Skip to content

The “Stuff We Don’t Want” flowchart

UPDATE: Scott has taken some of your suggestions to improve the chart–Version 2.0 is below.

I doubt we need to point out that if you’re about to embark on an aid project to help Africa with no actual knowledge of aid or Africa, the ire of a certain blogging development economist may not be your greatest preoccupation. And we probably also don’t need to mention that developing a simple set of standards (perhaps in the form of a basic decision tree) won’t solve all the many well-documented problems with gifts-in-kind aid.

But who knows, it might help to weed out a few misguided and potentially harmful projects, so…thanks to Scott Gilmore at Peace Dividend Trust for drawing up this handy flowchart:

Click for larger pdf

Scott instructs:

Print it, laminate it, keep it in your wallet, and rest easy knowing you won’t inadvertently attract the bloodthirsty wrath concerned interest of the aid critics.

Refinements or additions, anyone?

On a related but more serious note, Saundra Schimmelpfennig recently reminded us of an earlier blog post, How to determine if an aid project is a good idea, which is basically a lesson in empathy (“…ask yourself…is this is the type of aid you would want or would something else be more helpful? Would that aid project help solve the real problem or just address a side effect of the real problem? How would that same problem best be solved in your state/neighborhood?”) to help potential individual donors make good funding decisions.

This entry was posted in Aid policies and approaches, Badvocacy and celebs and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Rebecca Burlingame wrote:

    Could we hear it in the potential recipient’s own words as to what is desired, perhaps this would help. Not only would this be enlightening for those who could provide, but some self-respect might come back into the process, both on the part of the giver and recipient, both of who share the same goal of not having to be in such unequal situations which separate them in countless ways.

    Granted, it would not always be easier for the recipient to say what is actually desired. But that is just the point. To simply think this through allows the process to be of proaction, rather than merely reaction.

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:33 am | Permalink
  2. karis wrote:

    I agree with Rebecca. You can’t reduce everything to just cost-benefit analysis.

    I also think there’s a bit of a false option between whether it’s cheaper to ship or just send the money. In fact, if the product is needed but not available locally, is there a chance that sending the money will mean it’s more expensive for the recipient country to acquire the product? A lot of those logistics – even the logistics of transferring money -in developing countries is MORE expensive than it is from here.

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  3. oh dear, just applied this chart to one WFP food distribution program, several USAID programs and to a JICA program, guess what the results were?

    perhaps SWEDOW doesn’t apply to rice and corn?

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  4. Aaron K wrote:

    The flow chart is broken. It recommends selling something that cannot be sold here, but is needed, available locally without causing shortages, and not worth shipping. I assume you intended to say these should be thrown out?

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  5. Jessica Sloan wrote:

    I love this chart, and am therefore really hesitant to suggest revisions (I also have a vain hope that if it remains simple, it will actually be used). However, I think it’s worth it to add a point below “Is the stuff needed?” that reads something like “Is the stuff needed more somewhere else?” As most of us know, a huge problem in development is the so-called “development darling,” whereby a certain country or area suddenly gets all the attention and, too often, all the resources. As both aid flows and local needs become increasingly transparent and accessible, isn’t it a good idea to force would-be donors to consider if they are sending their stuff to the area of greatest need, as opposed to the area of greatest press coverage?

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  6. David Zetland wrote:

    “On a related but more serious note”. Actually, no. We can use this — as some have here — for most project evaluation. There’s nothing more serious than screwing up people’s lives, by accident.

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
  7. Laura Freschi wrote:

    David, Agreed, I didn’t mean to imply that the chart wasn’t useful. And it does appeal because of its simplicity. But I thought that Saundra’s blog post was helpful in teasing out some complex issues around how we know what others need, that might be obscured by the chart’s pared-down language.

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  8. Scott Gilmore wrote:


    Actually, that decision point is meant to go that way. For lack of space I couldn’t be more precise, but imagine you have a tent making company in Wisconsin. The “here” is Wisconsin. The “local” is Haiti.

    Ask yourself, if Haiti needs tents, and if you buy them in Port au Prince, will it cause inflation or other market disruptions in the local Haitian economy? If the answer is no, then you want to consider selling the five thousand tents you have sitting in your warehouse in Wisconsin, instead of shipping them. Then use the money to buy tents in Port au Prince. Thus eliminating the shipping cost and injecting much needed cash into the local economy. If the answer is yes, it will create inflation locally, because there are too few tents in the Haitian marketplace, then you may want to actually ship your Wisconsin tents down.


    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink
  9. Aaron K wrote:

    Attempt #2:

    1) Is the stuff needed? Yes
    2) Is it available locally (over there)? Yes
    3) Will buying locally cause shortages or other disruptions? No
    4) Can the stuff be sold here? No
    5) Could the cost of shipping be better spent on something needed more? Yes
    Decision: Sell it. Donate the money.

    (Decision contradicts 4)

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink
  10. Scott Gilmore wrote:

    Ahh – Aaron. Good catch. You are a wise man. I see the logic loop there. Version 2.0 coming up.

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  11. Aaron K wrote:

    Being an aid skeptic is hard work. 😉

    Posted May 19, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  12. Haruka Tanabe wrote:

    @ Nathan

    I’m currently working as a volunteer in a JICA Mozambique program – although not an aid-in-kind project .
    I was wondering which project you applied to this flow chart and what your thoughts are on this?

    Posted May 20, 2010 at 3:28 am | Permalink
  13. Diane Bennett wrote:

    Well said. I’ve seen distribution even within a country be disproportional because the logistics are easier (and cheaper) to supply aid where it has been established, but is no longer needed (in that volume) and others neglected because it’s harder (and more expensive) to serve those in greater need.

    Posted May 20, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  14. Dan K wrote:

    Often people on short-term voluntourism trips etc. like to bring stuff with them for locals. What about adding an “are you going, too?” question, with the downstream logical implications? Does the fact that someone goes with their stuff change the recommendation on sending the stuff? I can see face-to-face giving as different than unloading stuff.

    Perhaps a “should I visit or just send money?” flowchart is in order? (e.g., Have you been there before, are you welcome to come, can you tell the story to others, can you get other people to come with you to see first-hand, would those people ever go with someone else or are you their closest opportunity, how wealthy/connected are the people you could bring with you, would you be a distraction/burden while you’re there, etc.)

    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by @mikegechter's RSS. @mikegechter's RSS said: The “Stuff We Don’t Want” flowchart: I doubt we need to point out that if you’re about to embark on an aid project… […]

  2. […] to some good feedback.  In particular, sharp-eyed reader “Aaron K” over at the great Aidwatch blog has caught a logic loop here.  As he puts […]

  3. By Right-Wing Links (May 20, 2010) on May 20, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    […] The “Stuff We Don’t Want” flowchart […]

  4. […] Bill Easterly‘s and Laura Freschi‘s "where does the aid money go?" […]

  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

    "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking." - H.L. Mencken

  • Archives