For eight years, I worked for Internews in Washington and in the field. While all the years were good, I consider the best year of my entire professional life to be the year that I spent developing the Internews project in Eastern Chad, where we had launched the Humanitarian Information Service. This innovative project was a three station community radio network--duly licensed in Chad--that provided news and information programming to the vast majority of the Darfur refugees and to the Chadians who lived in the communities that were directly impacted by the arrival of 250,000 people fleeing the Darfur region of Sudan.
From 2006 to 2007 I managed the project. Our programming covered a variety of important topics from health to education to the concerns of women in the camps, many who had witnessed the murders of their husbands, fathers, brothers and male children, and themselves were survivors of rape and other brutal attacks. It was this last program, “She Speaks, She Listens,” which I believe had a life-changing impact on the communities we served. The program empowered women, amplified their voices and gave legitimacy to their issues and challenges.
We covered topics ranging from child marriage to domestic abuse to female genital mutilation. Every week a feature story anchored the program, which was initially broadcast in Arabic and French, and included a mailbag and other important elements rounding out a 30 minute show. She Speaks, She Listens was then followed by a radio theater program that adapted the feature story into a drama, which further explained the issues using entertainment to drive home the message. All of this was produced in Abéché, at our flagship station, and then made available to our station in Iriba (during my time in Chad, I was building Radio Sila in Goz Beida, the third station on the network).
We were not a group of cultural imperialists imposing our views on a traumatized society. We met regularly with women in the camps and with local Chadian women, drawing from them content and inspiration. Before I left, we were already broadcasting a lot of our content in Zagawa and we were introducing Massalit, both unwritten languages, commonly spoken in the region.
Our international presence was tiny. There were three of us: an American, a Canadian and a Burundian, with a part-time Belgian providing technical support and equipment training. Our staff was Chadian and Sudanese.
While I viscerally understood the importance of our work, it was not until UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, conducted an independent survey of the camp residents that I realized the extent of our influence and importance. We were just about a year into our work when UNHCR commissioned the survey, unbeknownst to me. Everything that we could have hoped for was confirmed. We were initiating important conversations, overcoming misinformation, and yes, saving lives. One woman spoke about personal hygiene for herself and her children, another about the trust she placed in us, and yet another thanking the radio station for initiating discussions within the communities about topics long considered taboo.
Listenership in the camps was nearly universal. We knew that one radio served about seven people, but there was also the value of passing on information that was heard on the radio. If it was on our broadcast then it had to be true. We covered countless topics, survived mercenaries and rebels, and unified the communities around their issues, as they expressed them on the radio, a first for the region.
Among some of our milestones:
• A reduction in the number of deaths during childbirth of mothers and newborns following a radio campaign that convinced many women to deliver in the camp clinics;
• A 10% increase in the attendance of girls in the camp schools following a radio campaign that explained the importance of education for girls;
• The quick suppression of rumors about a change in a key staple in the food distribution that was being interpreted by the refugees as a reduction in quantity and quality, and was about to lead to rioting;
• And the containment of a hepatitis outbreak due to contaminated river water near one of the camps following our broadcasts explaining the dangers.
We also empowered the Darfur refugees to be full partners in their own recovery, providing a platform for communication between beneficiary and respondent. It was a building year for us, and our overall project budget was just under a million, but every dollar that was spent in the humanitarian response went a little farther and did a little more thanks to the Internews project. And we did something that you cannot put a price on: we saved lives.
Thank you, Jeri Curry, for suggesting Internews' own 2010 990 financial data as a source to corroborate the less tangible observations offered about this organization. Disclosure of the 990 statement, incidentally, is in no way a gesture towards "transparency in our use of funds"; the IRS requires every tax-exempt 501 (c) organization to file identical statements for public inspection.
In sum, the roughly $41.64 million in Internews 2010 expenses reflects a scandalous use of tax-payer funded largess primarily dedicated to supporting the lifestyles of Internews US based employees and its overwhelming western-born "expert" consultants (99.98% of Internews funds originate from the US government, negating the organizational talking point recited in Curry's comment: "grants from government development agencies, private foundations and individuals." While Internews may receive a penitence from outside the US government, suggestions of significant non-government funding are exceptionally misleading.) Below are among the more remarkable examples of Internews' "charitable" stewardship of tax-payer funds:
Executive salaries: The 990 reports the 5 most senior Internews officers earned a total of $1,006,482 in 2010. The Internews CEO received $262,339 in compensation, more than any employee in the government's executive branch except the US President. The Internews CFO received $205,080 in compensation, approximately 8% more than Treasury head Tim Geithner and above all other Cabinet level Secretaries. (He also blogs about the family sojourns he takes each year to exotic international destinations-creekmoreworld.com). The VP for Communication's $170,587 in compensation places her in the general pay grade of, for example, a US Senator ($174,000) and the White House Press Secretary (Robert Gibbs, $172,200). Thanks to Internews, these employees are very well-off; receiving, on average, compensation roughly 300% above their median tax-paying sponsor.
Other compensation: In total, Internews allocated $23,361,108--more than half its overall expenses--to providing for its employees and consultants. This includes $11,532,811 in wages to an undisclosed number of non-executive workers, $1,862,437 for government style benefit packages and $180,341 in pension contributions. It also entails $6,750,091 in fees-for-services to "other" non-employees, many of which likely draw from a class of professional consultants whose livelihood derives primarily from government sponsored assistance projects. This sum also reflects $1,897,574 in "occupancy" expenses, presumably to support the American standard of housing expatriate employees maintain during oversea assignments.
Travel: Internews reported $4,035,250 in "travel" expenses in 2010. A portion of the funds undoubtedly supported travel expenses for host-country beneficiaries. Equally certain, however, is they also reflect overseas travel for their US and expatriate staff (perhaps the stated commitment to act "transparent in our use of funds" will lead Internews to publicly detail staff travel expenses). As sort of quasi fringe benefit, nearly every Internews US based staffer can expect a minimum of one (many staffers take several) annual overseas trip, typically to execute "monitoring and evaluation" or "program support". Though some of these activities occur, in many countries they are sandwiched among guided sightseeing from the local staffer charged with escorting their guest's every moment (most Internews projects also employee full-time drivers), extended restaurant meals and nightlife. For each day abroad, moreover, Internews provides staffers the maximum food and lodging reimbursement the generous US government per diem guideline allows. While costly and perhaps interesting, these trips usually contribute little to the quality of Internews assistance.
Office: In 2010, Internews spent a total of $3,000,000 on "office expenses", probably the majority of which pay to lease office facilities. Internews has a substantial physical presence on each American coast, including an entire floor of coveted office space in downtown Washington, DC.
Fundraising: Internews acknowledges $539,054 in "fundraising" expenses; in effect, utilizing taxpayer funds to argue for additional government support. Though substantial, in reality this sum almost certainly understates the actual resources Internews expends upon perpetuating and enlarging its funding. Aware the preservation of their privilege depends upon new revenue streams, the preponderance of Internews' multi-million dollar domestic staff dedicates much of their time to performing tasks more reminiscent of PR professionals than of aid workers: to fashioning program "success stories", to meeting with government patrons, to anticipating and responding to tenders for funding, to extolling their achievement at conferences (sometimes overseas), among other similar activities. Yet unlike most private enterprise, Internews coffers benefit more from the failure to achieve the overarching goals they espouse than from their expeditious resolution (that is, should media freedom in a country substantially improve, the US government will halt assistance). As a consequence, the publications Internews circulates tend to accentuate the challenges within the countries they work, while at the same time exalting the Internews contribution to a country's media landscape, however minuscule. Beyond compromising the effectiveness of their work, this incentive further corrodes the information (be it promotional or ostensive "analysis")Internews spends so dearly to furnish.
The above numbers do not lie; and yet, they fail to fully depict the intangible hubris, sense of self-entitlement and lazy work ethic the Internews leadership epitomizes. The breathtaking audacity they display in trumpeting exaggerated altruistic "achievement" to solicit still more for their excess is but one example. In an era of massive budget deficits and relative decline in American economic strength, every federal dollar to this decadent group deprives potentially useful investment in domestic schools, infrastructure or industry. Potential private contributors, moreover, may easily support concerns that channel a far greater proportion of their gifts to its intended target. The question posed, in sum, is: what sane American would voluntarily give yet more of their money to Internews?
I worked for Internews and have worked for other non-profits. Internews is without question the worst organization I have encountered--I beg that you not waste your money with a gift. If possible I would rate below one star. You would need to be crazy to give money to this organization, for so many reasons. These reasons are: a) your donation, which the organization considers "discretionary funds" will be used for internews executives to take business class flights abroad for absolute junket trips; b) other staff "retreats" of which there are many, to very pleasant oversea locations in lux accommodations; c) "discretionary" funds, that is donated funds, are use exclusively for the pleasure of the staff's leisure. c) Even non discretionary funds (funds given by a government organization, with regulations about their expenditure) are more than 60% wasted in non-valued added non-sense in Washington. I would wager that less than 10% of funds donated actually in one form or another reach their intended indigenous target. Most of the staff only comes to office 2-3 times a work. Yet they pay themselves exceptional salaries.
Internews is proud of our record of achievement in investing grants from government development agencies, private foundations, and individuals to help meet the information needs of individuals and communities around the world. We regret the false information posted in the previous anonymous review. We are transparent in our use of funds and we welcome inquiries. Anyone interested in learning more about our programs and funding may contact me directly, and view our financial statements on Guidestar.
– Jeri Curry, Senior Vice President for Global Communications firstname.lastname@example.org