Tag Archive for 'Save the Children'Page 2 of 7

The Value of Overhead from Public Donations

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.

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Rambling about Charity Overhead

Yes, this is a real ad campaign by KFC for Double Down sandwiches.

Let’s say some fast food restaurant is running a slick and savvy ad campaign that’s caught my attention. When I go to buy their food, do I complain that part of the price they are charging me is meant to cover part of the cost of their ad campaign?

What if I get a heart attack after eating all that fast food? Should I complain that part of the hospital bill goes to covering the doctor’s salary so he can earn enough to repay his student loans and justify spending all those years in med school?

As consumers, we will always be paying for expenses over and above the goods and services we directly benefit from. The same is true for charity: there are expenses over and above the help that any individual or community directly benefits from.

This is a no-brainer to everyone reading this. But I feel I need to state the obvious because what I’ve been saying about trackable donations and charity overhead has been misunderstood by aid bloggers who have stumbled across this project.

I’m not saying that overhead is bad. I’m not saying that overhead isn’t required. I’m not even saying that charities need to reduce overhead. What I am saying is that there is value in charities considering a different approach to covering overhead.

They should consider this because this matters to a lot of people.

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How I Use Social Media & My Ethnicity to Help the Poor

Young Mother Stands with Her Child after Cyclone Aila Hit

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.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. And I mention this because of a blog post written by a friend and aid worker whom I have a great deal of respect for.

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.

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Working For Free Only Works for a While

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.

OMG I'm rich!.... okay maybe not.

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…

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This Takes Time

Jason Sadler

Inspired by some recent comments on this blog and tweets, I’d like to talk about the direction I feel this project needs to be going. And it starts with the story of Jason Sadler.

Jason Sadler is an entrepreneur who has successfully used social media to generate fame, attention, and wealth for himself through his business called I Wear Your Shirt. Hoping to use his momentum on social media, Jason decided to form his own non-profit organization.

Jason’s non-profit was about providing free clothes to people in Africa. He called his organization “1 Million Shirts” with the goal of getting people to donate 1 million used shirts which he would then ship to needy families in Africa.

A lot of us donate our gently-used clothing to local good-will. And, when I’m overseas, I often find myself parting with some of my favorite shirts because I find people who could benefit from them more than I could. But, on the scale Jason was aiming to do, this could do more harm than good.

Click the jump to read more…

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Beth Kanter Gets It

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.

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.

The Ethics of Nudity in Poverty Photography?

When it comes to filming & photographing, I always try and learn from the professionals. I recently discovered superstar photographer “Joey L”. Joey’s worked with some big names (The Jonas Brothers, Usher, NBC, FX Network, Warner Music, and the Salvation Army).

Joey also travels to developing countries and photographs and films those living in poverty. Recently, he uploaded a video on his trip to visit the The Mentawai in rural Indonesia (WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

The reason this video is not safe for work is because it shows full frontal nudity of children. I’m not trying to hate on Joey. In his defense, this is probably nothing more than you’d find in National Geographic Magazine. I’m sure the intention was documenting – not pornography.

But, this raises a question, what are the ethics of filming and photographing the poor in the nude? Is filming for charitable purposes different than filming for documentary purposes? Are the standards different for those living in the West vs. those living in developing countries?

From what I can tell of Joey’s work, that seems to be the case. In this video, he blurs and blocks out nudity of himself and his assistant as they bathe in a river – but does not do the same for any of the naked locals in the same scene (WARNING: ALSO NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

For me, I come from a very different perspective. Even if families are itching and eager to be on camera – if they are nude, I say no. Or, at the very least, frame it to protect privacy. This helps because when I team up with Save the Children, I’m in line with their policies and practices.

But the fact is, no matter how much care & consideration one takes in filming and photography, there is always going to be someone out there who thinks you’re grossly violating the rights and disrespecting your subjects.

On-the-ground I know that my paranoia of not filming nudity seems to foster respect among those I film & photograph. It also stems from the fact that I share a cultural ancestry with most of the people I try and help.

It’s for that reason, I’m not going to change how I do things. But, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – especially if there are any professional photographers and filmmakers out there reading this.