Fail Festival DC 2013


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 we had Fail Festival DC 2013. We are on a mission to make failure acceptable in development discussions. There is great value in examining our mistakes and learning from failure as we go beyond the easy and the simple.

We had much laughter as we 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 DC 2013 was hosted by FHI360 on Thursday, December 5th, in Academy Hall.

Featured Presenters

  • Dr. Tessie San Martin, CEO, Plan International USA
  • Sean McDonald, CEO, FrontlineSMS
  • Diane Griffin, Executive Director, Mercedes Parra Foundation
  • Nick Martin, President, TechChange
  • Anahi Ayala Iacucci, Senior Innovation Advisor, Internews
  • Kristen Roggemann, Strategic Partnership Manager, GSMA
  • Wade Channell, Advisor, USAID
  • Siobhan Green, CEO, Sonjara
  • Robert Salerno, Global Practice Specialist, DAI
  • Katherine Townsend, Open Gov
  • Azin Mehrnoosh, Founder, CauseLabs
  • Ashley Good, CEO, Fail Forward
  • Josh Haynes, Senior Development Technologist, USAID
  • Ian Schuler, Founder, New Rights Group

And we celebrated in style!

See the photographic proof here.

TechChange went all out with a sing-along-song on how there are no shortcut keys in online learning (watch the video) and Anahi Ayala Iacucci made the key point that sometimes we have to give the finger to our coworkers and funders to keep projects focused.

But the subtle star of the night was Wade Channell’s satire of Paternalist Anonymous, which ended with this great Contractor Prayer:

“Grant me serenity to accept things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the COR who knows the difference.”

All throughout the night, I was impressed by all the presenters’ candor and comedy. Congrats to Dr. Tessie San Martin, Sean McDonald, Diane Griffin, Nick Martin, Anahi Ayala Iacucci, Kristen Roggemann, Wade Channell, Siobhan Green, Robert Salerno, Katherine Townsend, Azin Mehrnoosh, Ashley Good, Josh Haynes, and Ian Schuler for a damn good time.

Overall, I think my favorite presenter was Kristen Roggemann. Kristen reminded me why I love doing Fail Fests to begin with. She decided to present just the day before, as a way to find closure to a traumatic fail she had when she totally bombed a live demo and training with a client.

At first, she wasn’t comfortable talking about the event, but as we discussed it more the day of Fail Fest, she was able to talk through the event with acceptance, then confidence, and finally humor, finding the lessons in what was an open physiological wound. And after presenting at Fail Fest? She loved it, “catharsis all around:, she says.

You may not know this, but the first time I presented at a Fail event, I was scared I’d get fired for talking about how I was failing at two projects. Yet I wanted to admit my errors so badly, I went for it. When my boss found out, she was only mad that I had not included her, which led me to cry with relief that she would accept that I could fail.

The next year, we presented our fails together.