charity

You want to hug a dolphin? Or maybe plant a tree? What about buying a goat for a village in Ethiopia? Or a desk and chair for a school in Banda Aceh? No. Mm-mm, difficult one. Wait, I have just the thing for you – how about supporting the Foundation for the protection of Swedish underwear models?

And you think I am joking about that last one. It might be tongue in cheek, but this cause has over 400,000 signed up members globally. Okay, it is a Facebook cause – but one of the most supported causes. They even managed to raise some money for their nonprofit – after specifically asking for NO money. Yes, this is a nonprofit and their aim is the “promotion of international understanding”. No, I really am NOT joking.

The point I am trying to make is that we now have a cause for every taste and need. And then some. Once you find your cause – which organization within this cause do you want to support? And so on, and so on. The list just gets longer and longer.

This shouldn’t be a problem. People can now match their passions with the right organization. And there are enough charities out there to still have a slight different individual flavor that makes you so much more different from the plebs who support Oxfam (joking people…). Oh no, you support Project Africa – because it is so much more than a goal, it is a mission. A cause that goes with your evening dress and another that goes well as a car refresher hanging from the rear-view mirror.

And it makes life so much easier if you run a company. All you have to do is pick your cause and adopt the charity or nonprofit that is still available. You feel strongly about education for kids? Make your pick – we still have EduKiddiCare and KEDUCare available. (Man, how many times can someone focus on education before we run out of charities or ideas?)

But the growth in charities and causes can have a bad impact as well – apart from the bad jokes (sorry). Firstly, it waters down the important stuff and diverts attention. Instead of tackling the real big issues facing the world – Climate Change, Abuse, Poverty & Hunger, War, Disasters and Health (the Big 5 plus Climate Change) – we tackle every issue that comes to mind. Can we really justify saving the dolphin, battling bottled water, fighting immigration, protesting GM crops and anti/pro-abortion marches (the Little 5) while people are dying of hunger, disease, abuse, disasters or war? Of course all these other issues are important, but more important than people dying right now in this world we all share? I don’t know – your call.

Even more important than the long list of options and diverting attention – the diversion of funds. Two dynamics stand out. Firstly, aid only increases marginally each year – and even then it goes to certain causes that are important, but not really charity for the needy. For instance, where do you think 80% of US federal ‘aid’ go? A handful of countries that are not really on the most needy list – Israel, Pakistan and Egypt. And oh, it includes military aid… And it gets worse because the money is now spread across and even wider range of causes and organizations. Each year another nonprofits comes along that wants a piece of the pie – and reduces the share of the next one.

But the single biggest problem I have with the proliferation of charities? They divert money away from Africa and other places of need. Instead of the funding going directly to the charity in the country suffering, it goes via other charities and donor bodies first. And everyone takes their cut. The money for empowering women farmers in Zambia doesn’t go to Women for Change. Oh, they might get a small amount. But the money first goes to DFID or USAID or GTZ – or whatever government agency. And then it goes to Oxfam GB or US or Germany. And then it goes to Oxfam Southern Africa. And then it goes to Oxfam Zambia. And the leftovers go to Women for Change.

Businesses always try and streamline their value chain. We should do the same with funding. No more than 2 steps before it gets to the actual people that need it and should benefit from it. Cut out the middlemen. Hey, they make money for campaiging in any case by collecting from door to door and in the streets. It doesn’t mean the end of Oxfam or Care or Save The Children and mates. Just the beginning of the nonprofits who can really bring immediate change to the people who need it most. It will force every charity to focus on achieving real change and doing the bit they are best at. And more of the program money will go to the charities who are closest to the real issues on the ground – they are part of the people who suffer in their community. We just need to streamline the charity supply chain a bit.

Of course there is another reason for my little rant. Is it about caring about something or doing something? The caring bit is about you. But the doing bit is about those who need the help. It’s a slight but important difference. You can pick a charity or a cause the way you pick a dress or shoes – something to fit in with your needs and different tastes. But please don’t forget that this isn’t about you. It’s about those who really need you to be part of them and part of the solution. I worry that the causes are so diverse that we start forgetting who and what this is all about. It’s not a clothing outfit to fit with your personality. It’s about people. And what they need.

Mm-mm, maybe I just found the cause that fits my charity. The AA BARF charity needs your support. Really… The Angry African Beer And Rugby Fund never really got the funding or supporters it deserved in any case. And the money will go directly to the cause it supports. I promise…

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I have worked with some good souls throughout my life. All deeply caring people. Doing the right thing. Fighting poverty. Fighting diseases. Fighting injustice. Always fighting the good fight. Without guns. And I don’t judge them for what they do. They mean well. But sometimes I wonder if they do it for the right reasons.

Or rather for the right person. Are they really doing it to make the world a better place? Or are they doing it to make themselves feel better? Is this important? Does it matter? I don’t know. But it does make a difference in how you do your work. How you try to make the world better.

It matters because it will tell me who “owns” the fight. Is it us, together? Or is it you? Is it about the “me” or about the “us”? It’s a subtle difference. But it plays out differently. It can mean the difference between success or just throwing some money on the fire. I see too often that people want the personal glory. The recognition that they alone deserve the credit. Or at least a little bit more than the next person… You know, that if it wasn’t for “me”… That they own the problem and the solution. A new Foundation. A new personalized cause made to fit your persona. Or your company. Not about the partnership we need to solve the problem. Not equal partnership. But rather you telling me how you will solve the problem. How you are the saviour. The knight in shining armour. Coming to Africa to save our sorry souls.

I felt this amongst the Brits more than anywhere else. Americans do it as well, but they are more open about it. (Remember, I am making a HUGE generalization here.) But in the UK I felt it in every conversation and in every campaign. Colonialism is alive and well – you just don’t know it. Even if you don’t mean it that way. Here, let me help you out a bit. The Oxfam Make Trade Fair Campaign. The Oxfam Coffee Campaign. The Blair Commission for Africa. The Bob Geldof Live 8. The Bono G8 speech. I know that many of them don’t do it for personal glory, but rather to use their influence and status to highlight the problems. I mean really, life could be so much easier for Bono if he didn’t have to do this – and concentrate just on his music. I just use them as examples – not judgement.

But so many individuals and organisations and companies want their own piece of the pie. Their little piece they can own and get the glory and “ain’t he/she a good guy/girl” comments. Of course they need the pretty picture or trophy to go with their “emotional struggle and commitment”. And then they’ll just drag in the poor African farmer struggling/Aids sufferer/hungry kid. To be paraded. And maybe if they are lucky they will be asked to make a short speech before the big boys come up on stage to say how they have helped them and how you can help them help those who suffer. And the African melts into the background…

Oh how many times do I have to hear how far ahead the UK is when it comes to humanitarian work. And corporate responsibility. And sustainability. How much better their government is about doing their bit for the world. And the companies that care so much. And the people who give so much. The UK. Rule, Britannia!

And the BBC will go off to make a documentary of a white guy going to some village and tell a story to make you cry. And collect a few pounds. And hand out a few pennies. Or maybe some food to go with it. Highlight the good work some organization/company/government department/aid agency from your home country is doing in these poor African village. It makes you feel good. Good about yourself. Good about your countrymen. But it is a good feeling inside yourself.

But it doesn’t tell you that poverty doesn’t define who these Africans are. That being ill doesn’t make them less lively. Or less happy. Or less hopeful. Or that they have a few ideas themselves. Or that maybe they havea few solutions already thought out. Because it is the BBC. It’s not an African crew with and African investigative reporter and producer. Or even an African celeb.

But maybe it just makes you feel better. Makes you feel that you are doing something good on our little earth. That it will get you into heaven or whatever your religion calls the next “stage” – if there is a next stage. But it is still about you. The “me”. Just for different reasons.

But here is the problem. You might not even know that you look at the world in this way. But we know. We can see it in your eyes. You feel sorry for us. You want to help because you “just know the answer”. Even if you don’t believe that you do it for these reasons. Even if you don’t think you feel this way towards us. We know it when you come up with “solutions” without really engaging us. Only parading us and lying to yourself that you really are interested in working “with” us. We feel it when you come and hand us some money or medicine or food. We hear it when you talk down to us without even knowing you are doing it. We see it when we look into your eyes and into your heart. It’s there. It is there.

Here. Take my hand. Let’s walk this rocky road together. Hand in hand. Next to each other. I am no better than you. You are no better than me. Together we can do it. Make this world just a little better. But I don’t have the answer. And neither do you. Because it isn’t about me. Or you. It is about the “us”. Together.

Maybe I am wrong on this one. I wrote everything up to here on the way home on the train. It was so clear back then. But now I am home. I had time to think a little bit more. And it is all cloudy right now. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t know. Is there a point to this?

In actual fact. I don’t really care why you do it. Just do it. Stop throwing stones and moaning and bitching. Stop looking for excuses. Or reasons to hate. Just do something to make the world better. Peacefully. Without the guns. And without the stones. And without the violence. I don’t care why you do it. Really I don’t. I’ll use it against you anyway.

Because it gives us an angle. An opening. We’ll “prey” on your good feelings. On your ego. On your “me”. We’ll look into your eyes and figure out why you are doing it. Or anything. What makes you tick. Your weakness. And then we will feed that weakness and make you do what we want you to do. But we will make you think it was your idea in the first place. And we will let you get the praise. And the glory. Because we don’t care. Because we know it is not about “me”.

It’s about us. And making it better. Together. Anyway possible – without strings or violence attached. As long as we do it together. Hand in hand. For others. Because we know. I am because of others. And that is really all that matters. In the end. Here. Take my hand.

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