The Charitable Impulse: Part 6

So far in this series I have presented a rather gloomy tale. We do charity for ourselves, or in a disorganized manner, or in a way that actually undermines development, and unintentionally makes things worse. However, in the next few posts I will look at how there is still room for charity, development, social services, and the non-profit sector in general.

The good news is that although we can do things wrong, we can also do them right. In their annual letter, Melinda and Bill Gates break down many of the myths of international development, and in the process start to set the foundation for a discussion of how charity can be done well. The first myth the Gates break down is the myth that the world is getting worse. In fact, there has been a huge positive move on global poverty, with the number of people experiencing extreme poverty being cut in half from 2 billion to 1 billion people. A significant portion of this has happened in African nations, defying perceptions of sub-Saharan Africa as being immune to development. Life expectancy in even the poorest regions of the world has increased from 41 to 57 years. This video by Hans Rosling shows how quickly nations in poverty are developing and catching up:

In addressing the second myth of foreign aid as a waste of resources, the Gates unpack how development is being done well. Aid can be delivered in a manner that builds an independent economic foundation rather than increasing dependence on foreign resources. Aid can address root needs around vaccination, illness prevention, and violence that hold nations back from developing. Aid can serve to address policies of inequality that prevent women from being safe, secure, and financially independent. Aid done well does not equate to dependence, as many of the primary recipients of aid in the past decade are now aid providers.

Charity can be two-pronged: it can address the basic needs that are the foundation required for people to then advance their lives, but at the same time it can produce opportunity. An ill child requires malaria treatment to survive, and at the same time needs opportunities for education and employment. Charity/aid/development can do this, and do it well.

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