Lessons from our final FTL Sprint — and beyond!


Since we began our FTL pilot, the world has changed: the BLM moment in the aid industry has raised serious questions about the dynamics of aid; the merger of DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office means that our donor landscape is very different; and of course the Covid-19 pandemic has had the most direct impact on both our pilot and our company.

The pandemic disrupted our pilot by making it difficult to carry out our Sprint activities as planned, particularly those based on bringing together stakeholders. …

Cross-posted from https://currion.net/2021/01/speaking-of-freedom/

To be clear at the outset: I am not a free speech absolutist, by which I mean that I do not believe that freedom of speech is more valuable than any other principle. In particular I am not American, I feel no obligation towards the First Amendment of the American Constitution, and I do not believe that Americans have any right to oblige anybody outside of the jurisdiction of the American Constitution to observe or adopt the First Amendment.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t value freedom of speech: I do. Freedom of speech has two legs: it is instrumental, a means to an end rather than an end in itself; and it is inclusive, it applies equally to everybody who must contribute to building. I value freedom of speech not because it’s a wonderful principle, but because it’s a practical tool in building a society; and the people in that society are the reason the principle has any value. …

As part of our contract with Dorcas, Disberse agreed to write a reflection paper concerning two key questions at the heart of the 121 Project funded by the Dutch Innovation Fund. This paper is based on our involvement in 121, but also on four years of experience working on these issues with a range of stakeholders. Dorcas have kindly agreed that we can publish the reflection paper here; it relates closely to our previous article on practical trust in blockchain implementation.

1. What are the main challenges of international money flows from donors to beneficiaries?

Disberse was originally founded to address four key challenges in the flow of money from donors to beneficiaries:

  1. Speed: it can take weeks for transfers to arrive, even during an emergency, slowing down the response and making it difficult to plan. …

The Church of John Coltrane
The Church of John Coltrane

Cross-posted at www.currion.net.

During the Covid-19 pandemic one of the greatest losses for me has been the loss of live performance, particularly music. The lack of touring bands, and particularly the cancellation of the Belgrade Jazz Festival, felt like a genuine loss, particularly because, for a number of reasons, Belgrade does not have a great live music scene. There are jazz clubs here in Belgrade — only a block away from my apartment is Telma, where the semi-house band led by Max Kochetov still played regularly — but something has gone missing.

This is the excuse I give for having gone on an enormous record-buying binge during 2020, including the music of John Coltrane, one of the towering figures in jazz, but a saxophone player I came to late (I was a Sonny Rollins kid). Part of the Coltrane mythos is that, once he found his sound (and he found his sound relatively late) he was continually evolving that sound right up until his death, which the writer Ben Ratliff explores in Coltrane: the Story of a Sound. Ratliff writes about the outsized influence that Coltrane on other musicians, such as Frank Tiberi, another saxophonist who attempted to carry on the legacy of…

Cross-posted at www.currion.net.

Those of you that have been following us will know that my own journey with blockchain started over five years ago, when I published my AidCoin paper. I’d been on the fringes of crypto/blockchain for a few years already, but that paper sketched out my thoughts on a possible application in the aid industry. The most recent piece I published was the final article about our work with FCDO on a simulation that demonstrated that our (blockchain-based) platform could do exactly what we claimed at scale.

Although we’ve decided to close Disberse, on 1st December we participated in a Next Steps session organised by the Frontier Technologies Hub with FCDO colleagues on “using blockchain to make an impact”. (Datarella from Germany and BenBen from Ghana were also represented.) We’ll soon be publishing a (very) short paper on the role of blockchain in addressing the challenges of international aid flows, but the short version is this: over 4 years we became increasingly sceptical about most of the use cases we heard being proposed for blockchain in aid. …

Cross-posted from The Unforgiving Minute.

I spent the early part of my career in crisis. From the Balkans to the Middle East to West Africa, I worked in post-conflict and post-disaster response. I nearly died a few times, and I definitely burned out a few times. It cost me a lot to see how societies fall apart, but it also taught me a lot about how they put themselves back together. I’m not going to share any of those lessons with you.

The only way to survive working in crisis — not necessarily in terms of saving your life, but saving your sanity — is to have a nose for risk. You recalibrate yourself to fit with the environment — the compound living, the nightly curfew, the hygiene precautions, the health risks, the security training, the bomb threats, the bullet holes — because there is no way to change the environment to fit you, except in the tiniest of ways. …

Chesterton’s fence is frequently cited — and not just by conservatives — because it has a simplicity that is difficult to disagree with. It’s an excellent description of one of the basic tenets of conservatism, which I used to find a compelling argument for taking conservatism seriously on its own terms, despite my own politics.

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. …

Cross-posted from The Unforgiving Minute.

A map of “Territories inhabited by Servians”, aka The Davidovic Map (1846)
A map of “Territories inhabited by Servians”, aka The Davidovic Map (1846)
“Territories inhabited by Servians”, aka The Davidovic Map (1846)

Why on earth should we save languages? They’re terrible things, spiteful things, always pouring out of our mouths and into the world, where they cause nothing but pain and suffering. How much time do we waste teaching our children to speak, when we could be spending our time more wisely — tending to the garden, or mainlining heroin? And surely there are too many of them, too many to make sense, just another divine punishment as if the other punishments were not enough. …

If you’ve read our previous posts about this pilot, you’ll know that we’ve been asking what people need, discussing what transparency means, and digging into the data behind a couple of the Country Based Pooled Funds (CBPFs) managed by UNOCHA. All of these activities were building towards one thing: the Simulation Exercise.

The What, How and Why of the Simulation are pretty simple. …

When we started working with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on this pilot, we needed to answer the critical question for any business: does anybody really need our service? This was the easy part — of course everybody needs a better way to track aid! We identified the specific needs of donors, UN agencies and NGOs in Sprint One, but we knew that the really hard work would come in Sprint Two, when we needed to collect the data to take the pilot forward.

At the end of Sprint Two we breathed a sigh of relief, because the data collection had not been as difficult as we expected. This was thanks to the excellent cooperation of DFID and UN colleagues, and the offices of 40 implementing organisations working with two of the Country Based Pooled Funds (CBPFs), Iraq (IRQ) and the occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). We drew on existing OCHA databases, but also gathered more detailed transaction data directly from those implementing partners for the period 2018–19, which enabled us to paint a more comprehensive picture of their delivery chains. …


Paul Currion

I live in the city because I got tired of living up the mountain.

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