The Wrong Risks

by Sheela Patel, The Stanford Social Innovation Review; Winter 2010.

Railing against the culture of measurement, Sheela Patel takes professional philanthropists to task for the “log-frame virus” which she describes as “an infection that drives funders to insist upon seeing the logical framework or business plan of an intervention, from inputs, to outputs, to outcomes.”

Patel has worked for grassroots organisations in India for over three decades and is the founding director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Research Centers (SPARC) and the chair of Shack/Slum Dwellers International. She argues that funders have begun elevating their needs for accountability above the needs of the people on the ground. With personal experiences backing her claims, Patel digs into the pressurised landscape dividing funders and fundees. She accuses international funders of losing perspective: “By paying so much attention to managing their own risks, philanthropists are no longer attending to the marginalized people who risk so much to make change happen…

With their new strategies and new staff, foundations today are increasingly treating organizations like ours not as innovators, but as contractors who are hired to deliver their visions. We feel that our space – the development and evolution of community-driven strategies – is completely closing down.”

This article may be a healthy conversation-starter for those wishing to engage in an honest dialogue about social impact measurement. Rather than thoughtlessly embracing a framework, funders and fundees can seek to better understand the costs and benefits of the culture of measurement.

To read Patel’s piece in full, see: www.ssireview.org/articles/

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