Don't Knock Charity: Creative Ways to Give

Don't Knock Charity: Creative Ways to Give
Photo by 许 婷婷 / Unsplash

Among the easiest and most efficient means of jumping into activism is the simple act of donating to charities.

Giving to people in need is a wonderful thing to do. It's very generous to support a worthy cause, providing help to organizations that can put your coin to good use.

And there are so many different forms of charities to donate to- everything from food banks to legal funds for protestors. Many are well worth the cash you spend, and the value they bring to the table cannot be overstated.

Unfortunately, there are certain kinds of charities that actually wind up doing more harm than good.

The problem with these charities usually revolves around the idea of agency and power dynamics. We may feel good about donating to a charity that gives free shoes to the poor in other countries, for example...but we ignore that the country in question, like the ones we come from, houses people who make shoes for a living.

Undercutting local businesses and removing customers is a surefire way to disrupt a local economy. It certainly doesn't help in the long term. It can wind up making their situation markedly worse.

I talk a little bit about this idea in an older article about White Savior Complex and Social Justice Activism. It's as much as critique of myself as it is a commentary on world issues.

White Savior Complex and Social Justice Activism
There are nuances I still struggle to fully unpack

Like I say in that article, there's a time and a place for charitable giving. Disaster relief, long-term institutions like food banks and homeless shelters, things like that. Those are fantastic ways to help people in immediate need when they fall through the cracks.

People fleeing from a forest fire certainly could use clothing donations. People in heavy poverty certainly need help with food and a safe place to sleep.

But when it comes to helping poorer communities to become self-sustaining, which ought to be the ultimate goal, there's a better way to go about it. While some aid in the short term can be helpful, the endgame should be for the economic situation to improve for everyone.

The last thing we should want to see are communities that have no means of supporting themselves without our help. That leaves us with power and leverage over people when they're fully capable of managing their own affairs, if they only had the means.  

Rather than simply giving on a one-off basis, keeping all of the power and agency in your own hands, you can flip the script.

You can give them the agency and the power to act instead.

Rather than donating one-off batches of supplies as many organizations do, a simple and profound way to help is to support the local entrepreneurs and businesses operating on the ground. By investing in those businesses, you give the owners and proprietors the opportunity to expand and hire within their own communities.

There are organizations that aim to do exactly that. Today's highlight is one of them. Through this organization -called Kiva-, you are not giving donations. Rather, you are providing a loan to someone so that they can take steps to better their situation.

It is, in effect, a form of crowdfunding on the microfinance level. Think of it like a GoFundMe, but aimed at helping entrepreneurs build up their own communities from the ground up.

How does Kiva work? | Kiva
Support women, entrepreneurs, students and refugees around the world with as little as $25 on Kiva. 100% of your loans go to support borrowers.

Through giving this way, you're not acting as the benevolent figure handing down goods from on high. You're empowering people to improve their own lives. They set their own goals, whether it be for business or schooling or construction.

You're paying into the pot to help make those dreams a reality. You're investing in a better future for the community they're working in.

We all understand the basics of how a small economy works. Through trade or currency, people exchange goods and services back and forth to make a community run smoothly. When people are unable to offer anything for trade, they get left in the lurch.

Those who have the most capital wind up with the most power.

In a healthy economy, extremes of wealth inequality should ideally be exceedingly rare. When local businesses thrive and can afford to hire more workers, things improve. When people are able to gain the education or build up the funds to start a new business, things improve.

Why leave hungry people waiting for us to deliver food when we can help empower them to build their own farms instead? Why go in with missionaries and build houses when we can instead train local people in construction? Why build water pumps and leave, hoping they don't break down, when locals can be educated on the building and maintenance of wells?

Local sustainability breeds independence. There are people with trades and skills in those communities who just don't have the ability to get started, or to expand the foundation they've built.

Investing in long-term solutions provides much more bang for your buck.