Fail Festival DC 2014


Fail Festival – a celebration of failure as a mark of leadership, innovation, and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs.

Failure is the f-word of international development. Unspoken in polite company, but a reality in our work. We’re often in market failure environments, so who are we to expect success 100% of the time?

That’s why it was time for Fail Festival 2014, our 4th annual event, where we had much laughter as 300 of our peers and colleagues navel-gazed at where we have all gone wrong in international development… and learned how not to star in next year’s Fail Festival.

Fail Festival 2014 was hosted by FHI360 on Thursday, December 11th, in Academy Hall. 

Featured Presenters

And we celebrated in style!

See Chris Neu’s photos and Wayan Vota’s photos of the event.


Failure Happens and Flowers Grow From It

At a typical development meeting, the person responsible for an epic fail would slip into a trapdoor and be consumed by sharks with freakin’ lasers. Yet at Fail Festival 2014, work-related failures from the spectacular to the personal, were proudly shared in laughter with more than 300 international development professionals.

The night started with balls – big beach balls – launched across the massive conference hall by Fail Festival organizer and ringmaster Wayan Vota, dressed in crushed red velvet.

“So I’ve been standing up here, four years now, talking about failure. When I first started, it was just about failure. We’re now going from just failure, to ‘Ah-Ha’: this is what works and this is what doesn’t, and finding guidelines for ICT4D success,” he said. “And I’m really excited about that, because we can move past just the concept of failure in ICT, and now actually talk about how do we improve development overall.”

With eleven presenters Fail Festival calls to mind a USO production with sharp-witted comedy and musical performances, mixed with the self-deprecating insightfulness of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential – a nimble mélange focused on learning from the tragedy of defeat!


Patrick Fine, CEO of FHI360, described his time as a USAID education officer in Swaziland, collaborating with the Ministry of Education. Despite a successful interactive radio program that taught English, which was loved by both students and teachers, Fine expressed how issues of cost and how the program consumed primetime hours for radio stations led to the pilot project ending.

“I though the role of the external educator, like I was coming into the country, was to bring new ideas and to promote innovation,” Fine said. “And the Ministry had the idea that really what we needed to be focused on was country ownership.”

When Fine asked FHI360 colleagues for examples of failures for the festival, he received similar tales of promising projects that collapsed due to external factors; yet, how there was always a silver lining despite the failure.

“It really was an example of how difficult it is to talk about failure, and that inspired a song.” Fine proceeded to play guitar and sing a comedic rendition of Failure Is Not an Option. Soon available for purchase on iTunes, I’m sure.

Read the full summary of Fail Festival DC 2014, “Failue Happens and Flowers Grow from It” by Corey Quinlan Taylor, on ICTworks