This post talks about what we feel are good philanthropic initiatives worth replicating and philanthropic initiatives we wouldn’t spend a cent on. If the name of the organisation is withheld, it’s out of courtesy. Conversely, naming organisations is not an endorsement of their organisation, but the praising of that aspect of their operations. Do you have some to contribute? Share them with us.
In our 4th year of operations, and in line with the recent Oscars, now’s as good a time as any to share our feelings about philanthropic efforts we’ve come across.
Here are our awards to the top 5 philanthropic initiatives that we’d emulate, and the 5 philanthropic initiatives we wouldn’t spend a cent on.
Without further ado, the awards for the 5 worthy of emulation philanthropic efforts go to…
Plan International Lao’s Water & Sanitation programme.
A tip of the hat to Terence McCaughan and gang in Laos. Hygiene is one of the simplest, yet most underrated efforts because it’s unsexy (think polio vaccinations vs washing your hands before eating). Yet simple water-borne ailments affect huge numbers of children in least developed countries.
Plan went into villages to educate villagers on the importance of proper sanitation and the effects of contamination of food/water sources from poor sanitary habits. Like a growing number of NGOs, they facilitate discussions with villagers about the issue.
What struck us was that they bothered to ask the children what they wanted for themselves in terms of sanitation. A shy boy squeaked, “I just wish the adults wouldn’t s**t in the school compound so that we can play after school.” That’s comprehensive consultation there, where EVERY VOICE MATTERS.
Byrraju Foundation Rural BPO
India has grown much economically since the liberalisation reforms in the 90s. So have the figures of women completing university. But a degree is no good when tradition dictates that women stay home and play primary caregiver to children, husband, and parents.
So what did Byrraju Foundation, an NGO fully funded by Satyam do? They brought jobs into the rural areas by setting up rural Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) in villages, where capable rural men and women are employed in business back-end outsourcing outfits. These BPOs support Byrraju’s parent Satyam in the IT sector.
Where women used to earn extra income through the sale of the occasional sari or the odd coconut, they know have stable and consistent jobs. And this initiative is likely to continue as PHILANTHROPY HAS NOW BECOME A PART OF THE BUSINESS OPERATION. Great work guys!
Grameen’s Informal Pressure
Many would have heard of the Bangladeshi Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus. For those of you who haven’t, Grameen Bank provides microcredit, that is, lending little sums of money to people who would not be able to qualify for bank loans because of the small sums involved, because banks treat them as a credit risk, or because they do not have the necessary collateral.
There are some problems with microcredit, and there is a huge debate now on microcredit, but I want to draw your attention to the way Grameen dishes out loans.
In order for microcredit to succeed, the loan provider needs assurance that the instalments are repaid. Enforcement, however, is difficult because these borrowers do not have much to begin with, and seizing their already meagre possessions in return is wrong at so many levels.
What Grameen did in South America was to ask all borrowers to form networks of 5, where each one can loan up to $1,500. The monthly repayment sum is $30 each. When one defaults on payment, all of them are responsible. This uses the power of informal networks to pressure potential defaulters from defaulting, creates a collective safety net where an individual will not feel alone, and ensures the smooth and continuous running of the Bank.
A prime example of HOW TO USE EXISTING SOCIAL STRUCTURES TO HELP YOUR PHILANTHROPY, and DEBUNKS THE MYTH THAT NOTHING GOOD COMES FROM POORER COUNTRIES.
GC’s Bamboo Irrigation Project.
Now for a bit of a plug: GC’s very own Bamboo Irrigation Project aims to bring irrigation channels to farmers who previously only grew a crop or 2 from the monsoon rains. With irrigation built from sustainably harvested bamboo, which grows rife in South East Asia, farmers can now grow multiple crops throughout the year, instantly increasing their income.
Furthermore, these bamboo pipes can channel water to a central biosand filter adopting nature’s own principles in purifying water for consumption. Best yet, this SOLUTION IS ENTIRELY ORGANIC TO THE COMMUNITY and requires very little outside intervention beyond the initial stages, ensuring that rural communities are no longer dependent on the good graces of the wealthy and expensive interventions that they can ill-afford on their own.
Preamble to point 5: Ages ago, when we were just in the meet-n-greet phase with some of the great NGOs out there, we were introduced to an amazing project. Unfortunately, we never had the chance to support this brilliant one, and it fell victim to back-burner syndrome. If you are who this project belongs to, drop us a line to claim credit so we can give your programme the support it deserves!
Hygienic conditions are important to maternal and infant mortality during delivery. Or for any medical treatment in fact. That’s why our hospitals and clinics are incredibly sterile. Yet such conditions are difficult to achieve in rural settings where cooking fires produce soot and animals have free rein in the homestead.
This organisation built a communal maternity ward for the village so that women and midwives could do their thing in sanitary conditions. But no woman would use it.
The reason? These villages hold the belief that women must deliver on their own land, or a host of misfortunes would befall the hapless mum and child.
The solution? They collected a handful of soil from each household and mixed it in with the cement that paved the maternity ward. That way, every mother would be giving birth on a piece of her own land. That’s why UNDERSTANDING THE LOCAL CULTURE is so important in development work.
And that’s why Global Causeways does everything we can to direct our clients corporate philanthropy dollars to supporting these, and other like-minded, sustainable, sensible, and all-round warm-and-fuzzy programmes.
And the award for the 5 efforts we won’t waste a cent on goes to…
Building yet another school
Building schools is an incredibly popular philanthropy project as the feel-good factor is incredible. When I first started out, that was exactly what I wanted to do.
But this feel good factor stems from ignorance. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, hardware is often the easiest part of the issue, and it’s the processes and people that are more important.
Building a school is great, provided that kids have the time to go to school, there are teachers to teach, there is a curriculum to follow, there are materials that the children can use, and there are gainful employment opportunities for these newly-educated.
Just building a school without considering these concerns is like buying a car for someone without checking first if that person has a license to drive a car, the desire to keep one on the road, convenient access to a gas station, or worse, if the person is blind.
These projects are everywhere, from giving tractors for farmers that can’t afford to run nor fix them, to water treatment plants that have broken down, or week-long English teaching programmes in areas that have been exposed to English for the first time.
These are NOT PHILANTHROPIC ACTIVITIES, THEY ARE PERSONAL INDULGENCES.
Sending stuff to needy poor communities
Related to the point above, the core difference is that this relates to everyday items. From CRM campaigns that pledge 1 pair of shoes for every poor person if you buy a pair yourself, to donation drives sending old clothes, school stationery, socks or even teddy bears to needy communities worldwide, or raising funds to support these drives.
I can see why this makes sense to many. If you can do good while marketing your products, disposing of your old stuff, or just emptying your loose change, everybody wins right?
Problem is, you aren’t actually doing any good. Short of high-tech equipment that cannot be found in the country (which begs the question of why you are bringing fancy gizmos into poor countries in the first place), most of the stuff that you are sending can already be found there.
Your injection of free foreign products in the market is in effect STIFLING THE LOCAL ECONOMY and pushing local shop owners out of business. Why would someone pay for new clothes when there are boxes after boxes of that stuff coming in? This isn’t philanthropy, its commercial dumping with a heart.
It CREATES UNNECESSARY CARBON EMISSIONS because if these items can already be found in the recipient country, why would you want to ship/fly it from halfway across the world?
It CREATES DEPENDENCY on recipient communities because it encourages the notion that stuff will come in without effort.
It DEMEANS THE LOCAL POPULATION because you assume that they will want your hand-me-downs or that they actually want your fancy sneakers.
I can just picture this scenario. My children are suffering from chronic malnutrition, my water supply causes water-borne diseases, and my farm is not producing enough food. You come in to my village and hand me teddy bears or brand new branded shoes. I burst into tears of gratitude.
Camera for rape victims
Hillary Clinton in 2009 announced during a visit to Congo that the US will contribute $17m to combat sexual violence in the DRC. Among the initiatives is to “… supply rape victims with video cameras to document violence…
Seriously? Where’s the best angle to place the camera? WHAT EXACTLY IS THIS PROJECT TRYING TO ACHIEVE? Don’t let Tabbi hear you talking about this, this really sets her off.
Week-Long English Teaching Stint
I’ve come across so many community service projects where students or employees go to Cambodia (an extremely popular destination for English classes) to teach.
Teaching kids English is a great idea as they can now peddle their wares to tourists. Only trouble is, they rarely stay more than 5 days. I almost failed French in college, and I took it for 4 months. How much English do you think these kids learn in 5 days?
We’re not saying there isn’t a place for this, but how about formulating a curriculum first and staggering your volunteering throughout the company so that the recipient community enjoys a sustained exposure where they could actually learn something? Again, why isn’t this being done? Because teaching poor kids is sexy, writing a syllabus is not.
You’re already paying a small sum to get there, AT LEAST MAKE THE WORK COUNT for something.
After the tsunami, there was a flood of NGOs and people trying to help Aceh back up on their feet. It was heart-warming to see humanity stand up and help with such conviction.
As part of the reconstruction efforts, many organisations built longhouses so that those who lost their homes would have a new place to live. However, we were told by a mission worker with extensive experience working in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea specifically and the region generally that many of these places are currently standing empty or used not for residential purposes.
Prying more, he shared that the reason was because these constructions did not provide for sufficient privacy among families, and the dominant Muslim faith demanded that women remain covered among non-family members.
Another classic example of NOT UNDERSTANDING THE LOCAL CULTURE, and that GOOD INTENTIONS ALONE ARE NOT ENOUGH.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the post. More soon.
Are you working in a company that has a great philanthropy or employee volunteering program? Have you come across any organisations that you feel are doing great work. Let us know, we’d love to find out.
Benson Tan is the Managing Consultant of Global Causeways, a Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy and Development Consultancy operating from Singapore. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter, or both.