ending charity: alone, is not the answer


“Giving in its purest form expects nothing in return.” – Anonymous

There are a lot of confusing buzzwords being thrown around these days: ending charity, dead aid, patient capitalism, impatient optimists, and investment over aid. What does it all mean?

My initial thoughts on this subject were spurred by zyOyz founder Steve Jennings’ repost of an article titled: “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty”. Well I agreed with the article’s basic premise that just giving money is not the only solution or the best, I was troubled by the article’s absolute statements that business models and capitalism will save the world.

The article, reposted from the Financial Times, notes the work of the Acumen Fund founded by Jacqueline Novogratz, which invests in small businesses with a social impact termed as “patient capital.” It has become a highly successful model, however Novogratz is quoted as saying: “We need creative approaches to reinvigorate capitalism and make it more inclusive.” The most inclusive business model that I know, with high degrees of success, is the cooperative model based on needs of those involved, inclusion, and participation. Looking at history, capitalism has generated exclusion: great amounts of wealth for many people, but it has also perpetuated extremely flawed systems that create great degrees of poverty for many people. The evidence is in any major city where the consequences of capitalism lay bare the desperation of good people who are left with nothing.

At the root of the article, “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty,” is the long-running debate on whether investment is more effective than aid. Professor Bill Easterly made popular the fact (through his book, “White Man’s Burden”) that over $1 trillion in aid has been given to Africa over the last 50 years with limited positive results, Dambisa Moyo has termed this “dead aid” and calls for a complete end of aid to Africa. Others like Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given vast amounts of aid (which they often call “investment”) to Africa with their foundation, label themselves as “impatient optimists.” They are hopeful for the future and want more done at the present time.

However, there is a problem with their impatience that many have critiqued. Impatience tends to push solutions that are ineffective. Ian Wilhelm gets further into this topic in a blog about “irrational aid.” In the post he writes about Alanna Shaikh’s critique of ineffective aid, such as outdated pharmaceuticals and medical equipment that has no use in the field. This argument is countered by Isaac Holeman’s disagreement that well that aid may be irrational, it provides immediate personal stories of need to bring in more donors. I have to agree with Alanna in saying that this irrational, possibly impatient, aid does more harm and basically no good.

How have we now moved from decrying the failures of charity and aid to highlighting the benefits of business models and the capitalist system back again to smiling about greater benefits of monetary investment in people and ideas? Where is the line drawn between investment and aid? As far as I can tell it is mostly semantic. Isn’t aid when transparent, effective, and driven by best practices an investment? Giving an investment is essentially the same as giving aid or charity.

Investment is the buzzword used by social enterprises, microfinance, and has become the new fad in international development organizations. I think that it is important to make a distinction between what is effective and what is not. Aid can be very effective and investment can be very ineffective. The reverse is also true. Where does effective aid change from being a type of investment? When experts talk about the broken aid system do they forget that the broken aid system is merely a reflection of the broken financial system. The same interests and individuals who have run financial systems have run foreign aid systems.

The real issue in this debate need not be if businesses are better than charities or who’s money is better spent. What is most important needs to be the question of, “How?” The systems, structures, and practices that implement aid and drive investment need to be cooperative, inclusive, needs based, and people-centered – in one word: effective. If you are looking for a return on investment (ROI) or accolades for your donated or invested dollars, then maybe you should reconsider why you give?

Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

writing about africa. . . a simple exercise or a skill?

When writing about Africa many times it is difficult to bring the proper perspective or ‘view’. So often people write about Africa with the view, that many of us have come to know, from the myths of Africa. The old myths of a ‘dark’ continent, Heart of Darkness, uncivilized, and savage to the new myths of a continent wrought with poverty, disease, and conflict, these are all too often emphasized in writings about Africa. That, I would say, is a poor representation of Africa, its many countries, and its many peoples. In her blog, Acumen Fund Fellow Jocelyn Wyatt, writes about her training in writing about Africa before being stationed in Kenya for eight months. She tells us of three views often evident in writings about Africa. I will allow her writing to continue this message. And I hope, that I can write about Africa with a critical eye and not with a jaded or an overly simplistic mindset. I hope to understand the intricacies of Africa and not look too far past the idea that all people are more alike than they are different.

From My Year as an Acumen Fellow – 3 Views on Africa:

The Acumen Fund Fellows have been fortunate to meet many inspiring leaders and engage in plenty of thought-provoking discussions over the past four weeks. The question about how to write and talk about Africa has been raised several times. In April, Jacqueline referenced “How to Write About Africa” on this blog and discussed it with the fellows during the first week of orientation. This piece exposes the simplicity of how most people write about Africa and inspired us to think about how to do it in a different way.

View 1 – The Outsider Who Gets It: Gayle Smith, currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and former journalist and senior staff member of the National Security Council and USAID, spoke to the Acumen Fund fellows about her work in Africa and as a member of the U.S. government. Many people don’t understand the appeal of living in the developing world, and I often have trouble articulating it. After living in East Africa for 20 years, Gayle explained it well, It was easier and more satisfying to live there than in the U.S. There’s a sense there’s something bigger than you there. In D.C., there is nothing bigger than any of us. While working for various NGOs in Africa, Gayle saw that there were stories that needed to be told and insisted that the media print them. Gayle’s unique combination as an outsider with extensive experience in East Africa provided her an honest view of the culture, people, politics, and economy and her understanding of the complexities led to her success as a journalist.

View 2 – The Insider Who Exposes It: The book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a powerful reflection on the introduction of western culture and colonization to a Nigerian village. When it was published in 1959, it was probably the first book written by an African that most Americans read. Achebe’s novel is honest and extremely critical of the colonial forces who he recognized did not see anything in Africa that was larger than themselves. As an insider, Achebe delivers us well-rounded and real characters and aptly describes the complex forces that pulled Nigerian villages apart.

View 3 – The Outsider Who Simplifies It: In the recently released movie, The Last King of Scotland, a young doctor from Scotland moves to Uganda to work in a rural health clinic. He becomes Idi Amin’s personal physician and gets caught up in the ruthless dictatorship. The film begins with colorful, stereotypical footage of Africa, people singing and dancing on the side of the road, a beautiful African woman seducing a young westerner, and an older white doctor and his wife “saving” a village of Africans at their rural clinic. As the movie goes on, Uganda becomes a much darker, more corrupt, and violent place as Amin’s rule becomes harsher. Even in a ‘flat,’ globalized world, we are frequently exposed to such stereotypical portrayals of Africa: one that is simple, happy and colorful, and the other that is dark, corrupt and violent. While an interesting story with strong characters, in an effort to simplify the context, the film does little to accurately showcase Uganda.

malaria awareness day

April 25th, the first US Malaria Awareness Day. An award winning photographer, Chien-Chi Chang, traveled to Uganda to give image to the story that is very often never heard, to give a face to the people who are never seen. This is not just another award winning privileged person traveling to get pictures or a story because these images and story are accompanied by a call for action. The images were used to raise awareness and promote involvement with Malaria No More. This is an organization that is fueled by celebrity involvement and received great attention from American Idol, but this is an issue and conflict that does not require you to be a celebrity to make a difference. Everyone is a celebrity in their own right.

On the <a href="http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=6178&&edition=2&ttl=20070426013440
“>BBC’s news forum where people can write in their thoughts, many people called for a change in government actions and in people’s actions. Governments need to provide more funding for their health sectors and people need to depend less on their governments. I would add that we here need to understand that governments are not the ones who will make the greatest impact, when individuals support other individuals more lives will be saved.

In her blog, Acumen Fund Fellow, Keely Stevenson, writes about a socially responsible company in Tanzania working to provide bed nets. AtoZ uses a simplified, cheaper manufactoring process to make more bed nets for less. The company then charges a nominal fee to get the bed nets to people who will actually use them. Many times when organizations just hand out bed nets they end up as fishing nets or table cloths, but when there is a small fee – people who actually want them to use them will be supplied with them. This has been credited with bringing malaria deaths down in Tanzania.

Malaria is a preventable disease that claims the lives of over <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6591169.stm
“>one million people, 90% of them in Africa. Using a bed net is said to reduce a pregnant woman’s birth complications and potential miscarriages by one third. A treated bed net costs about $4 and can save the lives of so many people is it is used. There have been numerous studies on the impact of malaria on mothers, children, and others – but the simple and known truth is that using a treated bed net can save your life and your family’s. There is no reason that malaria should kill so many people each year, our government should be stepping up its efforts, governments in Africa need support so that they can support their health sectors, and we here need to step up our efforts. Making bed nets more available and more affordable is the answer to a preventable disease without a cure.

Read up on malaria here.

something new for the new year

A group that has really captivated my interest this year has been the Acumen Fund. They do amazing work towards creating change and sustainable solutions to global poverty issues with people at the center. Check out their work and what they do, I would encourage you all to get involved in the new year! Have a good one!

Acumen Fund Philosophy
Who we are and why we exist:
Acumen Fund is a non-profit venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We build financially sustainable and scalable organizations that deliver affordable, critical goods and services that target the four billion people living on less than $4 a day. We adhere to a disciplined process in selecting and managing our philanthropic investments as well as in measuring the social and financial returns.

How we work:
We identify some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and organizations focused on delivering critical, affordable goods and services – such as water, healthcare, and housing – to improve livelihoods, health and opportunities for the poor.

Our investment process:
Using the skills of business, the flexible capital of philanthropy, and the rigor of the marketplace, we aim to develop and deliver systems-changing solutions to the world’s problems. Our investment approach focuses on organizational sustainability, strong leadership and scalability through managerial support and financial investment.

Measuring results:
Within each investment organization, we focus on the areas of design, pricing, distribution and marketing of critical goods and services to the poor. We measure and share both social and financial returns of our investments, as well as our own financial sustainability and the strength of our community. Our risk management aims to generate positive returns where possible and recover a substantial portion of their capital to reinvest in new philanthropic ventures.

a small bite can topple a giant; malaria

This first story takes me back six years when I first became involved in basic healthcare activism for Africa. This story comes from my mother’s first trip to Uganda in 2001. My family became very good friends with Fr. Joseph from Uganda in the summer of 2000. He dealt with many medical issues in his traveling from village to village fulfilling his priestly duties, but he did not have any medical background. He asked my mother, who is a registered nurse, medical questions when he was here and sometimes called from Uganda to ask the best medical procedure or prognosis. She had found it very difficult since we had such a limited knowledge of what conditions were like in Uganda. So, that following summer my mother made the journey across the ocean to see the medical situation first hand. While she was there the realities were painfully obvious. Fr. Joseph owned a donated Toyota pick-up truck and while my mom was there she traveled around with him on his day to day work. An important note to make is that the pick-up truck doubled as the area ambulance. On one particular day, at a village stop to give mass, a pregnant mother needed transportation to the hospital because there were some complications. The nearest health clinic was seven hours away on the red, dusty, hole ridden ‘roads’. I can only imagine the ride in the back of a pick-up truck, dust thrown about, bouncing along so that a child may have a better chance. En route the pregnant mother went into labor. Still hours from the hospital the mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl and then died. They decided to name the baby after my mother – Baby Elizabeth. A family from the village adopted baby Elizabeth and she seemed to have a good chance in the world. Later the next year we were told that baby Eilzabeth had died. She had contracted malaria and since she lived in such a remote village, she and her family had no access to the $1- $2 medication that could have saved her life. If the access had been there baby Elizabeth might have lived to her fifth birthday, a rare occurance in many African communities due to poverty and disease.

Malaria is a parasite that is carried from human to human by mosquito. Malaria is a very preventable disease, yet kills over a million people each year. Over 90% of malaria deaths occuring in Africa making it Africa’s leading cause of death for children under five. Just recently President George W. Bush has said eight more African countries have joined a $1.2 billion US program to fight malaria. The five-year program works to provide funds to limit malaria’s spread by using insecticides and anti-mosquito bed nets, and also to provide drugs to people already infected. The renewed enthusism for the program has brought the World Bank and billionaire philanthropist, Bill Gates on board. Also on the scene are recent scientific advances, such as progress towards a vaccine, which prove to offer great hope to defeating one of the world’s great killers. A new treatment developed by British scientists collaborating with Kenyan experts is based on a technique for fluid replacement for children ill with malaria. The problem is that intensive care methods, only available at pediatric units in developed countries, is needed to treat infected children.

It is estimated that through partnerships working in Uganda, Tanzania, and Angola – US taxpayers already have helped approximately 6 million people to treat and prevent malaria. There are great hopes for the future prevention and defeat of malaria, but it requires the continued support of people in the developed world. US taxpayers need to push the Bush administration and future adminstrations to remain dedicated to the mission of saving lives affected by preventable disease. President Bush also announced at the Washington Summit on Malaria that the US Volunteers for Prosperity program will be expanded to recruit skilled US volunteers, doctors, and nurses to travel to at-risk countries to train local health care workers. The Gates Foundation has also expanded the number of projects it funds to research new malaria treatments. Likewise, there is a large private sector effort, such as, Nothing But Nets and the Acumen Fund, among others. Check out the blog of an Acumen Fellow working with a mosquito net facotry in Tanzania. There are so many opportunites to donate, to get involved, to volunteer, and to save a life. Check out some of the links posted and make a difference today!