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Charities: A sham?

| Monday January 7th, 2008 | 5 Comments

sustharvsmall.jpg Are you ambivalent about giving to charities? You’re not alone, and in fact, in an recent article in Ode magazine called “No More Charity Please!” they profiled the head of an organization that actively opposes charity. Why? As Moniek Zegers of Comit√© tegen Goede Doelen Gekte (“Committee against good-cause lunacy”) says,

Western idealists often know far too little about the local culture of the region they want to help. They usually live with other expats and the local elite in an upscale part of the city, while the biggest problems are concentrated in remote villages. Moreover, good causes keep themselves afloat. If their governing strategies were effective, everyone involved would be out of a job. But this keeps fundamental problems from being solved.

An interesting point of view. However it overlooks many organizations who are taking an active, hands on, and integrative approach to helping people help themselves, rather then being the white knight who rushes through, without concern or awareness of the relevance of their efforts.


Such an organization would be Sustainable Harvest International They understand that to make a true difference in an area, you need to involve local people, both in the planning of how to engage with the community, and in the actual engagement itself. Rather then create dependencies on handouts, they take the time to deeply familiarize people with sustainable agricultural practices, using appropriate technology, showing them how to support themselves both economically, and in their own well being, feeding their local community from what they produce.
Organization’s mission statements often are full of large proclamations and little to do with the actual running of the company, but in this case, it matches well with what they do, and quickly makes it clear to all where they stand:

Sustainable Harvest International is building a global network of local partners working towards environmental, economic, and social sustainability. SHI facilitates long-term collaboration among trained local staff, farmers and communities to impliment sustainable land-use practices that alleviate poverty by restoring ecological stability.

Now, given this, you may find yourself wanting to support them. They give several ways for you to do so, whether you’re an individual or a business. Their Smaller World Program gives the ability to both financially and physically contribute to their efforts, developing a relationship with the community for the duration of the program there.
I don’t know about you, but as a business, doing something like this sounds much more tangible and satisfying than just buying carbon offsets. While such things have their validity, being a part of increasing the livelihood and health of people, decreasing the ecological damage they might otherwise inflict, and in the process positively effecting the health of the planet, is an amazing way to be part of the solution.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.


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  • Dale

    Paul – excellent post. I think the title is a wee bit misleading since it’s really about charity to developing countries and not charity in general, though I suppose you could extrapolate in certain ways. Anyway, I’m just being picky.

  • http://www.sustainableharvest.org Florence Reed

    Hi, Paul. Thanks for the great post.
    Florence Reed
    SHI Founder/President

  • Paul Smith

    You’re welcome Florence. Dale, you have a point, and also, there’s a matter of having titles that will attract attention, where they might otherwise be overlooked.

  • http://www.china-crossroads.com Rich Brubaker

    Running an NGO in China, I can say that I agree that changes in the system need to be made. but scraping the concept, or the organizations, of charity is not one of them.
    Charities are, and have value. Look at Habitat, WWF, World Food, and many others that have done an excellent job of raising money and goods on a global level, and executing on a local level.
    With that said, development is very different, and in the case of development I would agree that charities are not the best solution when it comes to really driving country wide economic and policy change. They make good partners, but the assistance needed in this case is at a much higher level in terms of who is funding the programs and the talent required.
    To learn more about development, and the organizations involved, I highly recommend reading The End of Poverty. It is a fantastic book, and one .
    I also suggest reading the Mohammad Yunnus book Banker to the Poor about the Grameen Bank story. that is a terrific case of where one grassroots organization got it right.
    r
    http://www.china-crossroads.com

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    Thanks for your first hand input on this subject, Rich