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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charity

Have you seen the new themes available for your igoogle page? They're called "themes for causes" and they all relate to different charities. They're cool themes and highlight some organizations I've never heard of.

One theme is for Doctors without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres). I've never donated to MSF and I'm not sure why. I think it's a great idea. A travelling Doctor and Dentist came to my village in Zambia and it was both sad and inspiring. People walked 30km to be seen. The lines were huge all day. I saw one woman walk into the clinic blind from cataracts and walk out a short time later seeing for the first time in years. I'd never seen joy like that before. I never thought of dentists as really being able to make a difference until that day. If you've ever had tooth pain that needed a root canal you know how blinding the pain can be. Without dentists villagers have to gut it out. The dentists who came to my village relieved or prevented that pain for hundreds that day. I would really like to support MSF but giving money blindly to an organization is not really my thing though.

If anyone has had any experience with MSF and can tell me the best way to give, please leave a comment or email me.

Ever since serving in the USPC I have been very reluctant to give to large charities. I've seen the waste, lack of effectiveness and sometimes damage done first hand, regardless of what the annual report says.

I think charity on a person to person level, or small organization level like a church or local club is excellent. But when things get to big and stop being local there is a huge chance for corruption and waste. Have you ever wondered why the billions of dollars we pour into development aid doesn't seem to work? A big reason is that there is no economic incentive for it to stop. In fact there is a huge economic and political incentive to make sure it never stops. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are employed by the development aid system. This includes Government workers, "volunteers", Host Country Nationals, Politicians... this list is big. They all make their livings from this pool of aid money. If aid works, they lose their job. And for people working in developing countries, these are really plush jobs. I don't mean to make the system, or the people in it, out to be selfish or evil because they're not. The system is just flawed in that way.

I there are of course other reasons large scale aid doesn't work: Large aid donations give western countries influence and control over developing nations, people often don't value anonymous charity, large donations of goods, like thousands of tons of food aid, undermines the local market for these goods, keeps prices depressed and stops economic progress.

Bottom line is when you give, you have to be careful. You have to be informed, or trust the advice of someone who is (and that's not a shameless plug, it's just the truth). Of course, if all you want is the tax deduction and don't care about the effectiveness of your donation, then by all means... flush away.

By the way, while doing a bit of net surfing while writing this post I found this organization. If you want to support a bike related aid organization (and yes bikes do make a huge difference to a rural villager) these guys seem to have their head on straight, at least at first blush. I'll definitely be visiting them when I get to Zambia.

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