Monday, June 28, 2010

Stop chasing those numbers

A lot of this month seems to have been occupied by numbers – we were writing a proposal for one of donors and if the project were approved, it would mean that we could continue to do the good work that we do. The exercise involved a lot of wrestling with numbers. Numbers to be filled in the budget column ; numbers to be filled in explaining how many people would benefit from the grant and how to make sure that enough number of people had access to the program without us spreading ourselves so thin, that quality itself would be compromised.

Having worked for a funder before, I can understand their compulsions. Funders have to calculate hard data like cost per beneficiary and if that is too high, then the manner in which the program has been designed may not be feasible to run and fund; no matter how good the rationale, the bottom line is always economics – the final question before any funder will sign off – does it make economic sense to fund this program – will enough numbers of people benefit from the grant or a tiny number of them will? If the answer is not satisfactory enough, the application will not be accepted. Working for a donor, I used to examine those numbers and determine whether they were consistent with financial prudence. Today as someone who works for Oasis, an implementing agency, I have to supply those numbers and apply the same parameters.

But just how much should an organization be driven by numbers, is a question I still have not been able to resolve. Numbers are important I know. It costs a lot of effort to raise money and if it is not used in the most efficient and cost effective way, the donor is very likely to feel short changed. Yet as someone dealing with people and their suffering, just to what extent can this be quantified? and even if it can be , to what extent is it fair or right to measure the efficacy and success of our efforts through numbers alone.

At Oasis, a large part of our work is with victims off trafficking. Often they have suffered immensely and in a manner that we can hardly imagine or understand. They have been exploited, abused and brutalized in the most unimaginable ways possible. At Oasis, we try and restore to them some of the lost years of their lives, through a host of interventions. Those interventions are costly. That intervention s is intense. Those interventions take time to work. If at all they work. And sometimes, they don’t because some hurts and experiences human beings cannot deal with, no matter how proficient their methods and how professional their staff. Only God can heal every one, we at Oasis can only try and does our little bit as His agents and instruments.

So is it fair to always ask that question” How many”? How many women did you rescue from the brothels? And how many children? Why so many women? Why so few children? Why did only so many women enrol for your livelihoods program? Why did so few get successfully counselled and come to terms with their past? Why? Why? Why?

As a donor, I used to know how to ask the right questions, and I still do; but today I know how easy it is to ask questions than it is to provide the answers to some unfathomable mysteries. But one thing too I know, that numbers are one piece of the puzzle. Yes money is important, cost benefit ratios are important, effectiveness is important, professionalism is important. All of those things are important. But infinitely more important than all those numbers is the human spirit which we try to heal.

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