Tag Archive for 'NGO'Page 2 of 3

5 Reasons I Have a Fear of Formalizing

I’ve been doing this for over three years now. And, together, we’ve done a lot. As I try and figure out how to sustain this project and continue this journey for the long-term, you might be wondering, why don’t I just register as a (non-profit) organization? Isn’t becoming an “NGO” or “NPO” just a tax status? Here’s five reasons why I disagree & dislike the idea of becoming an organization…

5) Creates Two-Tier Donors: This project was born on the internet. On the internet, everyone is equal. If there was a way I could register as an organization so that every donor – from anywhere in the world – could get a tax write-off, I would. I don’t see the point in giving one country special preference and turning a project – born out of a global online community – into something which is skewed (or becomes more skewed) to one particular country.

4) Requires Working Under the Radar: Most developing countries have different requirements for those visiting as an individual vs those coming to work as part of an organization. Some charities, like World Vision, Save the Children, & the Red Cross, invest millions of dollars to register, form a legal presence, and hire a permanent staff in all the countries they serve in. Many smaller organizations simply fly-in & work under the radar. I don’t have millions of dollars, don’t have a need to hire a permanent staff, and don’t want to disrespect the laws of the countries I visit.

3) Takes the Fun out of Fundraising: As an individual, I don’t have a bottom line and I have relatively low overhead. As an organization, I’d need to raise funds – not just to register – but to sustain the organization itself. You’d be surprised at how expensive it is to run even the smallest organization – and how breaks like pro-bono lawyers are few and far between. I don’t want to create something that requires me to pressure you to donate in order to reach some preset funding requirement.

2) Hinders Community Democracy: I wanted to give 10,000 lbs of food to the LA Food Bank. Whose permission did I ask? Yours. I wasn’t sure if I should build a Pond Sand Filter. Who made the call? You. If I was an organization, that power would be vested in a Board of Directors – not you. The ups and downs of this project have taught me this: I never want anything – or anyone – to have veto power over you guys. There is, of course, one exception: the people we are trying to serve on the ground.

1) Limits Trust-Building on the Ground: The number one question I get in Bangladesh is whether or not I’m an organization. Most rural Bangladeshis have had negative experiences with organizations and have seen NGO corruption first hand. This maybe why they get so excited when I tell them I’m just a guy. Simply not being part of an organization seems to foster trust, approachability, a willingness to brainstorm, and interaction with you guys (who I explain are my friends back home who support my work).

What I’ve learned in Bangladesh is that, as just a guy, I add value to any existing organization. Locals see me as an independent voice – one whom they can approach with their ideas, suggestions, and even complaints (and, yes, I do address and resolve their complaints – albeit not always publicly). Meanwhile, the online community sees me as their direct line to both those they help and the good they have funded.

I don’t have anything against organizations. In fact, why can’t organizations that have already done all the hard work to formalize, reap the benefit from someone like me (as an independent individual)? This is why I try so hard to pitch the idea of teaming up to multi-national organizations. It’s also why I wish foundations & funding sources supporting initiatives like mine wouldn’t brush me off just because I’m not a tax-writeoff.

Because doing good is more than just a tax status.

Why I Want to Help Save the Children

Learning about Pneumonia (Save the Children USA)

I wanted to help Save the Children with my latest video, but that doesn’t mean that Save the Children was under any obligation to team up with me. Quite honestly, they usually only take donors into the field when it’s a very big operation and there is a large amount of money involved. The reason I want to help Save the Children is not because they gave me the time of day, but rather because Save the Children is an organization that genuinely deserves all of our support.

Without sounding like a suck-up, whenever I deal with other charitable organizations, I always mentally compare them to my experience with Save the Children. Unfortunately, more often than not, they usually fall far short of the bar set by Save the Children. For example, not too long ago, I approached another US-based charity with a similar idea. I wanted to spend some of the donated funds to help local families. As I explained this to a NGO official (to a lady based out of Washington DC), she pursed her lips and said “we have a conflict of interest”.

As this Washington NGO lady explained to me, her NGO was also planning on putting up a video about families on YouTube. “And we don’t want to look for families twice” she explained to me. As this conversation continued I realized the priority for this NGO was less about helping the needy and was more about image. I’d mention the name if I thought this was a unique situation. But the sad fact is, that there are far more organizations that want to look like they care than there are organizations that genuinely do care.

What strikes me about Save the Children is how their sole focus seems to be on what’s best for the people they help. From the region they suggested I visit to the items we came up with for the YouTube community to vote on – every step of the way the staff was making sure that the people we were going to help were the #1 priority. The only restriction Save the Children imposed during my filming is that I had to ensure that the locals I wanted to film had to expressly consent to whether or not I could film them (which is something I do anyways).

While I’m sure there are many organizations that genuinely care for those they help, having been on the ground and seen the bad ones, it gives me all the more reason to cherish – and want to help – the good.

What Would Kathy Do?

Dr. Kathy Ward @ Nari Jibon

Dr. Kathy Ward (University of Southern Illinois – Carbondale) on the roof of the Nari Jibon Project along with those involved with (and helped by) the project.

In this blog, I often mention Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. He was the inspiration that led me to start this project. But, as fate would have it, there has also been another brilliant American professor whose been an inspiration to me since I first heard of her. Her name is Dr. Kathy Ward and she’s a sociology professor at the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. I don’t talk about her often enough because… well… a grad student praising one of their favorite professors is just cliché now isn’t it?

But the fact of the matter is that there is a lot to laud about the work Dr. Ward has done here in Bangladesh through her non-profit called the Nari Jibon Project. And while more PR-savvy people in Dhaka seem to be able to market themselves as “the unsung hero of Dhaka” – I got a chance to meet the real McCoy.

All that and more after the jump.

Continue reading ‘What Would Kathy Do?’

Using YouTube with a Purpose

I titled this video “Using YouTube with a Purpose” because, really, this couldn’t have been done without the help of a little website called YouTube and the community that is part of it (in particular the Nerdfighter community). From the donors Hank and Pat – both of whom are YouTubers – to the musicians who lent their music for free in this video such as Jamison Young, Brad Sucks, and Josh Woodward. And, here in Bangladesh, if Rick Davis never found my videos on YouTube – I would have never thought to make this trip nor would I have been able to meet the amazing children in this rural village.

If you notice in this video, I use a clip from one of my sadder videos – The Hard Lessons of Aid Work. That’s because, even though I don’t talk much about it in this video, I did learn a lot from this experience. I now have a better understanding about why big name charities need to have large overhead and infrastructure. I also have a better understanding of how help can sometimes come with a risk and how even trying to help can sometimes have it its pros and cons.

All that plus some photos from the field after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Using YouTube with a Purpose’

My First Post!

Musiibye mutyanno bassebo ne bannyabo!

I must say, Shawn did some digging when he was introducing me, but he didn’t get all the dirt.  My work in Uganda is going to be considerably different than what Shawn is doing in Bangladesh.  Hopefully, you know Shawn’s story (if not, read from the master himself!), so I’ll just share mine.

This summer, instead of getting the normal finance internship in New York or Chicago, I’ve got one with an NGO in Uganda.  I have a lot of help from many different people.  Notre Dame, St. Peter Church in Deland, FL, The Rotary Club of Deland, and several other well-wishers are all helping me to make this trip.  The internship itself is through the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD), a multinational NGO operating out of San Francisco with offices on four continents.  FSD placed me with a local NGO in Jinja, Uganda, where I will be acting both as a consultant and a student, exchanging ideas and developing a microfinance project that is self-reliant by the time I leave in eight weeks.

Now that I’ve got the intro out of the way, let’s get on to what you want to read!  I got here in Uganda on last Saturday, May 24, and I’ve been busy ever since.  I am not the only intern working with FSD in Jinja, there are nine others.  Week One of the FSD experience is culture orientation, so I haven’t really gotten dirty yet in terms of aid work.  But, I am slowly getting used to Ugandan culture.

I have been learning Luganda, the primary trade language here, which is why I greeted you all with “Good day, gentlemen and ladies” at the beginning of this post.  Three hours  a day of in-depth language training for five days will get you farther than you think.  It is like your typical language class on speed.  Check out the vocab cards on the wall:

Language Lessons

[More of Matt’s post including more of his first photos since arriving in Uganda after the jump – Shawn]

Continue reading ‘My First Post!’

The Uncultured Project – Diaster Relief Items

I came to Bangladesh with no training and no aid or development experience. My only real assets are my enthusiasm and my compulsion to try and make a difference. Here’s where things are for me now: I have things to give away, but am trying to find a way to get them to those who need it the most:
Uncultured Project Cyclone Relief

  • A) LifeStraws – portable water purification straws capable of filtering deadly bacteria from any surface water source. Estimated lifetime: 1 year on average use. Number of items: 45 (used to be 50). Donated to me by Vestergaard Frandsen.
  • B) ZeroFly – long-lasting insecticide treated sheets. Can be used as roofing for low income housing. It is water proof and it’s insecticide is the same used in insecticide treated mosquito nets (safe for humans). If a mosquito comes into contact with the roof – it will die. Helps protect against malaria during the night and Dengue Fever during the day. Estimated lifetime: 2 years for the insecticide, but the sheets themselves remain waterproof forever. Number of items: 25. Donated to me by Vestergaard Frandsen.
  • C) Blankets – locally made, locally purchased. I count that as a two-fold impact because the money goes into the local economy. Number of items: 70. The cost to me was 14,000 taka or over $200 USD.
  • D) Water Bottles – ever since I met “Mo” (featured in Episode Three of my YouTube videos), I now know the importance of water bottles in this country. Especially now, water bottles can be used to store purified or boiled water. It can also be given in bulk to an individual because – for many industrious people like Mo – these items are as good as cash.

Not visible but also part of my equipment to give away:

  • Two hand-cranked LED-based flashlights – brought from Canada.
  • One remaining long-lasting, insecticide treated mosquito net. Donated to me by Vestergaard Frandsen.

I tried distributing items myself and that really only works out when you know the people in the area and can get to an area yourself. When I distributed 50 mosquito nets, I was shocked and angered to find that some rich people (i.e. they own a car, a brick house, and even have servants) came and pretended to be poor to get a free net! They essentially robbed from the poor to help themselves. I only found out a month or so later – when a resident familiar with the area was looking over my footage. Even I gave out water bottles during the floods – I was kind of sad that the 4×4 I was in couldn’t head deeper into the flood zone.

I really do need to partner with an NGO of some kind to make a meaningful difference. The problem is most NGOs laugh when they are talking about such low quantities. “Fifty water purification straws? Ha!” “70 blankets? LOL.” has been pretty much the reaction I have been getting. I know NGOs deal in massive quantities – but the way I see it, these 50 items could save fifty lives and 70 blankets could keep 70 families warm. I’m not capable of saving lives in bulk. But so far, finding a like-minded NGO has been hard – although I am still making inquiries. But I definitely feel the clock ticking on this one.

In The Eye of the Storm – Cyclone Sidr, Bangladesh, and the Rich

[This is my first cross-posting, I was invited by the News Director at NowPublic.com to write an article for them regarding my thoughts on the impact of Cyclone Sidr and my first hand experience. If you would like to read this article on their website, click here. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.]

The biggest impact of Cyclone Sidr may be that it has shaken up the local complacency towards the plight of the poor. Bangladesh, a small country in South Asia with large a population of over 150 million people, is no stranger to tragedy. In the past six months Bangladesh has faced devastating floods, violent riots, military-backed curfews, and now a devastating cyclone. At present count, the death toll is over 2,000 with countless others alive but in desperate need of assistance.

If such a natural disaster were to happen in America, there would be numerous stories of neighbors helping neighbors and of people (such as nurses, EMTs, and firefighters) packing up and traveling cross-country to lend their services for free. Not so in Bangladesh. While the international outpouring has been immense – and many local NGOs have mobilized to assist – many Bangladeshis are surprisingly nonchalant about the crisis at hand. Much of this has to do with the division between rich and poor. With an estimated 80% of the country surviving on less than $2 a day, Bangladesh is sharply divided between those struggling to survive and those living it up. Being rich, in Bangladesh typically means being insulated and detached from the tragedies that fall upon the country.

The rich tend to congregate in Dhaka City where they live in up-scale apartment complexes and homes. These are strategically built on higher ground, in gated communities, with their own backup generators and reserve water tanks. Most of the urban rich do not have to worry about driving, cooking, or cleaning as it is relatively inexpensive for them to hire chauffeurs, cooks, and maids. Having lived in this country for the past six months, I have observed that the typical routine for rich Bangladeshis is to stay sheltered at home during floods, riots, and curfews and then – when it is all over – resume daily activities as if nothing has happened.

“Poverty of most Bangladeshis is viewed as an important – but not urgent – issue by the Bangladeshi’s elites” explains Dr. Noami Hossain – an employee at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and author of the book “Elite Perceptions of Poverty in Bangladesh”. The rich in Bangladesh “do not feel threatened by the extent of poverty, or by poor people” Hossain explains in one of her research papers, rather they feel that poverty threatens “the wealth or international stature of the nation”. [full disclosure: this was cited from a pre-existing piece of literature, not a new interview].

Cyclone Sidr’s impact, however, may change that. For the first time in a long time, a natural disaster was of such a magnitude that it not only affected the rural poor along the coastline – but also the urban rich nestled near the heart of the country. Many city dwellers, such as myself, were greeted by Cyclone Sidr with exploding transformers as the national power grid ground to a halt. The sight was both scary and felt like something out of a movie. Sidr’s winds were powerful enough to topple the homes of many of the poor but was also strong enough to violently shake the windows of many urban apartment dwellers.

The rich and poor of this country, who virtually live in different worlds, are now united in their need to recover. Even luxuries such as chauffeurs, cooks, and maids now serve as personal reminders of the loss this country has faced. As many of these employees are now asking for time off as they have either lost their home, lost their roof, or want time off to search for a lost loved one. Long lineups at the gas station also serve as a reminder of more important supply and demand problems – such as the distribution of food and blankets to the poor.

Whenever the wind knocks something down, there is always a desire to build something stronger in its place. Perhaps, Cyclone Sidr can forge a more unified Bangladesh – where people care for eachother just a little bit more than before.