Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why Engineers Without Borders Will Never Be Doctors Without Borders

The current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an insightful article regarding the history of Doctors Without Borders - How to Manage a Plague by Brad Wieners and Makiko Kitamura.  On a budget of $1.2 billion per year, Doctors Without Borders (also known as Medecins San Frontieres - MSF) runs a volunteer collective of 30,000 physicians, nurses, logisticians, and locally recruited staff that functions as an independent ambulance corps and a kind of MASH unit for those in need.

Engineers do great things under our "without borders" umbrella - but we lack the scale, scope, and relevance of doctors and their support staffs.  Doctors have the ability and desire to go after the Ebola problem and medical care in conflict zones.  Engineers Without Borders builds wells in safe spots during Spring Break.  This is probably a bit unfair, but Doctors Without Borders seems to have more money, a more compelling mission, better messaging, a different management approach, and self-styled esprit de corps molded from the idealistic left.  Doctors get helping and empathy better than engineers - especially in the context of the bonhomie of backpacking the developing world.  No one has ever used the word bonhomie and engineering in the same sentence.

This gives you a view of their management structure - from the article:

"MSF is able to move so swiftly, in large part, because of its decentralized structure, which is more akin to a guerrila network than a top-down corporation.  They go where things are worst, often to care for civilian casualties and refuges of war.  They also confront "neglected" diseases, from malaria to HIV/AIDS to drug resistant tuberculosis.  They are truly global, privately funded, and astonishingly effective, able to treat diseases others won't touch in places few will go-and where they're not always welcome.  In parts of Guinea, that was certainly the case.  Still, several weeks into the outbreak, it seemed as if MSF might have it in hand."

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