All Too Human?

By Madeline Kane

In November, Karl Hofmann concluded the 2008 segment of our speaker series, Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century. As the President of Population Services International (PSI), Hofmann spoke on how the organization has pioneered the DALY, which measures the years of human life saved by every PSI intervention. 

We enter a new decade amid growing demand for such strategies for accountability and impact evaluation. Where past lessons of waste, corruption and abuse still cast a shadow on human efforts for greater justice, social entrepreneurs like Hofmann respond to the skeptics with measurable results. 

Even so, one question emerges continuously among our cohort: what happens when our quantitative assessments come in tension with the qualitative services we provide? When is our work all too human to meet the new standards of efficiency and accountability? 

Kate Otto, a Reynolds Scholar alumna and Luce Scholar, recently wrote about her encounter with this issue during her year working in Indonesia with the HIV/AIDS community organization Rumah Cemara.

“I must admit that in my commitment to public health, I too often forget the humanity of my work in an effort to maximize the efficacy of the non-human systems. How can I get ‘x’ amount of medicines and HIV tests to ‘x’ locations so that ‘x’ amount of people in ‘x’ target population groups can live ‘x’ years longer or with ‘x’% increased quality of life? 

I skipped right into this predicament on Monday morning at Rumah Cemara. 

The deeper I get into work, seeing the real implementation of polished policies, the more I see blatant corruption in every crevice. Just today I accompanied a coworker to the National AIDS Commission Provincial Office to get reimbursements for a November training session for one methadone support group and one waria (transgender) support group. The budget read “Column 1 – Program Participants |Column 2 – Amount (of money) requested | Column 3 – 15% tax |Column 4 -Actual amount disbursed (request – tax)”

“Tax?” I think, befuddled, “Where does this tax go?” I inquire, not wanting to be too critical if it was really just recycled back to the Commission to create more programs. “To Jakarta”, she says, and he the roll of her eyes I know that means It’s not intended for programs. I am disgusted, that whoever slapped on this “tax” had such audacity to forget that their program is intended to empower disenfranchised populations, to rehabilitate, to heal, to help. 

And I remember again – and thank Allah for the reminder – that I have chosen this work because I want to preserve, and respect and support the sanctity that is being a human.”

–Katherine Otto, Dec. 14, 2009.
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