I just finished reading a fascinating book entitled “Damned Nations” by Samantha Nutt, the founder of War Child. In this book, Ms. Nutt investigates the world of humanitarian aid and how it is affected by or affects areas ravaged by war and political instability. It is an easy read because it is well written but it is a hard read because it is filled with facts that are not necessarily easy to digest.
Two of the more poignant quotes:
(…) war is never as far away as we believe it to be. It is in our pockets, generating annual returns for our pension funds, and encircling our ring fingers, filling up our cars, among other luxuries. (p. 10)
Sustainable development is an iterative process, one that questions itself and is constantly evolving. A successful project places local communities and organizations at the centre of that process in the search for answers. Every time aid is driven by the assumptions of outsiders rather than the knowledge of insiders (those who understand first-hand the obstacles and opportunities within their communities), it is rendered less effective. (p.124)
This book has made me rethink who I donate to and when I am called to donate. It is good to reassess where my donation dollars go. It has also strengthened my resolve in what ISEE Solutions wants to do. I feel we are on the right path and that with good long-range planning, we can make a difference in the lives of others.
Ms. Nutt outlines what she feels effective aid needs to focus on:
1. Eliminating the gender divide by providing education for girls and women and offering them the ability to stay in school.
2. Reduce the burden of poverty and unemployment by providing skills training that is relevant and immediately applicable
3. Provide legal aid. “Buy a lawyer, not a goat.”
4. Search for alternatives by questioning the status quo. Ask questions. Debate. Inquire.
She also gives guidelines of what “you” can do when wanting to donate your hard-earned money:
1. Don’t just donate in times of crisis. Invest in programs that help communities be the architects of change.
2. Give regular contributions instead of one lump sum so that the organizations can better plan based on the resources they know are coming in.
3. Don’t earmark your donations. If you trust the charity enough to donate to it, trust it enough to invest your money in the best way possible.
4. Donate to small and medium sized organizations that are deeply linked to the communities they serve.
5. Know how the organization raises money and question if it is in a respectful and sensitive way. Is the only image you see the one of the distended belly and flies in the eyes? Is that respectful to the community the organization is serving?
6. Check out how much is being spent on advertising. No more than 25% of the budget should be on operating, administration and advertising costs. There is usually overhead but it should not take the majority of your contribution.
7. Do not be tempted by requests to donate “things” as those “things” may not be what the community needs or has asked for.
8. Invest in organizations that work toward changing people’s lives through education, empowerment, youth employment, protection of human rights, HIV/AIDS prevention and management, and skills training – programs that are not necessarily easy to measure or to prove how successful they are but that are key in supporting communities.