Skip to content

#200 “4”

January 22, 2013
Today's blog post is brought to you by the letter "A" and the numeral "4"

Today’s cutting edge innovation is brought to you by the letter “i” and the number “4”

As more than one famous aid blogger has so poignantly written, “if you are not being ‘innovative’, chances are you are not being ‘funded.'”

Yes, in today’s hyper-connected world ideas, like the technology that spawned them (or is that the other way around?), become obsolete in a matter of weeks or days or minutes. And while naturally things tend to move a little slower in the aid world (you can’t expect to fully attain the targets of a 6-month innovation grant by only week 8, after all), the same Darwinian principles apply: adapt, change, innovate, or become extinct.

Fortunately Expat Aid Workers – at least the clever ones – have a secret weapon of institutional survival so potent that “working themselves out of a job” is a virtual non-possibility. That secret weapon?


Not the word “four” or “for” or “fore.” But the actual numeral 4.

"I would die 4 u": the original aid sector innovation

“I would die 4 u”: the original aid sector innovation

It helps to understand that when it comes to innovation, few things matter more than the name.

LifeStraws,” for example has a certain ring to it that “fragile but expensive personal water filter that lasts only a short time, and even then only if it is used correctly…” distinctly lacks. Or, “over-stated concept T-shelter made from whatever miscellaneous rubble can be found” tends to fall flat, whereas “Earthship” sounds edgy and, well, innovative.

All good and well, but as expats who have been to a few life-saving workshops in their time know, when it comes to names, few things say “innovation” more than “4.”

Thanks to the numeral “4” almost any flaccid concept or ill-informed plan can be dressed up, made to look pretty, and revel in the status of being “innovative.” The formula is simple: think up a name; reduce it to an acronym; insert the number “4”; voila! With the click of a mouse button the EAW has created a viral hashtag and a solution to global poverty. It doesn’t really matter if the acronym makes any sense out of context or if the project itself is suspect. What really matters is that the EAW somehow works in a “4.”

If today’s intuitive EAWs look carefully around they’ll soon see that “4” is increasingly responsible for generating a proportionally significant market share of aid world time, revenue, activity, projects, initiatives, and “lenses”, not to mention life-saving workshops and conferences. By simply inserting the numeral “4” ICTD became ICT4D, and is now its own branch of expertise.

Think about it.

ICT = information communication technology = cell phones, hand-held GPSs, maybe iPads. Not interesting.

D = development. Been around since the ancient Egyptians. Also not all that interesting.

But add a “4” and [angel choir singing] you’ve got an engine capable of generating more workshops, inter-agency forums, intra-agency working groups, special departments, trips to Singapore or Dubai, budget line-items, budget categories, white papers, articles, books, blogs, panel discussions, doctoral dissertations, and happy hour pontification than you can possibly imagine. You’ve just added the fairy dust that will make your program (and yourself) imminently fundable. And ICT4D is just one example.

If you are really innovative, you’ll note that there even subsets of ICT4D that you can invent. There’s the wonderfully poignant “m4d” (not to be confused with the other m4d… “Migration 4 Development). There is ICT4E (er, that would be for “education”). There is “K4Health” (that K stands for “knowledge”). On top of those we have m4P (Markets for the Poor) and R4D (Research for Development…. or was that Results for Development?) and A4T (Aid4Trade), and C4D (communication for development) and C4C (communication for change) and P4H (providing for health — ‘P quatre H’ in French… ) and C4W (Cash for Work) and the (non-NRA sponsored) G4D (Guns4Development – of course!).

Heads up though – Africa is mostly winning the race here – there’s Innovation4Africa (I4A) and AfricaSpeaks4Africa (or taking it a step further, AfricansAct4Africa). And there are Apps4Africa and of course there’s a LOT of Hope4Africa. Not to mention ParadiseKids4Africa and Crutches4Africa (providing Mobility4All!) and Women4Africa!

We have SocialMedia4Social Change and SocialMedia4Development and SocialMedia4Good. The fashionistas have F4D (because “giving back is the new luxury”). And of course the SWEDOWful C4BF (yes, that would be, Cleats for Bare Feet – mostly in Africa of course). 

Women are right up there on the trend too, with M4M (mothers for mothers) and Women4Women, and women Knitting4Peace who bring you their lovingly hand-crafted Scarves4Peace and PeaceShawls4Women.

Just imagine what how much good we could all accomplish if we truly maximized the power of “4” in an integrated, participatory, synergistic way!

Editor’s Note: (#headdesk4ShotgunShack)

12 Comments leave one →
  1. kaz_taj permalink
    January 22, 2013 9:34 am


  2. January 22, 2013 10:27 am


  3. January 22, 2013 10:29 am

    You should make ‘disasters4passion’ shirts.

  4. January 22, 2013 10:32 am

    4GodsSake. Look at the jobseekers links on the right hand side as well.

  5. January 22, 2013 12:09 pm

    A note–the LifeStraw link goes to the UR/Canada retailer for the hiker/camper set page. Not the primary source of product info for folks who work in aid and development and certainly not the same price point. If you want info on LifeStraw technology that has been used by millions of folks in developing contexts, check out:

    Innovation 4TW!

  6. oleron3 permalink
    January 22, 2013 1:01 pm

    Oc course all EAWs speak native English. That being a given, we know that “4” is pronounced, sorta, kinda, similarly to “for.” Has no one thought of why people who speak [gasp] other languages suffer from tetraphobia?

  7. January 22, 2013 2:18 pm

    Don’t forget

  8. ahimmoderator permalink
    January 22, 2013 2:19 pm

    Don’t forget!

  9. January 24, 2013 2:10 pm

    “four” is an f-word, you know.

  10. January 31, 2013 9:59 am

    A four letter word

  11. February 2, 2013 12:43 am

    Mmm. I agree with the ‘4’ stuff, but in the ever-evolving, fast-paced, results-driven world of aid and development, it surely won’t be long before that solitary ‘4’ gets raised to the second power. You know what I mean, once the ‘4’ to the power ‘1’ gets to be old hat, which will be by about March, we can then roll-out and mainstream the next generation ‘4 squared’ iterations using the lessons learned, etc, etc, etc. Love it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: