"Extending simple measures" can produce significant results
A recent NYT article higlighted substantial progress in improving the survival rate of children in the world's developing countries by "extending simple measures" and also attacking root causes. The article is heavy on reporting individual performance of various countries, which is certainly of interest, but it also alludes to a few key points that philanthropists need to bear in mind as they seek to improve conditions on this, and perhaps, most issues:
- There are often "simple measures" that can be most easily replicated (e.g. scaled) and yet yield significant results. One of the roles donors can play is in ensuring that those "simple measures" are adequately funded so that they become a stable and consistent component of the program.
- Ensuring that the basics are covered liberates the organization to research, test and identify other measures that need to be employed. The "simple measures" may solve 80% of the problem but chances are the remaining 20% is much more difficult to make progress against. As a result, ensuring that the 80% is covered allows the leadership to focus on the 20% that requires additional creativity and ingenuity.
- Attacking root causes, including those that are apparently tangential to the issue at hand, is not a departure from mission, but rather, part of a complete solution. In the case of reducing child mortality, the article points out that in addition to vaccines and simple medical preventative treatments, "anything that feeds children" reduces death. This, because malnutrition is a contributor in more than half of all childhood deaths.
As donors, it is often tempting to seek out ways to fund the cutting edge...to be part of the "new" solution. This article makes a strong case that a huge portion of our responsibility is to make sure the basics, what we know works, are thoroughly and completely funded. This also respects the reality that, in the vast majority of cases, we are not the experts. Rather, we can free up the experts to focus on identifying what else is needed. With our help, they've got the basics covered and can move ahead.