Philanthropy is messy. It’s rare that you achieve exactly what you set out to accomplish. The process often involves a lot of frustration, tears, frustration and lack of resolve. Let’s face it; changing the world is no walk in the park.
And if you’re dealing with people, it’s likely they may not be grateful for your investment of time and care. It’s also likely they may choose not to implement your advice or properly utilize the resources you’ve provided.
You set out to achieve something, and then, boom; something completely illogical happens. Someone doesn’t show up. No one cared enough to finish or do it properly. Or worse yet, someone sabotages the program or robs you blind. It happens, often.
You ask yourself if you’re even doing any good. “Am I crazy? Doesn’t anyone care?”
But then I remember that I’m not doing this because of my strong desire to do something good. It’s not because I need a cool accomplishment to add to my collection I don’t do this for a pat on the back or gratitude. I don’t even expect those things. I don’t have anything to prove.
I don’t do what I do to “get results”. So often along the journey of pushing for a certain result, I will discover something even more beautiful and pure than what I was shooting for. And rather than being blinded by my ambition to achieve the original goal, I’m always open to that dynamic.
At the end of the day, I simply do this because I care. That’s enough. I care so much that I can’t stop trying. I can’t stop being an idealist. It doesn’t bother me when people think I’m naïve. When you have nothing to prove, the shackles fall off.
I just keep believing that if I care enough, and consistently listen and act, someone else will benefit from it. And when that’s the only goal, it’s easy to resolve to the fact that you don’t need resolution for a project to be successful You just keep pushing, knowing that somewhere along the way, someone is benefiting from the love you are giving, day in and day out.
If I constantly give love, I can’t go wrong. And I don’t need quantifiable results or an impressive P&L to experience joy from it. The joy comes from the giving. We have a right to giving. But that doesn’t mean we have a right to reaping the fruits of our labor.
The act of serving and giving has to be enough. Otherwise, it will never be…enough.
I think it’s natural for anyone altruistic to continually seek higher forms of altruism.
Lately, as Ilea and I raise Francois, I realize more and more how important it is to invest in children. I believe the best way we can develop a more peaceful world is to raise up generations of children committed to living as vessels of love.
This led me to thinking more about the role of a mother. The more I thought, the more I realized the magnitude of her role. Mothers are our only source of life in this world. The only. Clearly something significant is represented there.
Despite endless knowledge of the life to come, a woman chooses to forego life as she knows it to carry a baby for 40 weeks. I cannot imagine what it must feel like, to carry a human in my belly. I honestly believe it is unfathomable for any man.
She knowingly and willingly chooses to go into labor and deliver this human from her body. She knows what is coming, yet she doesn’t abort. She endures the pain breathes life into the world. This is courage like I’ve rarely witnessed in the bravest of men.
She resolves to spending the rest of her life nurturing, teaching and guiding that child. And she does this knowing that she lives in a man’s world and that her role will often be thankless and unnoticed. But she presses on because her gratification comes not from her glorification, but from her compulsion to show love to her child. Her happiness is tied to theirs.
She spends her life serving her family, ensuring they are safe, cared for and know they are loved. And many more mothers are also the primary provider for the family. This is among the rarest and highest forms of dedication I know. It’s a lifelong commitment.
From conception to the end of that child’s life, mothering has the power to change the world more than any other altruistic act I can imagine. They have the power to create a human that proliferates love and incites peace. Can you think of anything more powerful than a world full of these types of people?
Mothers bring life into the world. We owe them our utmost respect.
I believe mothering is the pinnacle of altruism. If we want a more peaceful, egalitarian society, we should turn our focus towards teaching more effective mothering. If you want to contribute to a better world, start, join or support something that fosters more ethically and morally grounded mothering.
But the most important contribution we could make to society is to start valuing the role of a mother more than we do that of a military officer, politician, big business owner or celebrity. Being a mother should be the most valued and respected role in humanity.
I think it’s time we regarded the role of motherhood as the pinnacle of all altruistic endeavors. There simply is no more significant or profound role that a human could live out.
To all of the mothers out there, thank you for breathing life into this world and exemplifying altruism so profoundly. You challenge and inspire me.
Most people have an expectation of what philanthropy or humanitarianism should look like. And much of it has little to do with the impact being made through their efforts.
If someone drops they’re “normal” existence, moves to Calcutta and dedicates their life to attending to the sick and the poor, it’s expected they will undoubtedly be revered as a humanitarian.
Teenagers and twenty-somethings are protesting, signing petitions, volunteering, resisting tyranny and flocking to conflict zones all over the world. It’s become trendy to do so, and frankly, I can’t think of a better trend to foster.
However, this pervasive belief that humanitarianism needs to look a certain way, or be in a certain place is quite problematic. With new technologies, ease of travel and the proliferation of social entrepreneurialism, the face of humanitarianism is evolving daily.
A woman in New York City can create a business selling luxury home décor items sourced from a tiny village in Nepal. She may have a beautiful boutique and wealthy customers that she wines and dines in order to keep up solid client relations. Her life does not look the same as the woman tending to sick children in the streets of Calcutta.
But the work this woman is doing in NYC is likely providing income and dignity for a multitude Nepalese families. This work is just as powerful, and likely more sustainable and beneficial than the work of the woman tending to the sick in Calcutta.
We need both. It’s easier than ever to do good in the world. And it has a lot of different faces. The more we embrace this dynamic, the more long lasting good we can incite.
I’m a firm believer that we all have a choice. We make choices every second of our lives that determine our reality. Ultimately, we all do exactly what we want; it’s just a matter of how badly we want it.
But does a child growing up in the inner city in Chicago or Compton understand that she has a choice? Does a young African living in the Kibera slums (in Nairobi, Kenya) understand that she has a choice?
As humanitarians, we ask ourselves what we can do to help the poor, or even eradicate extreme poverty. Yes, we can intervene, remove the immediate problems, put someone in a new environment and begin to provide opportunities, but most of these tactics are still short term at best. They are all dependent on the beneficiaries understanding and ability to process and implement the changes.
I believe our most effective strategy for helping the poor is to instill a new perspective and way of thinking. Yes, we all have a choice. But if you have never learned that you have a choice, and you’ve never disciplined yourself to keep a healthy perspective, no amount of opportunities or change of environment are going to make the difference.
True transformation cannot take place until a person can create a habit and lifestyle of seeing the world differently. As humanitarians, we have a duty to liberate people’s minds and teach them a new perspective.
The mind is the most powerful tool known to man. It’s central to every human action, or inaction. If we’re going to tackle an issue like extreme poverty, the mind is the first place to start. Without that foundation, our efforts are futile.
If you want to help, teach those less fortunate than you to think differently. Help them understand that they have a choice. And then teach them the disciplines that will help them attain the dreams that unfold from their new perspective.
Your best effort as a philanthropist is to liberate the minds of the people you’ve set out to help.
Celebrity philanthropy is quite a hot topic these days. They have their share of haters, but overall, I support their decision to leverage their finances, time and influence for altruism, no matter their reason for doing it.
I’m not real choosey about who wants to be a philanthropist or why. I have more complaints about those that choose to do nothing at all.
If someone offers you money, investment, promotion, endorsement or any other type of support, and it fulfills your need, does it really matter what their reasons for supporting are?
Sure, you want them to do it for some beautiful reason that fits your idealism. But at the end of the day, you’re still getting what you need, and they’re getting more deeply invested in the cause. What better process for them to do it for the “right reasons” over time?
Sometimes philanthropists get so caught up in their work that they forget how impacting it can be for their donors as well. For many celebrities, it’s a game changing experience in their life.
Do I care why Ben Affleck started Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI)? No, I don’t. What I do care about is the fact that it’s one of the most effective organizations working in the DRC right now, and ultimately, Ben is becoming an expert on the topic.
He’s invested. He’s there, in Congo, often. He’s supporting people like Harper McConnell Katondolo, one of the most integral philanthropists I know. She is our DRC guru, and now she’s getting the recognition she deserves, largely because Ben has the power to support and expose her amazing work.
Harper was doing amazing work many years ago. She’s done even more amazing work since. Today she’s doing amazing work with a huge audience and platform of influence, largely because of Ben’s support.
Harper’s work ethic, passion and commitment didn’t change at all. But Ben gave her the platform to do the things she’s longed to do (that required more capital and mass influence), but couldn’t.
That’s powerful, and beautiful. I certainly can’t find any reasons not to support this type of activity.
I just read an excerpt from a book called “The Last Lecture”. Mr. Pausch said, “When you use money to fight poverty, it can be of great value, but too often, you’re working at the margins. When you’re putting people on the moon, you’re inspiring all of us to achieve the maximum of human potential, which is how our greatest problems will be solved”.
I think there’s something worth noting there. We need both, but people need to be inspired, to do more, be more and experience more. Not to collect more “things”, and not to be discontent, but to get more life, out of life. To truly live.
And let’s face it; a great inspirational story like Rocky, Braveheart or The Pursuit of Happiness gets us all pumped up. We find ourselves seriously compelled to go work out, free the people or pursue our dream career because we see that there is more out there and that it’s possible to achieve. We are reminded once again that even ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. We need that.
Why have organizations like Charity:Water and Invisible Children done so well? Because they have inspired us. They’ve taken what were previously insurmountable epidemics and provided us clear, tangible methods for addressing them. And then they show us the fruits of our efforts. That’s a game changer.
Scott Harrison realized that just mastering and sharing the facts about the lack of clean water for the poor is not enough. He needed a better story. So he found a way to inspire us. When you watch a video like this one, you don’t feel sad, you feel inspired. You feel empowered to make a difference.
Invisible Children is tackling the issues of child soldiers in Uganda and Congo, among other worthy issues. This is a horrific epidemic throughout certain areas of Africa. The details are gruesome. But, they chose to inspire us by putting the power of to stop this epidemic in the hands of high schoolers and university students across the US. Their impact is nothing short of profound.
Too often we get so caught up in the immediate needs of people that we forget about the big picture. We’ve spent so much time guilting people into action that we forgot the power of inspiration. Inspired people get things done regardless of circumstances or lack of resources. Guilt fades, especially in the West.
Hollywood has inspired millions of people (myself included) to be more and do more because of the inspirational stories they’ve brought to the silver screen.
When I want someone to do something, I spend about 20% of my time teaching them the methodology and 80% of my time inspiring them. There are few forces greater than a truly inspired individual.
What if we approached development work this way? What if we focused our efforts on inspiring the middle and upper class to take care of their own people? This isn’t a short term solution, nor a substitute for emergency aid. I am merely suggesting an additional and simultaneous methodology.
What is more powerful? Westerners providing aid to Africa, or inspired African’s elevating their own society to the point where they no longer need aid?
* This is the second installment in a series on THE INDUSTRY OF AID.
Africa is the second largest continent, bursting with more natural resources than any other, yet still behind much of the rest of the world in terms of economic development, peace and health.
Why? There is no simple answer, but there are some consistently predominant contributors.
Pre-colonization Africa was peaceful and self-reliant. Colonials moved in and did their usual raping and pillaging of the people and land, and continue to today. They created systems for oppression, demoralization and divisionism, exemplified in catastrophes like the Rwandan Genocide.
Then came the missionaries and humanitarians, determined to save the helpless Africans and make them “civilized”. Decades later, much of this process has evolved into yet another oppressive and controlling system, quite contrary to the original mission, yet certainly endemic of their behavior.
There is a pervasive belief that Africa is inferior, unable to develop and prosper on her own. She is overflowing with Aid Agencies/NGOs that rely on her ongoing struggle. Her maladies provide them with a job and income. These agencies depend on Africa’s plight. This is a broken system.
The colonialists see Africa as a playground of free resources and endless slave labor. Aid Agencies treat her as a charity case, creating systems that ensure their services are always needed.
Aid is an industry, generating billions of dollars per year for these institutions. Continents like Africa have become their cash cow. And Aid is now a major cog in our world economy.
So why can’t we treat Africa as our greatest asset, a destination for business? Why aren’t those billions of dollars in aid money used to create businesses instead of institutions that foster dependency on donors (for aid workers and recipients alike)?
Why is Africa recognized as the world’s largest charity case?
*It is important to note during my five years living in East Africa, I have experienced countless NGOs/Aid Agencies that are saving lives and positively impacting society. This blog post reflects the scores of others I’ve witnessed that are regularly contributing to her demise, many of them knowingly.
There are thousands of missions programs, aid agencies and good willed philanthropists in the world today. Altruism has been with us since the beginning of time, and I’m grateful for that. Unfortunately, a lot of the methodology used today also seems to be from the beginning of time.
Civilizations change drastically over time. Our methods of altruism should adapt appropriately. What helped before may no longer be helpful or relevant now. A commitment to adaptability is absolutely crucial.
The business world is constantly adapting to the needs and desires of their customers. Why is this not the pervasive dynamic of philanthropy? Broken, antiquated systems plug along year after year, often causing more damage than good. Donors continue funding them because they are equally out of touch.
Aid agencies are often built on systems that foster donor dependency. They don’t adapt because they risk loosing their funding. They need funding, so they develop a simple mission designed to compel donors. Those donors then insist the agency to continue on that path, despite the need for adaptation.
It’s a bit like turning the Titanic around. It’s too big of a machine with too many moving parts. It’s easier to steady the course and “not rock the boat”, so to speak.
Douglass MacArthur once said “We are not retreating; we are advancing in another direction”. This doesn’t change the goal, just the methodology. It doesn’t represent a failure. It represents a true commitment and relationship with the people you serve.
If you’re committed to serving the people, not the system, it is always going to be necessary to adapt and advance in another direction when your methods are no longer serving their needs. It’s your duty as a philanthropist to stay in tune with the people enough to know when this need arises.
Unfortunately this is the predominant belief when it comes to for-profit vs. non-profit business models. KEZA recently converted from a 501c3 non-profit charity to a for-profit social venture.
We spent four years living in Africa so we could listen to the people/culture and learn how to serve her. We are non-traditional and innovative in all we do. KEZA is the result. Here are the top four reasons we converted to a for-profit, and I assure you none of them have to do with greed.
Business Women Not Aid Recipients
As long as the artisans are working for/with a non-profit aid agency, they are recognized by their community as “aid recipients”. But their resounding cry is to be recognized as business women, owning their own business, trading with a US for-profit business. (This is where the dignity comes in.)
We are there to teach independence from aid. Non-profits can buffer their mistakes with donor dollars. As a for-profit, we are subject to profit and loss, like a real business. What better way to teach than to lead by example?
When a boutique or department store hears that we are non-profit, they assume their orders will be late, the quality will be inferior and we will expect a lot of grace because we are “doing good”. As a for-profit, we are expected to be treated as a competitive business partner.
Proof of Viability
We are attempting to inspire investors and corporations to do business in Africa. As a for-profit, we are able to show them a working model that yields comparable quality and profitability, yet remains ethically grounded. There is no better way to entice an investor than to show her proof.
KEZA is a for-profit because we work for Africa, and she’s asking for trade, not aid.
In America, the land of freedom, there is a tendency to create a Snow Globe world. People create a way of life that is comfortable and safe. They find others with similar beliefs and lifestyles and develop a culture or religion. We often refer to their dwellings as “the suburbs”. Anything outside the Snow Globe is generally believed to be scary, off limits, unattainable and downright crazy.
Snow Globers spend most of their life creating parameters and limitations for themselves. “I cannot do this because…” There’s a lot of fear involved, but it’s typically overshadowed by the appearance of success via material wealth. They are not ignorant of this dynamic either; it is a deliberate practice.
Comfort, security (job, financial, relationship) and normality are the cornerstones of the Snow Globe. They share a sacred agreement that taking risks, thinking outside the box, traveling the world, and the absence of a 9-5 job and 401k is reckless and irresponsible. “Impossible” is the excuse most commonly used to describe dreams and ideas outside the Snow Globe.
They would have radically disapproved of revolutionaries such as Einstein, Galileo, Gandhi, Pollock and Gates during their journeys. These guys took huge risks and lived far beyond the bounds of the Snow Globe. They believed in crazy ideas developed in their garages. They were ostracized and condemned for habitual defiance of the status quo.
This mentality often develops and fosters an underlying myopic “us and them” doctrine, separating them from humanity.
And then there are the crazies that believe they are all interconnected and anything is possible when we believe and stand together. They don’t let fear or limitations detour them from anything they believe in. They call them humanitarians, delusional, reckless. I call it ubuntu. The way we were created.