-than-life, cults-of-personality is almost always bound for total lameness. No Kidding.
OMG. They read books and have the internet in Pakistan. No Kidding.
[Insert your own snarky, cynical wrap-up paragraph here...]