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The Donor's Dilemma

This post was originally published on HuffPost Canada

By: Maryam Rehman | Toronto, Canada

How helpful are your donations? Are they really going to be as beneficial to the receiver as you intend for them to be?

I call these questions "the Donor's Dilemma" -- the internal argument between helping with the best intentions and having unintended effects on the receiver. One of my strongest beliefs revolves around seeing challenges yourself, and then acting on behalf of them.

As much as ads, books, and other forms of media may convey a dire need to you in terms of how and what you should be donating, it is critical to understand the significance of the whole picture. This whole issue of extreme poverty is a cycle -- it begins with consumers, just like you and I, who purchase goods.

It also includes the producers who produce the goods and make profits, but do so by increasing contemporary slavery.

Finally, it includes the poor who must work for lower wages, are trapped in the labour markets without access to decent work/conditions, and those who cannot see significant economic growth because of donations that "help" them. To elaborate on each aspect of this cycle, I will be writing articles for each, while incorporating the associated Global Goals.

To understand the whole prospect of helping the poor, I have seen a continuous pattern that has evolved from those successful, something I've combined into a formula. The formula includes donating + knowing where your donation is going + knowing how your donation impacted those affected.

To achieve a level of help where you pull the poor out of their poverty, your help must be "just right." Providing aid and then leaving, without checking up on those helped, can be described as Papa Bear's porridge that was "too cold", so to speak.

Providing too much aid and then helping the individuals that received it continuously, without allowing them to stand on their own, can be described as Mama Bear's porridge that was "too hot", if you will.

And thus, if you want to be able to taste Baby Bear's porridge that was "just right" for Goldilocks, you need to develop a model to help the poor, get them a job to allow them to earn their own living, check up on them, and then you should let go.

That's why, Global Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, is designed to"Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all". In this article, I will provide an analysis of the economic growth part of this goal.

To begin, the Global financial and employment crisis is one I'm certain I have neither the understanding or the expertise to resolve. Nevertheless, I know that this journey must begin with a single step in the right direction. To start, I'd like to highlight the growing problem of financial aid, sometimes responsible for preventing further economic development within the areas they help. It happens when people do the wrong things for the right reasons.

There are many ideas surrounding non-governmental organizations (NGO's) and their role in helping and/or in some cases making matters worse in terms of the challenges they commit to resolve. In this tangled web of actions that has a long lasting negative effect on the people and places effected by it, I'd like to guide you through the formula I have made to provide an insight of what needs to change.

Let's take a brief look at the model that is often "too cold" and doesn't impact the individuals in the way one would hope. These models, are those who implement their ideas, who provide their services, and then leave.

For example, if you donated to an organization that gives a goat to a family to help them start a small business, you really feel good about your contribution. Nonetheless, you should make sure that they check up on the family from time to time. If the family was facing a financial crisis, and the baby chicks brought a source of income for them as they got older, that would be great.

But, if the chickens got sick, and the family wasn't given the training to make them healthy again, or keep them from getting sick and the chickens died, they would not have a source of income again. What if the family got sick as well?

So, how could the organization improve? They could provide the family with the tools to maintain the health of the chickens and "stick with the poor all the way as if they were (their) own family members," as said by Ian Rosenberger in his TED Talk, "Why Poverty Has Nothing to Do with Money".

Additionally, let's look at the model that is "too hot" -- a reciprocal to the last model, with the same damaging effects. So, when you donate to an organization that helps a community with aid, you must ensure that they're encouraging development, not undermining it.

These types of models are those who begin to help, but help too much -- preventing those helped from developing economically. Consider this - a local tailor makes a decent living for his family selling clothes to the community. One day, a truckload of clothes that have been donated are distributed for free, putting the tailor out of business.

And then, if the clothes arrive for a few more years, but stop coming the seventh year, what will the community do? They'll have to purchase their clothes from a nearby town, thus taking that industry, that was on its way to expanding, right out of their own town and into another. You see, we may be giving with a good heart, but we should be very careful when it comes to how that will impact the receiver. The organization could have helped to expand the tailors' business, and then left, which would have had a better impact on the community.

Finally, what is the ideal model that should be followed to ensure that the community benefits? Well, they should ask questions. What do the community members want? How do they want to improve in their lifestyles?

Essentially, it is your responsibility as a donor to know how your donation will be used. Or better yet, stay focused on a local cause and contribute to ending poverty in your community, by asking the questions, helping them as much as they need, yourself. If you can help pull someone out of poverty by helping them find a job and checking up on them from time to time to make sure they are okay, you are doing your part.

I did not mean for this article to single out organizations or say that all organizations, NGO's and initiatives are bad -- they aren't. The issue comes in with the model that has been followed for so long, our help sometimes ends up having unintended effects. This article was the first of a few that will cover this issue in depth. I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic - feel free to comment below with your ideas.


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