Widgets, Throughput, and Humanitarian Agencies

by | Oct 1, 2022 | Change, Development, Strategy |


Factories and logistics companies care about throughput – how many widgets are we making each hour? They conduct lots of time and motion studies to figure out how to improve their speed and efficiency ratios. Volume is critical for their business model as their profit per item is miniscule.

Social media companies provide a ‘free’ platform for people to interact and then sell their users and information about the interactions to others. Their aim is also volume, but volume of users and interactions. Therefore, they create features, quizzes, games, and so on to encourage us to interact, to share more information about ourselves, so that they have have more information to sell. Offensive posts generating huge reactions are money making machines for them. We, the users of these platforms, are the product they are selling – we are paying to use the platform witht the information we give them.

Humanitarian agencies are still a blend of the two. In many ways, you could argue, the international development community were using the social media business model long before social media even existed. We collect data about people affected by disasters and in turn ‘sell’ that to others in return for their donations. And then we use the donations to delivery goods and services focusing on throughput. Throughput, not of widgets, but of people affected disasters. And just like the view of the widget in the factory doesn’t matter, so too, does the view of the person affected not matter.

And we see this not only in humanitarian agencies, but also in other sectors of society – health care, elderly care, people living with disabilities, and so on.

Perhaps the issue is volume. Perhaps it’s the focus on cost per widget or person. Or perhaps it’s the wrong model all together. Perhaps we shouldn’t use the industrial factory model as the only acceptable business model. Perhaps we’re measuring the wrong things.

We can choose to do things differently. Patagonia did. Perhaps you can too?

Photo by Habisoft


  1. Michael Kersten

    So I think what you’re attempting to convey is this.
    Are you saying that Zuck created his original algorithm based off the already established business models of the Red Cross, UNICEF and similar humanitarian enterprises. Never ever even imagined that. Interesting
    That would mean that. Subsequent social media platforms ultimately owe there succes to already established humanitarian efforts

    • AmosD

      I don’t think I’m trying to say that Zuck stole the idea from charities and I don’t think social media companies ‘owe’ charities money because the business model was copied (business models are copied all the time). I am noticiing similarities, which make me wonder about our reactions to them. We tend not to like the fact that social media companies harvest our data, but ok with the fact that charities do it. Is that our inherent racism? How do justify or rationalise it?

      Just my morning musings.


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