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A few years ago I read William Easterly’s book, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. While the title pretty much gives you the essence of the book, the first chapter details a basic distinction between two types of people: Planners and Searchers.
Planners start with basic problems and make them bigger before offering any solutions. They apply global blueprints. They raise expectations but take no responsibility for meeting them. They think they already know the answers that can be imposed from the outside and believe poverty is a technical engineering problem that their answers will solve. Planners' grand plans require very large bureaucracies.
On the other hand, Searchers find out what is in demand. They adapt to local conditions and focus on small homegrown solutions. They are flexible and quick to change and see opportunities. They do not require hundreds of staff "on the ground."
A few days ago I was rereading the cover story on “Malaria” in the July 2007 issue of National Geographic and an article on “Swarm Theory” only confirmed what William Easterly’s book describes. In an attempt to explain how large herds of caribou, colonies of ants, schools of fish and hives of bees “make decisions” about everything from escaping enemies to choosing a new hive, the author writes when it comes to deciding what to do next, most ants don't have a clue.
There is no grand plan of action, no single leader or global vision. The action of the colony is dependent on the accumulated actions and communications of thousands of individuals interpreting current reality and changing conditions. While the way they communicate “real-time” changes to each other is truly miraculous and beyond our comprehension, it’s clear that there are no Planners – only Searchers. Thousands of small successes and failures inform the larger group about what works and what doesn’t – and then they do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Paul Theroux in an article titled "The Africa Aid Mess" has written a scathing criticism of what the English novelist Charles Dickens described as "telescopic philanthropy" or the preference to focus on far away problems. In his own way he is describing Planners.
"Never have so many people, so many agencies, so many stratagems, so much money been deployed to improve Africa -- and yet the majority of the movers are part-timers, merely dropping in, setting up a scheme in the much-mocked "the-safari-that-does-good" manner, then returning to their real lives, as hard-charging businessmen, Hollywood actors, benevolent billionaires, atoning ex-politicians, MacArthur geniuses, or rock stars in funny hats. It's not hard to imagine the future tombstones of the Clintons and Bono and Gates, and many others bitten by the eleemosynary itch, chiseled with the words, ‘Telescopic Philanthropist.’ The farther away the donors are, the shorter their visits and the more passionate their feelings."
While Theroux is, in my opinion, harder on them than they deserve he makes the point that celebrity philanthropy or becoming a celebrity by virtue of philanthropy is not merely ineffective. It plays into the hands of corrupt leaders and is manipulated by the far less altruistic agendas of resource hungry nations.
His conclusion is that those who come to stay and engage in the life of Africa will do far more good over the long term through a life-time of small and seemingly insignificant efforts.
"The real helpers are not the schemers and grandstanders of the eponymous family foundations or charities; they are nameless ill-paid volunteers who spend years in the bush, learning the language and helping in small-scale manageable projects, digging wells, training mid-wives, teaching villagers that unprotected sex spreads HIV; and among these stalwarts are the long-serving teachers who have liberated Africans by simply teaching them English, and are still doing so, even as they make the local governments lazier."
This is like so many donors and volunteers doing seemingly “small” things that are not part of a global plan or comprehensive strategy. Keep supporting all those highly individualized efforts that create homegrown solutions and don’t be caught up in the surge of grand-plan philanthropy. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.Comments
Almost 20 years ago I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an investment. The Wittenburg Door founded by Mike Yaconelli and friends had been in ﬁnancial trouble for decades and was looking for new ownership. For a nominal investment I could be part of the new team, and I seriously considered it. I had subscribed to the Door for years, and every issue was better and more outrageous than the last. However, as some of you might know, the Door was famous for its no holds barred and sometimes (no - oftentimes) cynical and scathing critique of the foibles of the Church and the leadership. Having a skeptical bent myself, I knew being around the funniest and most impious people in the evangelical world would only put my soul in danger. I declined...but I think about it now and then. Still, I'm probably better off not reading it.
In the same way, I am probably better off not reading the annual issue of Forbes on Philanthropy and, especially, the current one titled “A Golden Age of Philanthropy.” The cover is a shot of 13 of the world's most famous and powerful philanthropists including Bill Gates, Francine LeFrak, James Tudor Jones and Bono. When you read their stories you are inspired, encouraged, challenged and...well, this is tough to say...made envious.
When you read about people who are, in essence, displacing the power of corporations and governments in the search for answers to our most complex global problems, you begin to wonder if anything you are doing makes any difference at all in comparison. I know well the old quip, "Comparison is odious" and I do believe it, but still there is that not-so-quiet voice that says, "Why not you?"
In 1999, I had the opportunity to be with John Gardner, the author of Self-Renewal and founder of Independent Sector and Common Cause. As well, he served as President of the Carnegie Foundation and brought it back from the abyss created by years of mismanagement and neglect. He was an international ﬁgure and one of our country's most innovative philanthropists. In his comments (three years before his death) he said something surprising.
He talked about the growing surge in international philanthropy and the attraction of large foundations to solving global problems and having outsize inﬂuence and impact. It concerned him because it distracted people practicing and following philanthropy from what he thought was the core of American philanthropy - the relatively small and local family foundation. He warned us of the dangers of being dazzled by the attention of the media and the natural desire to do grand things with big players. He kept emphasizing the importance of the thousands of modest funders who were working in their local towns and counties to do good in simple ways with great commitment but little notice.
As he spoke I thought about Edmund Burke's counsel: "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." It is true.
There is a small poem hidden among the hundreds written by George Herbert. It is titled “Submission.” While a distinguished poet and dedicated pastor of a small parish, Herbert quietly longed for a place of larger inﬂuence and power all his adult life. Gradually losing his sight and his chances in later years he wrote these words:
”Were it not better to bestow
Some place and power on me?
Then should thy praises with me grow,
And share in my degree.
How know I, if thou shouldst me raise,
That I should then raise thee?
Perhaps great places and thy praise
Do not so well agree.”
So, I think about that when I read "A Golden Age of Philanthropy" and meet those who have “place and power.” Then, instead of envy and comparison, I can relax and know I have found my place in God's scheme and what He desires is what John Gardner said so well.
Do good in simple ways where you have been called.Comments
“God gives a man riches, property, and wealth so that he lacks nothing that his heart desires, yet God does not enable him to enjoy the fruit of his labor – instead, someone else enjoys it!” Ecclesiastes 6:2
My first reaction to the “Giving Pledge” by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates was mixed. On the one hand I was encouraged to see so many who had spent their lives accumulating wealth, power and influence making pledges to give the majority of their assets to philanthropy in their lifetime.
I don’t know if it was a reaction to the wild media response or the sheer flamboyance of the venture that gave me qualms. Probably, there is just something in me that distrusts those blowing loud trumpets about giving.
After Sunday night’s “60 Minutes” segment on “The Golden Age of Philanthropy” with Charlie Rose doing interviews with several of those who have made the pledge, I decided to read the letters of those who pledged and not make judgments based on my own sensitivities.
There are extraordinary stories of commitment, sacrifice, service and honest intentions to do good in those letters. Many of them are inspiring, and we would be well-served to follow the same exercise ourselves. For a number, it was the first time they had seriously reflected on their giving. For others, they had been planning for years to make this step and had simply joined to encourage others to do the same. For some, the motivation was closer to achieving immortality than philanthropy, but for many others it was a serious and commendable desire to “give back” to a world that had rewarded them richly.
It is hard to argue with Warren Buffett’s answer to Charlie Rose’s question about the continuing accumulation of wealth. “Incremental wealth, adding to the wealth they have now has no real utility to them, but that wealth has incredible utility to other people. It can educate children. It can vaccinate children. It can do all kinds of things.”
Still, as I read I felt a growing sadness around their common discovery that there were only so many cars, houses and pleasures money could buy. Many had come to philanthropy as a final place to search for satisfaction. As well, many of the letters were filled with echoes of Warren Buffett’s conclusion that “fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious” and their advantage, ultimately, was a mixture of luck and winning the “ovarian lottery.”
That’s not our best hope as believers, is it? It is not what we desire to say at the end of our lives, is it? We don’t come to giving as a last resort to find meaning or to fix the imbalance of the ovarian lottery.
Instead, we come to giving out of gratitude for a God who has loved us intentionally and from all eternity. We come out of joy in response to a promise. And that’s better than a pledge.Comments
Millions of Americans and a fair number of Gathering participants are going to respond to the immediate needs of the Philippines through Twitter, Facebook, text donations, appeals from scores of well-known relief organizations, and more than a few scams that proliferate after every disaster.
Years from now, even many of the better-known organizations (like the American Red Cross) will be either holding millions of dollars in unspent money or, worse, will have used the money on projects completely unrelated to the original appeal.
Months after Superstorm Sandy, a third of the $303 million the Red Cross raised specifically for storm victims will be either unspent or misspent.
Years after the Haiti earthquake less than 40 percent of the $4.6 billion raised and pledged in a few months has been spent. Stories of corruption, theft and political patronage are still in the news.
Japan has spent funds intended for reconstruction after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami on roads in Okinawa, whaling research and an ad campaign for Japan's tallest building.
One of our recent conference panelists, Ben Smilowitz of Disaster Accountability Project, is a wealth of information on how badly much of relief money is spent (or not spent) and how important it is for charities to be transparent in their reporting of finances and what they accomplished.
Unfortunately, many of us want to help immediately - especially when we see the pictures of devastation, havoc, loss of life, and children made orphans and homeless.
How can you not respond immediately? It would be heartless to wait.
In fact, waiting may be the best thing we can do.
It’s often overlooked that there are important and distinct stages of disaster relief. I want to thank Steve Haas of World Vision for making this information available to us. Each one has needs and challenges:
24-48 hours: This is the “storm surge” of money that follows the news and media frenzy. To quote legendary football coach Woody Hayes, “Three things can happen and two of them are bad.” The money and flood of in-kind contributions can be as destructive as the typhoon if there are not systems in place for making use of it. Because 95 percent of the large-scale disasters occur in the undeveloped world, this means there are few, if any, systems in place. This stage can last up to six months. If you feel you must give right away you should be focused on finding organizations and ministries that have a local presence. Those who have to fly in assistance without any prior relationship are far less effective – even harmful.
48-100 hours: Resources begin to arrive, and distribution issues become complicated. The media looks for stories and snippets that will focus on either the physical horror of the disaster, the carnage, or the confusion of relief efforts. While there is merit in keeping the "story" alive because tragedy news is often displaced by celebrity gossip, there is an increasing pressure to find news that will get the fleeting attention of a viewer. Donors should stick with supporting organizations with a local presence as they will not be as affected by the logistics, and they know best the immediate responses needed.
7-14 days: The international professionals and specialists arrive and begin to mobilize and organize resources. Used items and in-kind gifts shipped in from other countries are rarely helpful and tend to clog up the ports, scarce storage facilities and overtaxed distribution chains. This is a good time for donors who have managed to avoid the temptation of contributing to the “storm surge” to, instead, support organizations with competence and track records for this work. Cash is still the most-needed commodity – not material items.
30-45 days: Temporary shelter, health and medical care, food and water, and economic aid, along with the care of children without parents and a host of other problems, require sustained organization – not just reactive assistance.
45 days – one year: While this is by no means the end of the impact of the disaster, this is the time for donors who have an interest in long-term relief and development. This is when the media attention has faded, and many first responders have left to wait for another disaster or moved on. Organizations with long-term commitments and established reputations are the best investments. This is also when pressure builds from the media and outside agencies to question why all the money given has not been spent. In their defense, it is not just the amount of money that is difficult to manage but the slow progress of legitimate recovery.
While we rarely recommend organizations for support, I have checked with Gathering participants who have long-time experience and relationships in the Philippines and asked them to recommend organizations and ministries for me to suggest. Here is their list. It is not exhaustive and in no order of priority or ranking.
So, if you are wondering how to respond I would encourage you to check any of the above organizations and contact them for more information.Comments
When I was young, people would say to me, "It must be difficult growing up in the shadow of your father." Yes, it was. It was not until years later that I understood there is a difference between the "shade" of a father and the shadow. While there were struggles that were painful to us both about my being "Jr.,” the advantages gradually eclipsed the difficulties, and today I am grateful for the shade of wisdom my father provided.
Years ago I asked him to reflect on giving. While he had practiced giving all his life, I had never seen anything in writing. On one of our several trips together before he died, my father talked it out with me, and here is the essence of what he said:
For me, giving is divided into four types. They may not vary by the amount, but they vary greatly by the motive, effect and reward.
The gift. The gift becomes known but not the giver - or at least the giver does not let it be advertised to his glory. The widow's mite was known but not because she rang the bell with the gift. She quietly demonstrated her faith with her sacrifice not knowing anyone would notice. It may be difficult to truly give anonymously because in our deepest heart of hearts we do not yet believe we are giving to God and that He sees and is pleased and will reward as He sees fit.
A purchase posing as a gift. Here the giver buys a reward, and it is generally recognition or social position. It is well publicized. Your "gift" purchases you a reputation. It would be more accurate to call this "giving as an expense." It is the price of admission. As Scripture says of the Pharisees, "They have their reward." It does not say the reward was wrong or inappropriate; it simply says when you give for human reasons you get human rewards. If you want the reward here you get it...but there is no reward in heaven. You can enjoy the reputation as a great philanthropist, but you cannot endow a sainthood.
Giving as investment. Giving as investment is particularly attractive to those who are acquisitive and concerned more with leverage and return than gratitude and love. They are protecting God from others misusing the money. There is little interest in giving to small things - only things that will "change the game.” This is not giving but investing. It is not just a reward but a return on investment that is expected.
The ultimate reward. The ultimate reward for the profitable servant is to hear the Master say, "Well done, enter into my joy." It requires a great deal more humility than most of us possess to desire being a profitable servant. Money makes it more attractive and tempting to play the master. The Master did not ask the servant how well known he was, what his standing was in the community, how he enjoyed himself or what were his future plans. He simply asked, "How were you profitable to me?" When we fulfill our purpose completely, we can expect the joy of The Lord. Profitability to the Master out of love and gratitude is a great and proper calling.Comments