SOS: fraud discovered! (Or perhaps not) – Logistics for global health and aid - A Humourless Lot

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SOS: fraud discovered! (Or perhaps not)

by Michael Keizer on March 14, 2009

Michael Kleinman continues to publish one of the most thoughtful and insightful blogs on aid work on his ‘Humanitarian Relief’ mini-site at This should be on your required-reading list if you are in any way interested in humanitarian relief.

One of his more humorous postings deals with allegations of corruption towards InterSOS, an Italian NGO that (mis)handled a hospital project in Afghanistan. Whether or not InterSOS mishandled the project itself, one thing is sure: they definitely made a mess of the PR side of things.

So what are some lessons that we can learn?

  1. Make sure that you can articulate the added value of your organisation in every project. InterSOS has left the damaging impression (warranted or not) that they have skimmed off a large part of the available funds for the project without being able to demonstrate what they have delivered in return.
  2. Make sure that you can communicate the measures that you have taken to minimise fraud and corruption. Make sure that your logistics processes address these issues, and that you are able to tell how they do. InterSOS has never been able to tell us what exactly they did to avoid fraud and corruption.
  3. When addressing allegations like this, taking legal action is usually counterproductive. InterSOS mentions that they have started legal proceedings seeking compensation. Whether they will be succesful is an open question to me (I just love that pithy acronym IANAL), but I am pretty certain that the negative effects of their litigation (cost, loss of reputation) will easily outweigh the funds recuperated (if any).
  4. Never, never, never require that anything is ‘taken from the internet’. It won’t happen. Yes, The Guardian has removed the video, but copies are archived in many other places (e.g. Michael Kleinman’s blog, as well as YouTube). You will not be able to eradicate whatever is published about you, but you will succeed in giving the impression that you have something to hide. It is much more effective to ask for a rectification on the same page — if The Guardian would have distanced itself from its reporter on the same page as it published the video, things would have looked decidedly different.
  5. If you publish a press release in a language in which you are not fluent, make sure it gets copy-edited by somebody who is. InterSOS’ press release is a terrific example of Italish, and as such is rather funny, but it does not leave a very professional image — and that is putting it mildly.

Any additions? Experiences from readers who have been confronted directly with this sort of media scrutiny?

(Photo: Anti-corruption sign by Mike Blyth. Some rights reserved.)

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