Sunday, October 19, 2014

Have you done any good in the world today?

Before general conference conference I expressed concern that many important topics did not seem like a priority for the LDS church because they were not highlighted at general conference often or at all.  Poverty, which was one suggested topic, was addressed not once, but twice! Both of these talks were inspiring and wonderful to hear.  It is not totally surprising.  When looking at the fast offering funds the demand for fast offering support is more than fast offering donations.  This is only understandable given the changing demographics of church growth.  While fast offering donations is a wonderful way to help the poor who are LDS, I thought I would offer a few suggestions of other avenues for those looking to donate.  This week in my International Organizations course students did presentations on NGOs, many were humanitarian NGOs.  There is criticism of the humanitarian NGO aid sector, (high overhead, creating dependencies, lack of accountability to those receiving aid, ect) but this does not mean that all NGO's are problematic. Here are few NGO's that I would like to highlight, which I do believe have a positive impact,certainly more than much of the excessive consumption that goes on.  Some of them came from my students!

  • LDS Philanthropies The LDS church received NGO status from the UN a few years ago.  I like the humanitarian services because there is no overhead costs (the church picks up the tab) so 100% of donations actually goes to humanitarian aid.  Projects are inspiring and focus on providing wheel chairs, medical training, immunizations, self sufficient agricultural production, and much more.  
  • Give directly is an innovative approach for a humanitarian aid organization.  Instead of providing a service (which usually comes with expensive overhead and can create dependencies) they just give cash to poor people, no strings attached.  Surprisingly, research has shown that this is a very effective way of improving the quality of life for the poor.  On average they are responsible with the money and invest it in a manor that will significantly improve their quality of life such as invest in a tin roof (a thatch roof needs to be replaced several times a year) or livestock. 
  • Save the Children This is a large NGO that deals with a number of humanitarian issues, mostly education and health care for children.  Here they have the option of sponsoring a child, purchasing gifts such as livestock, and other neat donation options.  It is a very large organization so there is some overhead (including their CEO's high salary) but overall it seems like they do make a positive impact.
  • The HELP foundation is a smaller NGO that works in one region of the Philippines.  They deal with health issues, education, and help to provide income for low wage earners by selling handicraft abroad and sending the money back to the local workers.  One of my students is a volunteer for this NGO and worked in the Philippines and noted the positive impact on the local economy and in the lives of the participants. They also offer the option of sponsoring a child's education.  Since this is a small local NGO it seems that overhead is significantly smaller than some of the global NGO's.  If you want to make sure your 10 or 20 bucks makes a difference this might be the organization
  • Pencil's of Promise is an NGO that invests in education in Ghana, Laos, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.  The founder came across a street orphan in India and asked him if he could have anything in the world what would he ask for.  The boy responded that he would ask for a pencil.  This NGO merges some business practices to increase accountability and transparency that sometimes can be missing from other NGO's.  
For a major global reduction of poverty many things will have to happen.  Better governance in impoverished countries, a decrease in conflict around the world, and better policies from Western countries towards poor countries.  Often poor countries don't need aid they need access to markets (US and EU agriculture subsidies being the prime example).  Large multinational corporations should be more responsible in paying their taxes and should feel more responsibility to develop local economies.  In Africa crude oil is exported refined elsewhere then repurchased at a higher price.  The extraction of crude oil meanwhile giving very little employment opportunities to locals.  Natural resources should be refined and processed in the same locations to provide meaningful employment.

No one reading this blog will be able to change US trade policy or Chevron's business model, but don't be discouraged a difference can be made.  Small donations to these NGO's won't change the world, but it will change someone's world. 

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