Barron’s just published a very poignant article by Paul Theroux on NGO work in Africa, criticizing the approach of many non-profits that are doing work there. In a follow-up blog written by Richard Morais, miraclefeet was named one of the top 5 NGOs doing things right in Africa.
We are thrilled to have earned this mention, and would like to take a moment to share how miraclefeet meets the guidelines for success in Africa, as laid out in the article:
1. Beware the panacea. Millions of dollars are wasted on overly ambitious projects claiming to be a ‘killer app.” Projects that employ tried-and-true interventions, narrower in scope, usually have far greater impact.
miraclefeet is focused only on treating clubfoot, a debilitating but treatable birth defect. All of our programming, including training, technical assistance, capacity building and community outreach, centers around the Ponseti method, the gold standard treatment for clubfoot, which is not only inexpensive but also effective in resolving 95% of cases non-surgically.
2. Demand responsible management. Ask tough questions if money is flowing into a charity, but isn’t flowing out to charitable causes.
80% of our funding goes directly towards programming. The patient records of 95% of the children we treat are contained in an on-line database so quality can be monitored and the impact on the lives of children measured.
3. Avoid duplication. Be aware of other efforts already on the ground and make sure that your program isn’t a wasteful repeat but, preferably, leverages off what’s there.
Our partners are on-the-ground clubfoot champions who know exactly what is needed where. We seek to build on existing services and develop networks with other providers to exchange ideas and identify best practices.
4. Support local, sustainable solutions. Avoid short term fixes by always seeking input from locals; plan for them to run the project on their own in the long-run.
miraclefeet-supported programs are locally-led, tailored to the needs to their communities, and leverage the existing public health system to ensure they are sustainable in the long term. Our programs include advocacy with the local government to ensure permanent change.
5. Beware of poor infrastructure projects. Make sure wells are dug where they’re actually needed, that the bridges and roads are integrated into existing plans by government or other NGOs.
miraclefeet conducts extensive fact-finding missions with local partners and stakeholders before evaluating their proposals. Each program is customized to fit the specific needs of the country.
6. Use technology intelligently. Over 90% of households across sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to electricity for their everyday needs, let alone power for laptops. Make sure locals have the skills, resources, and necessary tools to keep tech-dependent elements of your philanthropic project running.
While our use of smart design and technology keep our costs low, the Ponseti Method itself is very low-tech and easy to replicate in any public health setting. When appropriate, we introduce technology specifically designed for low-resource environments.
7. Be prepared to face corruption. Even when a project has been granted governmental approvals, there’s no guarantee of official cooperation; corruption and regional conflicts pose considerable challenges.
Decisions about our approach are made with local partners and in a way that is very cognizant of any governmental issues within each individual country. Although our programs are conducted in public hospitals, we never send money directly to government entities. All funding is managed by a local NGO partner that provides monthly and quarterly reconciliation of spending.
8. Be culturally appropriate. Put on your anthropologist’s hat. Africans have their own process for dealing with grief and loss; Western-style grief counselors following a natural disaster or war aren’t appropriate.
miraclefeet takes our direction and guidance from our local partners. Whenever possible, we use trainers from the region to train new doctors in order to ensure programs are developed in a culturally appropriate manner.
Our work in Africa will enable us to prevent children from being permanently disabled, allowing them to walk, run, attend school, play sports and be productive members of their communities.
miraclefeet is honored to be recognized for the work we are supporting in South Africa, Botswana, Liberia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia.