Giving to Get?
March 14, 2013 § 13 Comments
Being in Africa and working in the NGO world has awoken me to the realities of development work. The truth is that the work is inexplicably tied to the money. It costs money to feed orphans and take care of vulnerable children (speaking of which, have you SPONSORED A CHILD yet?). It costs money to build schools and provide supplies so that children can learn and teachers can have a salary. It costs money to buy medicines and supplies for the sick.
In addition to private or public funds, this has caused many organizations to start income generating activities. An example would be local Africans who make jewelry, clothes, or purses and attempt to sell them in order to gain a profit. Most of the times, these items are marketed towards Westerners to purchase. The items are either sold in country and marketed to tourists or shipped out and sold in America or other developed nations.
Another recent trend has been TOMS shoes. If you have been living in a cave somewhere, the idea is that for every pair of shoes you buy, TOMS shoes gives one to a needy person in a developing nation. They have become extremely trendy items, especially for the younger crowd. People seem to love it, “I look cute/trendy/hipster-ish and I’m helping a needy child!”
The question about whether or not this is an efficient way to help the poor is a different subject. My question to us as the “donors” (or should I say “consumers”) is: should we be giving our money to get something in return?
If I have $60 to spend, is it the best use of my money to buy a pair of TOMS shoes (which range from around $50 to $100)? If you do actually need shoes, you can probably get a decent pair of shoes for much less (likely under $40 retail, and if you shop at a thrift store even less). The same amount of money could be used much more effectively but the donor wouldn’t have the cute footwear item to show for it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some non-profits who are doing great work and helping needy people through selling items to the West. I applaud them for their attempt to help need people who need it.
My questions to us as NGO workers is:
Is it right to be marketing to Western consumerism (i.e. greed) in order to fund development work?
Is it brilliant?