This isn’t the story of how donations built a school. Donations don’t build school. Watch the video to see what I mean.
Haphazardly Trying to Make the World a Better Place. Inspired by my time as a student at the University of Notre Dame.
Recently, a donor raised concerns about the quality of the construction work being done on a new school I'm helping locals build. His concerns were all raised by a single instagram. From this single photo, the donor concluded that the rods were not joined properly. Therefore, this building is being built improperly. Therefore, this school won't last. Etc etc etc.,. I'd like to address this and I'd like to start by sharing a classification system I've developed as an educational tool to explain to others how various charities build schools.
As a Muslim, I feel personally ashamed at what happened on September 11th, 2001. I know I shouldn’t be – I wasn’t (nor any Muslim I could possibly personally know) involved in that heinous act. But Islam emphasizes unity. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Canadian Muslim, Arab Muslim, or a Bangladeshi Muslim. It makes me think: the 9/11 hijackers probably prayed in the direction of Mecca and fasted for Ramadan just like me. Yet, the first thing that most Muslims around the world did was point out that the perpetrators of 9/11 don’t represent them or Islam. As if distancing ourselves ...
If you follow me on Twitter, you already know I'm back in Bangladesh. When I'm Dhaka, I live with my maternal uncle and aunt. Lately, I've been noticing a trend. Just a few days ago, when I came back home carrying a bunch of groceries, my uncle chastised me saying "you better not have used any donations to pay for those groceries!". In his mind, using donations - however small - for my own food, clothing, or anything that benefits me would be tantamount to stealing. [caption id="attachment_3748" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="Toilet paper, antibiotics, soap, and pajamas - not taking a salary from ...
When it comes to international aid and development, we are all biased. It doesn’t matter if you’re a donor reading pamphlets, a celebrity or YouTuber endorsing your favorite NGO, a journalist interviewing villagers, an academic outside of the ivory tower, an experienced aid professional talking about “good aid”, or even a free agent trying to be a bridge-maker.
There is nothing nefarious about this fact. We as human beings, while capable of untold capacities for empathy, will never have a complete verstehen and fully imagine the complexity of others. This is important because the arbiters of what is and is not “good aid” and what does and does not “harm the poor” must be the ones whom international aid is meant to serve.
This latest video, which among other things shows a project I did in collaboration with Save the Children, is my attempt to bring the poor one step closer to being able to speak for themselves. This is by no means the pinnacle of the kind of global voice I think the poorest of the poor should have. Rather, I see this as merely Step 4 out of a 5 Step Program.
This video also connects with a lot of things I’ve talked about on this blog – from mistrust of NGOs in Bangladesh, to raising overhead separately, to Islamic POVs on aid (which partly influences why many Bangladeshis talk about overhead), to the need for the poor to be more digitally and globally connected, to explaining the significance of the woman (near the end of the video) blessing the donors.
If you’re new to my work then I should point out this isn’t about raising as much money as possible. If you want to donate, I strongly suggest you consider donating to Save the Children instead of me. My goal has always been just to change the conversation on global poverty – that means less guilt, pushing for diversity, and letting the poor speak for themselves.
It’s 2011 and we still live in a world where many charities think that the best way to raise funds to help those in need is by using guilt.
This needs to stop and here are three reasons why:
Earlier today, I booked my ticket back to Bangladesh. It’s just for a month and it’s just for one or two small projects. But, the familiar butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling has returned as a million worries come into play.
I don’t have enough money to rent my own place, so where will I stay? Will I have enough money to pay for internet and stay connected with you guys? What about if I get sick? How will I pay for unexpected costs?
It’s times like this that I want to play Devil’s Advocate a bit and explain why some of the biggest and best charities in the world take their overhead and administration costs from donations from the public.
Let me introduce you to this young mother I met in Galachipa, Bangladesh. This photo was taken just after Cyclone Aila – you can see that part of her house’s wall is missing. Trust me, I don’t bring this up as a downer.
After I met her, I explained to her what I was doing: that I’m not a charity official or employee – I’m just a guy. And, with my camera and camcorder, she could send a message to all my friends around the world.
I asked her: what does she want people outside of Bangladesh to know? What single message would be the most important to send? After I heard what she had to say, I knew I could never release the message.
She made a message with the names of specific individuals and groups who she felt were mishandling people’s donations. She urged people not to donate through these methods – because it would never reach her.
While I agree with much of what he said, this one passage sticks out the most:
I want to just remind folks of the risks of observer bias- that being that when you rock up to Village X with a notepad, or a camera, your very presence affects the answers that will be given. Community members may lack resources, and even education, but they’re not stupid. When a donor representative like myself or Shawn asks them a question, they will always give the answer that makes it most likely that they will receive more funds. If they turn around and complain about the quality of aid, they know there’s a risk that the donors in question may write off the village as a failed project and move on. Big smiles and thank-yous are far more likely to make a donor feel good and give more- and they know this.
I mention this because, for me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Click the jump to find out why.
I just logged into my Google AdSense account to see I’ll be earning a whopping 3 cents today. This is usually the norm for the income I generate.
In fact, features and traffic surges included, since starting this project I’ve earned well under $2 a day. To put it simply: Technically, I am just as poor (if not poorer) than the people I help.
With that in mind, I thought now would be a good time to talk about what role I feel ads through my YouTube partnership play in this project and how I hope it will fit into the big picture.
More after the jump…
Earlier this morning I was having a frank conversation with a friend of mine who works at an international charity that I respect a lot. He was explaining why it’s been nearly impossible for them to team up with me.
Basically, I have three strikes against me:
So, let me throw this out there to whoever is reading this: am I doing it wrong?
Are these three issues something I should change my stance on in order to make myself more appealing to charities? Or is the fact that I stick to these things the very reason you guys support my approach?
Also, as full disclosure, I do share full donation info with friends who help and support my work (like John Green) – but I’ve never sold this info and/or given it over to charities to use for their marketing and soliciting campaigns. Is this wrong?