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I heard this term a few weeks ago. It is mostly akin to 'green washing' but this time its about how organizations proclaim impact when in fact it's a false, misleading or unproven claim. It's also impact washing when the impact declared or reported did not grow out of the interventions claimed but other causal factors or intervening factors are present, thus other contesting views of explanation exist.
The extent of impact washing is hard to measure but just take for example, how organizations paddle up the numbers or massage the situations in order to meet donor standards or comply with requirements, without truly addressing the complexities of the unintended consequences their actions can impact or effected.
In my book Provocateurs not Philanthropists, I problematize the issue of short-term breakthroughs over the obsession for large-scale, massive, dramatic impacts and successes on the ground. Listening to a keynote last week from a multilateral global innovation facility programme, I can't help but feel more alienated. The search for a "major scalable project" is such that new, grassroots, or micro-projects will not be able to meet this. The logics are miles apart.
Given the 'innovation plus humility' mantra, I wonder how many of these innovations are actually taken up by the government or private sector to grow after being cocooned by grants and innovation finance so that national development owners take charge of this growth? Are they concerned with eco-systems development, taking a holistic role, rather than a project piece on
the economic development pie or with national priorities? I hope that humility culture goes down to the partners and grantees as well, because success without integrity is untenable and deceptive.
Impact washing happens at both micro and macro levels. It's not only the outcomes that matter but how do you get to these outcomes and what happens on the way.
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