For the past two years, I’ve called for charities to admit their failures. I wrote about this issue just last week. So I’m happy to announce that on January 14, a new Web site was launched to provide a platform for admitting mistakes, and it’s aptly named admittingfailure.com, created by Engineers Without Borders Canada. That organization and GlobalGiving have both already included stories of their own mistakes.
In addition, Engineers Without Borders Canada released its 2011 Failure Report, detailing more projects that did not achieve full success.
In its press release announcing the new site, Engineers Without Borders described its goals for the new Web site as an “effort to get a seemingly simple but virtually non-existent practice adopted throughout the development sector.”
The announcement continues, “The need for this sort of practice is summarized by [international-development veteran] Ian Smillie in his conclusion authored for the Failure Report: ‘The development business is largely uncharted territory. If we knew how to end poverty, we would have done it a long time ago. And yet the enterprise is notoriously risk-averse; donors demand results and punish failure. The development challenge is not to avoid the risk that comes with charting new paths. It is not to deny failure. It is to learn, to remember, and to apply what is being remembered.’ ”
I challenge all charities to publicly admit and share their mistakes, and I challenge all individual donors to write to the nonprofits they support and encourage them to share their mistakes as well. We all know that mistakes are made all the time in aid and development. It’s time to stop hiding them and start learning from them.
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