Pulitzer Center Update

This Week in Review: Lessons in Failure

A women’s group in a Mumbai slum playing a picture card game where they are learning about health care options during pregnancy. Image by Rebecca Sherman. India, 2013.

“Americans love success stories,” writes Pulitzer Center grantee Sam Loewenberg in a thought-provoking article that appeared in The New York Times this week. “Go to the web sites of the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or a plethora of global health and development organizations, and you’ll find articles, charts and videos documenting their triumphs and innovations, with the promise of more on the way.”

But failure serves a purpose too—if health and development agencies can set aside their disappointment and learn from mistakes.

Sam examines a community-based maternal- and infant-health initiative that worked well in rural Nepal and Bolivia, but failed when it was applied to the slums of Mumbai. Aid workers and researchers discovered that in densely populated urban settings, mothers were not used to trusting their neighbors. “At some meetings, residents from one street would not sit with hosts from a block away,” writes Sam. So the aid workers and researchers tried to tweak the program to make it more suitable to the circumstances on the ground. It’s too early to tell whether this has helped, but what is noteworthy, says Sam, “is that when the project did not work as planned, the team reported it openly and in detail, providing potentially valuable information for other researchers.”

A Good Year

Our 2012 annual report is now published and available online. Board Chair Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Executive Director Jon Sawyer note that “2012 was a year of expansion for the Pulitzer Center, with significant increases in reporting projects, staff, and educational outreach and also the launch of an initiative in e-book publications that in our view holds great potential for journalists and the public alike.”

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we have emerged as one of the nation’s most important and respected sources of funding for international reporting. With 85 projects commissioned in 2012, we increased our output by 50 percent. And scarcely a week went by without a Pulitzer Center journalist traveling to a university or school to continue the public discussion of the journalism he or she produced. As always, we continue our emphasis on the human story, a focus on underlying systemic issues with the intent of giving voice to the voiceless.