It’s also designed, he says, “to be run like a business with the Somali people as both shareholders and customers.” And it’s in this respect that the former financial executive has most pointedly parted ways with convention, bringing a level of accountability to aid work that its critics have long found lacking.
“Two key elements necessary to make aid work are feedback and accountability, the absence of which have been fatal to aid’s effectiveness,” wrote the economist William Easterly in his 2006 book “The White Man’s Burden,” a brazen assessment of the failings of foreign aid.
Echoing Easterly, Starr recently asked readers of the Wall Street Journal to imagine if Marriott operated without any revenue or room-rate data. “Suppose it remitted money to cover salaries and other expenses, without knowing if any of it was producing a product for which customers were willing to pay…. You don’t have to run a Fortune 500 company to know how quickly such a system would run amok.”
Yet, he wrote, when it comes to international aid, that’s precisely the system in place.
“Without revenue or other customer satisfaction metrics, NGO executives and donors have no way of knowing whether employees on the ground are providing a product of value to their impoverished ‘customers.' ” He says that’s because those executives aren’t on the ground themselves.
Starr, on the other hand, is on the ground year round. From the office he shares with a staff of 18 teachers, he can watch his students play soccer on a sandy pitch and the guards as they pace the length of a nine-foot security wall with their Kalashnikovs and two-way radios, holdovers from the Somali civil war.