Helping Haiti and MSF

UPDATE: Via Alanna Shaikh, UPDATE: Via [Alanna Shaikh](, when donating to Haiti.

I will never be able to understand or even process what people in Haiti are going through right now.  Every piece of news coming from there seems so crazy and far away and I seem stupider and stupider sitting on my couch and watching dead bodies being shoveled with a plow.  Everything people do for Haiti seems jaded and somehow very inefficient,  which is why I think events like the Hot Chocolate for Haiti fundraiser that our condo community pulled together on Saturday are a bit ridiculous (although  well-meaning).  Really, it all depends on where the money goes.

Julie Minevich has a nice write-up of why you should be critical of aid organizations giving to Haiti right now, based on  my tweet:

I stumbled across this post on Reddit which details all the ways that the Red Cross is not helpful and organizations like Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) are.

I work very closely with the Red Cross. What most people don’t realise is that money donated doesn’t go directly to disaster relief efforts. Most money donated goes to helping them get out of their $200million+ debt. If they paid their executive directors less, I’m sure that debt could be corrected a lot faster.

Please, please (as a nonprofit employee that gets the s*** end of the stick from Red Cross on a consistent basis) donate DIRECTLY to agencies helping Haiti.

EDIT: Most of the disaster relief volunteers that will be participating in Haiti may not even be continual Red Cross volunteers. A lot of American Red Cross chapters pull from volunteer agencies (like mine) and asks those individuals to help manage the shelters and cleanups (a lot of times on that volunteer’s own dime). I reiterate, if you are interested in helping donate to this unfortunate disaster, please review monoglot‘s link to NPR’s list of ways to help.

I have really taken a liking to MSF because, at least from the external perspective, it seems like they have a very bare bones operation and get in and start being doctors under the worst possible conditions with very little of the overhead costs that the Red Cross and other similar organizations suffer from. They are rated very high on Charity Navigator, and additionally, I recently heard about an MSF documentary that I really want to see.

This goes along with a similar documentary that I’ve seen, Motherland Afghanistan, about how an Afghan doctor returns continuously to Afghanistan to provide obstetric care in the face of enormous difficulty, not the least of which is charity money lost from administrative bureaucracy that seems rampant. William Easterly details this problem over and over, but especially in a 2002 paper called “The Cartel of Good Intentions

Why does the business of delivering foreign aid services to poor people in poor countries involve so much unproductive bureaucracy? It’s not that aid bureaucrats are bad; in fact many smart, hard-working, dedicated professionals toil away in the world’s top aid agencies. But the perverse incentives they face explain the organizations’ obtuse behavior.  Bureaucracy works best where there is high feedback from beneficiaries, high incentives for the bureaucracy to respond to such feedback, easily observable outcomes, high probability that bureaucratic effort will translate into favorable outcomes, and competitive pressure from other bureaucracies and agencies. In short, bureaucracy works best when it functions something like a free market.

Related on the blog:

I wax nostalgic about Kiva