Tag Archives: philanthropy

Who you shouldn’t be giving to on Giving Tuesday

It’s Giving Tuesday, and that means you’ll be getting a lot of emails today. You might even get to use the hashtag! (#GivingTuesday)

But there’s also a story in the nonprofit world that you probably won’t hear today—a lot of us are pretty terrible. From the shrieking headlines of the Daily Mail to the never-ending sins of TOMS Shoes, there are certainly times when we don’t have a lot to show for the effort we put in.

You might’ve even heard of some of us that are damn despicable.

Homeopaths Without Borders offers humanitarian treatment to individuals in the form of what is entirely bogus medicine. (Do I really have to prove this to anyone? Here, here, and here. Let’s add Wikipedia just to be sure.)

Working in several Central American and Caribbean nations, Homeopaths Without Borders provided emergency aid in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. Beyond simply wasting resources in the name of pseudo-science, Homeopaths Without Borders is immensely cruel, offering false hope to the poor with every “treatment.” They also recently toasted graduates of their alternative healthcare education program in Haiti.

But we should remember that the vast majority of nonprofits are not like this. And this Giving Tuesday, I think we can be grateful for the work that charity evaluators like GiveWell and Giving What We Can do to recommend charities that are having a high impact. These recommended charities have been vetted for what your dollar can accomplish.


GiveDirectly is one such charity, receiving attention and praise from The Economist, The Atlantic, and NPR. GiveDirectly’s work is so simple that it’s pretty incredible no one has tried it before—give money to the poor, with no intention of guiding how it’s spent.

The latest study of GiveDirectly’s approach has shown that recipients do not spend more money on vices like alcohol or tobacco, and more importantly, seem to be much happier with their cash. Self-reported happiness and well-being shot up among those receiving the cash, and even had positive spillover effects on their neighbors’ happiness. When GiveDirectly increased the size of the cash transfer, blood measurements of the stress hormone cortisol decreased significantly.

And of course, I should mention that this approach has substantial positive impacts on income, hunger, and even female empowerment.

What makes GiveDirectly’s work so interesting, though, is that it operates off a principle not found anywhere else in development work—that individuals are the best creators of their own future. GiveDirectly trusts that individuals know the fine grain details of their lives that matter, and steps back.

Today, you will probably receive charity appeals from every corner, and most of them will have some legitimacy. (That is, unless you’re on a homeopathic mailing list.)

But let’s consider what happens when we donate to one of the most effective charities we have. Let’s consider what happens when we trust what individuals have to say for their own lives. Donate now.

Give people what they want, not what the corporation wants.

“You have to give the people what they want. Otherwise, there is no point at all”.

The Cambodian man, in his 50s, looked at me with tired eyes. He had worked in the disability sector for more than a decade, often with high-level government officials. We were talking about working on some projects together, and during the discussion he was animated and passionate. Even though his enthusiasm was obvious, his weathered exterior told the tale of a tired soul. It was like he had said the above sentence so often that it had drawn youthful vigour out of him, like fuel siphoned from a car. To him, it was just common sense.

Just last week, I received an email from Jetstar Australia, an airline, announcing the winner of their Jetstar Flying Start grant. The organisation that had been selected for the prize of $15,000 cash and $15,000 worth of flights was “Shoes for Planet Earth”. In essence, this organisation takes unwanted second hand running shoes from people in Australia, puts them through a washing process, and ships them off to countries around the world, and poor locations domestically. Since launching in 2009, the organisation has delivered over 14,000 pairs of shoes through partner organisations.

Instantly, alarm bells started to ring. Without rehashing tried and tested arguments, we know that there is so much evidence about the negative impact of used clothing donations in poor countries. In fact, as we’ve previously stated on WhyDev:

Used-clothing imports are found to have a negative impact on apparel production in Africa, explaining roughly 40% of the decline in production and 50% of the decline in employment over the period 1981-2000.

So why would Jetstar choose to support an organisation that potentially could be doing more harm than good? The non-cynical part of me wanted to believe that it was all a big mistake, that Jetstar surely didn’t value attention grabbing ideas for PR more than positively affecting people’s lives. Surely.

Jetstar is exhibiting what Emily D’Ath has termed “community investment” – a “sophisticated and structured type of philanthropy”. It is also a form of corporate power.

Today more than ever, we see the influential power of corporations expanding, in shaping public perception of problems and redefining issues. Community investment and philanthropy more broadly are one way that this occurs. By selecting social issues worthy of support, and ignoring others, corporations dictate what society should see as important and pressing. In academic speak, this is known as “discursive power”: the influence of “norms, ideas and societal institutions”.

One of the most important factors in whether or not a corporation can exert discursive power is through legitimacy. If the corporation is seen to be legitimate, then their ability to wield power is increased. One way that they can do this is through partnerships with legitimate organisations. StarKids, a partnership with World Vision Australia, is one way that Jetstar have tried to achieve this.

But what about with Flying Start? Where does their legitimacy lie? I did a bit of digging to see who is responsible for selecting programs that these grants support. The answer is a panel of four individuals.

This is where you would hope that these are knowledgeable, Tim Costello-like types right? Wrong.

The panel consists of: The CEO of Jetstar Australia/New Zealand, a pilot, a TV and radio presenter, and another TV presenter.


Without being too presumptuous about the backgrounds of the panel, one could probably suggest that their expertise in development is pretty limited. This is where the system has failed. The panel for selecting programs aimed at improving the lives of poor people has little to no legitimacy. This would be akin to someone who has worked primarily in development approving standards in flying safety regulations.

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Clearly, the power of corporations to set the agenda for social issues is huge, and extremely worrying where they lack the expertise to decide how to best these problems. Going one step further, it has been argued, very convincingly might I add, that this exertion of corporate power is a form of hegemony, the dominance of one group in society over another. Under this system, for society to acquire the help of the corporation, they need to alter their views and norms to fit in with those of the corporation.

Perhaps this is where the whole notion of corporate power, or corporate social responsibility, sits so uneasily with me. This model suggests that those who sit on boardrooms dictate what is needed in poor communities. This brings up another interesting discussion. Who represents the poor? Jetstar, Shoes for Planet Earth, or even the organisations that Shoes for Planet Earth work with? Where along the line did the request for second hand shoes come from?

Ultimately, I don’t think we will even know the true answer to this question, except to say that I don’t have much confidence in the legitimacy of Jetstar’s panel to ascertain what is really needed in the communities where shoes are headed.

This brings us back to where we started, and what the weary-eyed Cambodian man was so desperate to convey.

“You have to give the people what they want. Otherwise, there is no point at all”.

Give the people what they want, not what the corporation wants.

Addendum: To Jetstar’s defence, I tweeted and emailed them my concerns over their choice of program to support. They haven’t yet replied to my email. You can read the conversation over Twitter, which ended abruptly, here. I will keep updating this post as I hear from them. I am looking forward to hearing their response.

Much ado about Madonna

Media outlets in Malawi and around the world have been abuzz with the “scandal” surrounding pop star Madonna’s recent visit to the country to tour the ten schools (or classrooms, depending on who you ask) her charity, Raising Malawi, has built over the past couple of years.

The “scandal” erupted after Madonna sent President Joyce Banda an informal, handwritten note requesting to meet with the President and then later complained to the press about having to check-in on departure from Kamuzu International Airport like a normal person. Malawian State House officials responded with a formal public statement denouncing Madonna’s charity, character, and musical talent. This on top of previous accusations of mismanagement by the President’s sister, Anjimile Oponyo, who was hired to head the now-defunct Raising Malawi Academy for Girls.

If only Celebrity Deathmatch still around so they could settle this once and for all. (“Development Deathmatch” spin-off, anyone??)

Though President Banda was “incandescent with anger” at the release of the statement which she claims she did not authorize, this incident is just the latest development in the much larger backlash against celebrity involvement in humanitarian aid and development – from George Clooney in Sudan, to Ben Affleck in the DRC, to Bono everywhere.

In its public statement, State House officials noted that “among the many things that Madonna needs to learn…is the decency of telling the truth…[not] that she is building schools in Malawi when she has actually only contributed to the construction of classrooms.”

The officials also criticized Madonna’s expectation for “Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude”, simply because she has adopted two children from Malawi. Eunice Kazembe, the Malawi Minister of Education, leveled her own criticism at the pop star, saying that, while her country is grateful for the assistance, an individual should not “go to some remote part of Malawi and start doing whatever… She promised an academy and we agreed on standards but she just changed her mind on the project without consulting us.”

Malawian officials, Ms. Kazembe, and the numerous other critics of celebrities without borders, have a valid point. While celebrity involvement has the potential to increase the visibility, and thereby deepen the pockets, of charities and their causes, transparency, accountability, and the White-Savior Industrial Complex are certainly issues of concern when it comes to celebrity involvement in development and humanitarian aid. But these same issues also arise with the work of larger charitable groups and NGOs.

Why is it, then, that so much attention and criticism is heaped on individual celebrities? Why do we not routinely take larger organizations with bigger budgets and wider reach to task on these issues? Here are some possible explanations:

Tabloid media: We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture in which actors, musicians, and reality-TV stars are subjected to extreme levels of public scrutiny, thanks to the multimillion dollar celebrity and gossip magazine market, which profits off of paparazzi photos and wild speculation. This is not, however, a culture of “hero worship.” Rather, it is a culture in which celebrities are “marketed, sold, and disseminated with… rapidity and cunning… and then just as quickly cast aside.”

Celebrities have become as disposable as the magazines that cover them. Publishers and readers seize on any opportunity to criticize these celebrities for their bodies, their relationships, or their charitable work – to cut them down and make room for the next batch.

PR stunts: Many of us assume that celebrities get involved with charitable causes for purely public relations purposes, as a way to boost their public image or “diversify their portfolio,” as it were. (Actor and activist!) We are inherently suspicious of their motives and, often, their understanding of the issues, whether it’s genocide in Darfur or education in Malawi.

Putting a face to the name: It’s just easier to blame or criticize an individual than an entire organization. With so many moving parts to an NGO (operations, development, communications, etc.), it can be difficult to find a single person or department on whom to lay the blame for failed programs. Celebrity activists put a “face” to the problem –a blessing for raising awareness and funds, but a potential curse when the project fails to deliver.

Whatever the reason(s), we’d do well to cast the same critical eye and draw the same attention to the actions of all actors in the aid and development sectors, not just those with a pretty face. Celebrities, and the causes they advocate for, come and go. But the organizations working on these important issues have been doing so for years. They have greater capacity, greater funding, broader reach, and thus the potential for greater long-term impact. We need to make sure that they are getting it right.

How we do that, well, that’s a post for another day….

Do you think celebrity philanthropy is over-scrutinized? Leave a comment below.

Games in International Development: Fad or Innovation?

People have been playing more games these days in Washington D.C. And I don’t mean the strategies of the Obama and Romney spin teams.

Two recent events suggest games’ growing popularity in D.C. aid circles: this one I attended at the World Wildlife Fund earlier this month and this Tuesday’s upcoming event hosted by the Society for International Development.

Games in international development is a pedagogical approach intended to provide experiential learning opportunities that break down complex topics into easier-to-understand parts for adults, thereby serving as more effective “thought and dialogue stimulators.” In my experience with games, they have been used in place of or alongside more conventional training to help people affected by climate change to understand it, especially the concepts of risk management and adaptation.

There are many reasons to like games: 1) those of us in aid work have had to sit through too many horrible trainings and workshops to count, 2) games are a step closer to putting the “right” people in the driver’s seat of change because they are built on an assumption of agency and rational choice, and 3) they are fun! (Not to diminish anyone’s suffering in the world, but we aid workers might stand to benefit from taking ourselves a little less seriously.)

The natural comparison with games for me is participatory rural appraisal (PRA) or participatory learning and action (PLA). The key differentiation is that PRA/PLA tools can end up as a mechanism to only derive information from communities, whereas in a game, people are engaged and they “gain” the experience of having played and can relate what they learned to their own lives, regardless of what happens next in a project or program.

Skilled and experienced facilitators are needed to ensure the success of both approaches and in the context of a project or program, both PRA/PLA and games must to be supported by sound management to ensure that they are linked to action and support an overall process of development. Both approaches must also be wary of slipping into a lazy (and ignorant) perspective that uneducated people are considered “simple.”

There remain some key assumptions that need to be tested when using games within programming, namely 1) that games are a quicker and/or more effective way for organizations to engage communities, 2) that the resulting dialogue is more productive than with traditional community engagement processes, and 3) that this can “trigger” more and/or independent actions/activities at the community or individual level.

As needed in all development programs, it is vital that game designers ground themselves in the local gaming culture. We cannot only be developing and playing games from our ivory towers in D.C., but also (and perhaps more importantly) developing means to share key concepts of game design widely that would enable local nonprofits to develop games to match local contexts and purposes.

The true measure of the aid world’s success in unleashing the potential of games and sports will not be seen simply in their proliferation, but when we determine the extent of their contribution to improving community engagement and ownership within the projects and programs we support.

Is anything going right in NGO-INGO relations?

By Nora Lester Murad and Renee Black.

Nora Lester Murad of Dalia Association:

Something is definitely wrong in NGO-INGO relations. Tension keeps popping up at global meetings and in social media exchanges. Some of it, I think, is the same power struggle as that between locals and donors (e.g., who decides how resources are used, who decides what “success” means, etc.), but there’s another aspect that’s about who “we” are as civil society, and how we manage power and privilege within “our” family. From my experience in Palestine, the disconnect is getting wider. Too often, internationals focus on projects and outputs that make sense in their organisational and funding context, but fail to take responsibility for their collective impact on local civil society – we are getting weaker and less sustainable as a result of international “aid.”

I find myself thinking about these issues all the time. I talk to colleagues around the world. I raise these issues whenever I write or speak at meetings. And the response I get is very challenging.

People say: “We understand your criticisms, but what do you suggest we do differently?”

In other words, knowing what’s wrong in NGO-INGO relations isn’t enough. We need to know how to do it better. But sadly, while I’ve had many bad and neutral experiences, I haven’t had many good ones. That’s why I’m happy to share my recent experience with PeaceGeeks, a Canadian NGO that is helping Dalia Association, a Palestinian NGO, to run an online competition.

What is PeaceGeeks doing right?

1- They called us.

PeaceGeeks contacted Dalia Association, first by email and then by Skype. As the English-speaking volunteer, I was asked to respond (we had never heard of them). Because we didn’t initiate a request for money, the dynamics lacked that sense we often feel of begging, trying to impress, of being evaluated.

2-They show respect for our leadership.

Having already read Dalia’s website, PeaceGeeks asked questions about our organisation and the context we work in. They were in learning mode; we were the experts. They also shared honestly about their organisation and their previous work. This left me feeling like there was a chance to create something together rather than being forced to take or leave a pre-packaged project on someone else’s terms.

3-They bring expertise we don’t have and at a high level.

PeaceGeeks is a collective of technical volunteers. They have expertise we don’t have. That feels very different than working with an INGO that only has money to offer.

4-They respect our timeline and limitations.

We have not been able to move as fast as PeaceGeeks. They are a huge team ready to implement ideas right away. Dalia is a small, grassroots NGO that doesn’t even have sufficient English capacity. So far, PeaceGeeks has been flexible and willing to move more slowly, making the effort to bring Arabic speakers onto their team, and understanding of our need for collective decision-making processes.

5-They are creative and responsive.

When we had difficulty coming up with the name for our philanthropy competition, they offered to incorporate a brainstorming activity into a volunteer recruitment event they were holding in Canada. Then they did extra outreach to recruit Canadian-Palestinians to participate as volunteers.

6-They act like partners.

At all steps in the process, they have shared with us what is happening on their end. For example, they explained how their board decides which projects to take on, and what kind of scrutiny we’d be subjected to. They also copy us on notes to their team so we are in the loop.

Our project—a competition to recognise Palestinian philanthropy around the world—is just starting, and there are much more work to do with PeaceGeeks around the technological interface, social media, and design. It’s a lot, and we might not be able to pull it off without help. So how do I feel so far having PeaceGeeks on our side? Hopeful.

Renee Black of PeaceGeeks:

PeaceGeeks began working with Dalia after a great chat where we could see both a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish, and a clear role we could play a role in helping them to achieve it. Dalia is tackling a complex set of intertwined systematic issues. In the short term, they aim to challenge the perception that Palestinians are takers and not givers. The long-term objective is to engage more Palestinians in philanthropy and on questions on the effective use local resources to address local issues, towards reducing dependency on international aid and strengthening local accountability.

Breaking this unsustainable and disempowering pattern is no simple task. Dalia has chosen to begin addressing this problem through a contest that asks Palestinian youth to identify examples of Palestinian philanthropy in its various forms, whether it be sharing money, time, resources, talents and networks. They want a culture among youth who see that they have a role to play in addressing issues that affect their communities.

After meeting with Dalia, we identified three key areas where we could help make this contest possible. First, they needed a web developer to help create the website pages for the contest on their website and to train their web team in Jordan in how to replicate and manage these pages. Second, they needed a campaign name, brand and logo to help communicate the contest to stakeholders. Third, they needed help in building the capacities of their staff to make effective of use social media and blogging tools to spread the word about the contest to youth and solicit submissions. And all of this needed to happen in a very short time frame because of cutoff from one of their donors.

At first, we weren’t sure if we would be able to help because of the short turn-around time, but the project quickly piqued the interest of our volunteers, and within three days, we recruited web developer Scott Nelson, Arabic-speaking graphic designer Neeveen Bhadur and social media expert Carey Sessoms. We are now recruiting an experienced Arabic-speaking blogger to help Dalia to understand how blogging can help with their work. Along the way, we have been talking to Dalia about their evolving situation and making sure that the help that we are providing is timely and relevant.

We see our role as enablers of change. We can’t lead initiatives to address issues affecting people in other places. But what we do is help organisations like Dalia to get the tools and capacities they need to execute projects, better manage their resources or reach and engage their constituents effectively so they can solve local issues. And in the process, our volunteers get an incredible opportunity to both learn about how communities around the world are solving local problems and playing a role in helping them do it.

Check back for a follow up post in three months or so as we look back honestly about what worked and what didn’t. Meanwhile…

What are your experiences with local NGO-INGO relations?


Nora Lester Murad, PhD, is a writer and activist in Jerusalem, Palestine. Her blog, “The View from My Window in Palestine” at www.noralestermurad.com covers issues of aid, development and life under Israeli military occupation. She is a dedicated volunteer with Dalia Association (www.dalia.ps), the first Palestinian community foundation, where she works on aid reform, philanthropy promotion, and civil society accountability.

Renee Black is a Canadian entrepreneur who founded PeaceGeeks (http://peacegeeks.org/) in 2011. She previously worked as a technology analyst in the private sector and as a policy analyst on peace and security issues, including for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and for UN Women where she worked on the role of women peacebuilders. PeaceGeeks is a Canadian non-profit organization that works to build the technology, communications and management capacities of other non-profit organizations working on promotion of peace, accountability and human rights. We do this by building teams of remote volunteers who support project partners so they can have a greater impact in their communities.  


The Growth of Social Enterprise with Opportunity International Australia’s Stephen Robertson | AidWorks

Image courtesy of Business 21C

In this exclusive extended interview for WhyDev, Opportunity International Australia’s Philanthropy Director, Stephen Robertson speaks with AidWorks’ Albion Harrison-Naish about the growth of the “4th sector”. They discuss Opportunity’s findings that social enterprises in Australia have grown in number by about 37% over the last five years, what has driven this growth, how this might influence the future of aid and giving as well as social entrepreneurialism more generally.

Duration: 19 minutes 15 secs

Don’t change the message. Change the messenger.

Everything that we do in development is about selling a message. Whether it’s conveying an organisation’s work to a corporate donor, convincing the public that foreign aid actually works, or recruiting people for a local HIV-testing program in Zimbabwe, we all need to convince people of what we ourselves believe.

Despite all his, discussion in development rarely revolves around the most effective ways in which we can influence other people. Previously, on whydev.org, we talked about the tendency to hold onto existing biases more strongly whenever views are challenged. When a message goes against the grain of what people already believe, convincing them of this message is complex, and requires effective strategies.

Courtesy of a recent study cited in New Scientist, here is one strategy that may work better: change the messenger, not the message.

Around the middle of last year, Republican politicians in the United States claimed that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was a potential cause of intellectual disability, despite a lack of strong scientific evidence. Unsurprisingly, whether or not people believed them was highly correlated to their political stance. In one study, subjects were questioned on their beliefs across a wide range of issues, and then classified as liberals or conservatives. Scientists then examined their attitudes towards the HPV vaccine. When presented with balanced arguments for and against administering the vaccine, 70% of the liberals and 56% of the conservatives thought it was safe to do so.

The experimenters then created fictional experts who portrayed themselves as liberals or conservatives. With the more “natural” pairing of the liberal expert arguing in favour of the vaccine and the conservative expert arguing against it, the number of liberals who supported the HPV vaccine increased, and the conservatives who disagreed decreased. No surprises there.

The interesting result occurred when they swapped the messengers around, so that the liberal expert argued against the vaccine and the conservative expert argued for it. Under this scenario, 58% of liberals and 61% of conservatives supported the HPV vaccine. In other words, simply swapping the messenger around resulted in more conservatives than liberals being convinced by the safety of the vaccine, a complete reversal to initial findings.

This seems to suggest that it’s not so much the message that is crucial, but instead, the messenger. Recent calls from British PM David Cameron to end foreign aid to African governments who do not uphold gay rights do not acknowledge this research. Apart from the futility of such a threat, the British leader is only likely to bring up not-too-distant memories of Western imperialism and aid conditionality.

Who then, is the best messenger to convey the message we want to give? Let’s go back to the three examples that I opened with individually.

Conveying an organisation’s work to a corporate donor

Often, it is the fundraising department, sometimes coupled with someone who works “in the field”, that tells corporate donors how money donated impacts people’s lives. However, a more ideal messenger could be someone who doesn’t even work for the NGO – perhaps someone who works within the corporate sector itself. Apart from speaking about the good work of the NGO to colleagues, this person is also able to discuss the tax benefits of regular workplace giving.

Convincing the public of the merits of foreign aid

Again, having someone outside of the aid sector could be the best messenger. A trusted public figure with an average income (i.e. not Bill Gates) might be best able to explain how he or she saw the impact of aid work on a recent trip overseas. It is crucial that this figure is someone the public can relate to. Recently, Jet Li was criticised for encouraging people in China to donate more willingly to good causes, as they believed it was his responsibility, as someone wealthy, to do more of the donating himself.

Recruiting people for an HIV testing program in Zimbabwe

Rather than foreign NGO workers, a local Zimbabwean who was diagnosed with HIV and successfully treated for tuberculosis may be a more effective person to convince local people of the need for testing. Having a voice that local people can relate to could lead to the message being more influential and believable.

In life, there are many other instances where we also need to sell a certain message. It could be telling friends about the value of caring for the environment, eating foods that we think are healthy, or why watching back-to-back episodes of Glee on a Saturday night is not only bad for your social life, but also your general health and wellbeing. In development, we need to give serious thought about how the issue is being framed. But, before we even do that, we need to be selective about who it is that is doing the framing.


This post originally appeared on How Matters, a site that explores the “how” of doing development work, in all it’s shapes and forms. I highly recommend you add it to your list of regular reading.

You can follow this author on Twitter here.


Why I support isolated aid workers across the globe and so should you!

Rich countries delivered $3.2 trillion of aid to poor countries between 1960 and 2008. Yet only 36% of aid workersthink projects achieve their intended impact.

It wasn't that long ago that I was a "budding" aid worker. Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe 2003

Aid recipients agree, calling for a change in aid’s business model—from that of delivery of goods and services to one focused on relationships.

I have experienced the impact and potential of alternative funding and support mechanisms that could serve the conservatively estimated 1,000,000+ local groups and grassroots movements operating across the globe – see Wiser.org, for example.

A major obstacle to this, however, is the estimated 595,000 aid workers (ALNAP, 2010) who are rarely called to examine the bureaucratic rigidities that govern their day-to-day work and that deflate and/or marginalise local activists and changemakers. Cynicism, burnout, and jadedness on the prospect of any “real” progress can seriously compromise the hopefulness that many workers had when they entered the aid industry (see discussions with Satori Worldwide and  Mindfulness for NGOs, for example). Much of the time, the needs of aid institutions and philanthropies overshadow the needs of grassroots-up initiatives, with SO much being lost in the over-technicalisation of aid work and grant-making.

Yet in my experience as a loudspeaker for “local changemakers,” I’ve seen a growing cadre of skilled professionals that openly, bravely, and constructively question “business as usual” in the aid industry. And they are so needed. Connecting aid workers who want to instill and/or re-cultivate a sense of public service and downward accountability within their roles is the first step to change.

Imagine if just a small percentage of the large-grant aid resources are “unlocked” for grassroots-up initiatives. To re-direct even 0.01% of industry resources for local changemakers would be a tremendous win.

By supporting and encouraging dedicated and self-identified change agents within aid institutions to create more trust, equity and mutual accountability with those we serve in the developing world, the system-wide reform needed becomes possible. Like you, I no longer want to see local civil society organisations as the lowest common denominator of international development assistance. It’s time to recognise local initiatives and indigenous organisations as vital to supporting demand-driven development that can genuinely challenge power asymmetries, and unleash social change.

I support whydev.org‘s initiative to build an international support network for isolated aid workers because I think this effort could help share the good practices and actionable insights about how to better serve local partners, from within the system and outside of it. Now is the time to be corrective and imaginative, shifting the cognitive frameworks with which we talk about international aid.

No matter how you relate to your role in making the world a more equitable and peaceful place for its people to share in its prosperity, you have to do the internal work to know yourself first. In order to “be there” for anyone else, whether it’s your partner you sleep next to or the partner to which you give money, your own sense of well-being is the first thing that affects how effective you are in relating to and supporting others.

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, we will have to “flip the aid system” to put more local and national actors in the driver’s seat of development. I, for one, want to make sure the next generation of aid workers is ready.


You too can support whydev’s campaign to build a support network for aid workers across the globe here.

Purpose and patience is key for Gen Y in development

In the past few days, I blazed my way through “Work on Purpose” by Lara Galinsky and Echoing Green, devouring the stories and winding pathways of the five social entrepreneurs profiled within.

This book is a reflection of our generation – slightly confused, constantly searching, never settling, seeking meaning. For Generation Y, work has been transformed from a simple means of supporting oneself to an opportunity, a blank space which we can paint with our passions and imbue with our spirits. Work is no longer about plain sustenance, but about creativity, innovation, and possibility. And most of all, our generation seeks a deeper purpose for our work. Helping large corporations make more money is no longer satisfying; being a cog in a robotic machine is deeply unsettling.

But you have heard all this before. The way the Millennial generation views work and meaning and life and purpose is nothing new to you. We have been inundated with blogs and articles examining my generation’s characteristics in painstaking detail.

Yet, many see my generation as entitled–we feel like we are above grunt work and endless spreadsheets and paying our dues. We do not want to settle for something we don’t love. And yes, perhaps this quest for meaning reeks of entitlement. But aren’t we all working towards a world where our children have the freedom to pursue their passion for a living? And isn’t it a good thing– no, a great thing– if this generation springboards from entitlement into a generation of social change leaders? And this, indeed, is what is happening. We are experiencing an unprecedented movement of young people passionate about tackling deeply entrenched social problems. And I would argue that our entitlement is, in part, what has allowed us to do important work. What has freed us up from the need to focus only on salary, allowed us to pursue work for reasons beyond supporting our families.

Work on Purpose echoes this quintessential quest that myself and many of my peers are undergoing. What is inspiring, and different, about this book is its painful honesty. The social justice leaders profiled did not follow a linear path to doing good work. Indeed, the roads they took were often winding, painful, and confusing. Most of them did not find their ideal job doing game-changing work that also harnessed their valuable skills immediately after college:

“Although the words and actions we absorb in our homes profoundly shape our ideas of what is important, when it comes time to start a professional life, we often put those early experiences aside. They can be overshadowed by the desire to earn a good salary, the pressure to follow a particular path, and the need to satisfy competing demands from our families, our peers, and ourselves.

Few people fall immediately into jobs or paths that satisfy all these desires, let alone stem from what they think is meaningful. Most people…wander or take misguided turns.”

Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, did not find her place in the world until 38! She spent time meandering, learning, falling in and out of graduate programs and ill-fitting jobs. She went to medical school, got an MPP, and even enrolled in a history graduate program. None of them seemed to click or truly ignite her passion — she did not want to be a doctor or a policymaker — but she kept seeking. She found the right place once she joined Echoing Green. She got there eventually. And it’s a lesson to all of us that we can find the right fit — we may just have to exercise a bit of  patience and refuse to give up in our quest.

Along the way, we must ask ourselves certain questions:  What moments from your childhood shaped what you think is important? When in your life have you felt out of whack? In those out of whack periods, what was out of balance? What would you do if you were not afraid of failing? When have you felt in the zone, like you were doing exactly what you should be doing? What is your issue or cause to own?

Why do you do what you do?

Ultimately, Lara Galinsky comes up with a powerful formula: heart + head = hustle. The perfect career lies nestled in this combination: passion and love for what you do and your mission (heart) and the utilization of your concrete skills and talents (head). If you find work that allows you to harness your professional skills to your fullest potential while also allowing you to do something you love & feel strongly about, you have stumbled upon something truly magical.

This is the journey of our generation, and future ones. My pathway seems blanketed in fog for now, but at the same time I know where my feet are taking me. I am asking myself the questions that matter, while knowing things will become clearer with time. This book gives me faith that I, and you, will eventually find that magical balance that sets things in motion to change ourselves, and the world.

We just have to have a little patience.


Ed: What motivates us all in the workplace? In a most entertaining 10 minute animation, find out:

Activating slacktivists: advice from a Social Media Manager

My name is Richenda and I *love* slacktivists.

I hate the title “Slacktivist” yet Mashables suggested term “Social Champion” doesn’t feel right either. To me, they are family. The World Vision family.

Working at World Vision USA and more recently World Vision Australia, I have built and engaged online communities of substantial scale. With this experience in mind, I will try to answer the questions raised by Weh in his recent blog post: Is it possible to engage slacktivists in more worthwhile causes, or should NGOs focus their energy elsewhere?

These are not easy questions to answer. 

Is it possible to engage slacktivists in more worthwhile causes?

Yes, without a doubt!

People that “like” or “follow” your organisation are choosing to publicly recommend your organisation to their network and/or choosing to receive communications from you! At World Vision, we call these people our “online family”, not slacktivists! They are new, current and prospective supporters who are happy to interact with us on a daily basis.

Mashable’s feature of The Dynamics of Cause Engagement study by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Worldwide showing that slacktivists are more likely to take meaningful actions is no surprise to us.

Years of rigorous tracking and analysis has shown us that investment in our online family delivers consistent financial and non-financial returns. In addition to the activities listed above, we are also learning about the positive impact social media communication has on our long term relationships. This is important to us because our main product, Child Sponsorship, relies on long-term commitment to regular giving  to support complex, often misunderstood, community development.

An example of how we share content that aims to increase understanding of community development and affirm the commitment of sponsors

Not everyone in our family sponsors a child, recruits friends or rallies their local member of parliament. We know that some of our community will “like” a status once, while others contribute to content regularly and more meaningfully.

Some are silent readers, while others bring me to tears with their stories and their personal passion for social justice! (Tears from our team are not an uncommon response to these amazing stories!)

One of my favourite cross-channel advocacy examples. From WV Facebook, to a personal blog, to twitter. Love it!

Some share stories to entice friends to become involved, while others may never publicly share content but will personally click through to make a donation.

The level of commitment within the community varies from person to person, and is influenced by the content, opportunities and conversations you give them access to. Your online community will quickly discover whether the stories you tell, the opportunities you provide and the conversations you have are valuable. Which brings me too….

 Should NGOs focus their energy elsewhere?

Yes and No

Cultivating and mobilising online communities takes tremendous amount of time and resource. Any investment in this area should be well thought out, strategic and long-term. Honestly, there is no point investing in social media unless you  have a solid foundation. Before investing in building an online community, an NGO should be asking:

  • Is our website in good health? Are people using it to find out more about us or make donations?
  • Do we utilise website tracking to understand the behaviour of visitors to our site?
  • Do we have access to meaningful stories and multimedia?
  • Do we have communication that explain what we do?
  • Is our media team able to respond to difficult questions and criticism?
  • Does our organisation see a need to stay in dialogue with supporters?
  • Does our leadership understand social media and are they willing to invest in it?

If you answered “no” to any of these above questions – you should focus your energy there, instead of, or before, building a social media community. Without these fundamentals, you will find it  challenging to create effective content, understand the impact of your community and engage in authentic meaningful conversations.

If you answered “yes” to all of the above – go for it! Start by building a social media strategy that aligns with your organisation’s goals for engagement and target demographic. Your strategy should drive your tactics –  directing how you build your online family and the style or personality you use to engage them. To help you on your way, I have started a blog series to help demystify social media strategy and give you some practical advice.

Critics may tell you social media will produce no return. I think you will produce no return..if you are doing it wrong.  If you’re doing it right, your online family will take their passion or ‘slacktivism’ into the real world.  You will grow to love and respect your ‘slacktivists’ for what they really are: passionate people keen to make a difference. Trust me, I’m that annoying person on facebook that says ..