Interview with Ross Mountain

Humanitarian Voices Interview with Ross Mountain, Director General of DARA

After so many years working in the field, what made you decide to work at DARA?

Ross Mountain: I was attracted to DARA because of their focus on examining the work that has been done and exploring what can be done to improve its impact. The HRI is a perfect example of trying to test the principles that donors subscribed to in practice. Frankly, I am not very interested in evaluations that end up on shelves, I am interested in seeing how one can help people in the midst of these crises, to learn from other views in order to improve the impact of the aid for the population. The DRRI also struck me as being very interesting. I’ve spent almost my entire career in the field, and I really do believe that that is where the results have to be seen. It’s all about impact. I was struck by DARA’s offer, working with a dedicated team that is doing excellent work in this field and is keen on seeing how they can do more is something I am very much looking forward to.

Your first contact with DARA was through the HRI. What was your first impression when you discovered this new initiaive?

RM: I don’t consider carrying out evaluation of performance as an adverse arrangement, although I am aware that some do feel this way. While in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we had an endless stream of people coming out and looking at the different things we were trying to do with Humanitarian reform. My stance was: please tell me something that has relevance to me and how we can improve what we are doing. I would like to think that the bulk of the donors are also interested in the performance of those that use their money. I really think that one should see evaluation in this positive sense. Our efforts are not about our institutions, they are about delivering for the benefit of the population that we serve.

What kind of mechanisms would you like to reinforce between evaluation and concrete application in planning?

RM: I am interested in real time evaluation, which in fact is linked to trying to provide support to those who are on the ground. It’s not about real time evaluation for a third party, but for the people who are actually involved. This is not easy to do because, when you are in the midst of a crisis, the last thing you want is to have somebody hanging around without doing something very useful. However, that changes when you have somebody with experience who works with guidelines accepted by all the players, who explains how it should be done and also gives us the chance to learn new lessons. You have to see the benefit of evaluations the process in which you are engaged.

Are you worried about the financial crisis and its impact on donors’ generosity?

RM: I don’t want to cry before I hurt but yes, I am worried about the impact of the financial crisis. Even though there are some signals that economies are beginning to recover, GNP is down and those who have their [humanitarian] contribution linked to their national product will probably be affected. There is a general understandable concern about public expenditure. Having said that, the amount of money that we are actually talking about, when looked at in the context of the sums that have been made available to commercial banks in stimulus programs, is fairly minimal. So it’s really important that one bears in mind the difference it makes in terms of life or death for the many people affected by crises.

What will be your priorities as new director of DARA?

RM: I want to build on the extraordinary base that Silvia has established with the HRI and other projects. I think that outreach issues are very important, public information, targeted information, as well as getting people to understand the benefits of feedback regarding the work carried out. The hope is that this will lead to an improvement in the use of resources for the benefit of the most affected populations in countries in crisis. This is an important task.