A good aid charity is hard to find
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. To help or not to help is no longer the way of foreign aid, especially in a world increasingly complex, nuanced, and yet still stuck in black and white, Liberal or Conservative.
Making blind donations in the hopes that someone will direct your money towards a good cause likely isn’t the best giving strategy. The charity, while heart-warming, can lead to more damage than benefit.
An example of this is the common practice of sending used textbooks to poor, impoverished and under-educated people. These textbooks, while outdated by our standards, may seem great to send. The problem with this is three fold. Firstly, a number of the recipients won’t understand our textbooks, given we speak a different dialect of English on top of colloquial references vastly differing between languages.
Secondly, it costs about $15,000 to send a single shipload of textbooks. That money is better spent elsewhere.
Thirdly, and most importantly, by flooding the market with free product, publishers struggling locally to make culturally understandable literature will be forced under. Economically, they can’t compete.
This unintended consequence is one of many. The question is: should we help blindly and almost assuredly cause damage, or leave a faltering bird to mend its own wings?
Zambian economist and author of acclaimed book Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo has an increasingly controversial argument – opting for a cold-turkey cut-off of non-essential aid.
Dead Aid argues that giving money to governments who have proven a blatant disregard of their citizens should be cut off and left to create their own economic stability. Because much of Africa is still knee-deep in poverty, Moyo argues a type of big-bang shock therapy to markets, disallowing any funding to come in the form of aid.
This fact, unfortunately, is hardly realistic. Ask any mother whose child is sleeping under malaria nets or receiving retrovirals what she thinks of aid, and you’ll have your answer.
Sadly, aid is complex matter. With many different categories ranging from political to military, emergency to religious, foreign investment to loans, it’s no small wonder why so many are left scratching their heads.
Herein lies one of many tough-choices the average aid donor faces: do you give to a trusted national organization that may suffer the bureaucracy of legal infrastructure, or harness the immediacy of an independent organization that may well be doing harm out of ignorance or paternalistic ego?
There is no black-and-white answer to whether or not aid is helping developing worlds; it’s both harmful and helpful. The real power lies in the hands of the educated, the passionate, and the inspired. If you want to donate, look into a place that you are interested in, and read about politics, history and needs. Then find a transparent, responsible and long-standing organization rooted within the community.
If you aren’t willing to do the foot-work, keep your money. It’ll end up in a dictator’s account while he shoots civilians.