When I was a student, I would often find scholars who were thinking the same thing I was – but were able to express themselves far more eloquently than I ever could. I’ve recently found someone just like that when it comes to my thoughts on charities. That person is Beth Kanter.
I don’t believe the reason extreme poverty exists is because of a lack of charities. In my lifetime, the number of charities fighting global poverty has grown astronomically. Yet, we haven’t seen a proportional decrease in global poverty.
The reason I haven’t formalized, disadvantages aside, is because global poverty won’t be solved with yet another charity. Instead, I believe we need to change the conversation and change how we work to solve this problem.
Before starting this project, I never realized how competitive and insular many charities can become. Some charities won’t even talk to their sister branches in other countries! And many charities expect outsiders like me just to stick to signing petitions and checks.
Whether or not it’s through my project, I want charities to be more about communities – not corporate structure. I want them to collaborate – not compete. I want individuals like me to be able to “plug in” and help.
That’s exactly what Beth Kanter is talking about. Except she does it from a position of a well-respected expert and scholar. Here’s what she has to say about how charities should be conducting themselves in the 21st century:
What I like about Beth is that she completely understands the frustrations I have to deal with. I’m what she calls a “free agent”: someone who does what a charity does, but as an individual. Both Beth & I think free agents should team up with charities – but many charities resist this:
Thanks to Beth and the Red Cross’s Wendy Harman, I’ve been making a lot of progress in teaming up with the Red Cross. In fact, I’ve made more progress in a few weeks with the Red Cross than I have with my year-long talks with Save the Children.
Prior to meeting Beth, I would have raised my arms in frustration at this resistance many charities throw up when it comes to teaming up with free agents. But, Beth has made me realize that I need to imagine organizations complexly. People inside may want change, but the organization itself might be a “fortress”.
And really, in many respects, people like Beth aren’t just talking about what charities should be doing. What Beth is really talking about is what charities must do if they want to exist in the 21st century. It will be interesting to see which ones evolve… and which ones become obsolete.