Friday, December 4

Supporting a Cause: The Case of Organ-Grinding Charities

I love Barbara Ehrenreich: "Slap On a Pink Ribbon and Call It a Day"

What I love about her article is discussing how easy it can be to get people to follow you on a cause. Non-profit marketing are like advertisements: just buy into what we're showing you. No one asks whether or not the Dove shampoo destroys forests in Indonesia for it's chemicals (which it does, by the way) because "their ads are for real women!" And no one is asking whether or not a charity organization is actually doing good, sustainable work, because "my aunt had breast cancer, I want to support the cause." Please, I encourage you to support your aunt's disease, but we need to be asking better questions, as Ehrenreich said. Our support is meaningless if the organization is not doing real good work.

I've been looking at a multitude of development organizations here in Bangladesh. Something similar that has been gnawing at me is how organizations 'pimp out' their constitutes. In order to get money from donors or gain support from the international community, charities or NGO/FBOs show off 'good cases.' In Dhaka, organizations touring the slums take foreigners with their digital cameras, photograph smiling slum kids, show them the shitholes they live in--and leave. It's all a performance, to shock the money out of you. Where does that money go, and how much actually reaches the ground? The worst is for victims of sexual violence: "Look at her--she was raped by her uncle then sold to a brothel in Bombay. But we saved her, sheltered her and now she has a sewing machine to start a business! Now donate us money to do this for the next girl..."

This woman is humiliated as you are now privy to her saddest secret, and was she ever asked if she wants to sew? To me, it seems as if they are treated as stage monkeys, paraded around on a street, dancing to the organ: a way to get your attention and make money.

I place some blame on donors, both corporate and individuals alike, who are fickle and impatient as hell. Change, especially on the grassroots level, takes years; therefore investments and donations should be promised for years. Most grants don't cover for more than 3 years. So, charities wind up develop program budgets based around what donors want to see and not always what the constitutes need.

Just because you have a pocket of money and are full of good intentions doesn't mean that real change will happen. Development work takes a strong critical eye, uninterrupted efforts and extensive knowledge in local culture. It takes good training. I am even seeing that my work for one year is not enough time.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, we all need to be a little more educated in how the money is spent to help these charities. People have been investigating that more and more these days. But you can't blame people who donate through emotion, they truly beleive they are helping the cause and can't be falted. Wouldn't it be a sad world if no one donated any time or money because they felt that everyone was a crook. Education is so crutial on so many levels!! Love Mama xoxoxox