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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

December 17, 2010 at 5:52 PM

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Talking back: from charity to solidarity

Posted by Kristi Heim

Seattle organizations that spend money and time addressing issues in developing countries are now seeing the ideas and energy flow the other way. Through an international fellowship program called iLEAP that encourages social innovation, young people working to improve conditions in Latin America, Asia and Africa are being cultivated as leaders in Seattle. They stay for a three-month intensive training program and work with local nonprofits such as Pangea and the Seattle International Foundation. Britt Yamamoto, iLEAP executive director, said it's part of a larger effort to change the paradigm from seeing people in poor countries as victims needing charity to one that promotes sharing and equity.

I asked this year's fellows to speak directly about what they wanted donors, students, policy makers and others in Seattle to understand about their countries.


Fellows at the iLEAP program are (left to right) Madeline Mendoza (Nicaragua), Mabilia Joj (Guatemala), Rocío González (Mexico/Guatemala), Agueda Ordeñana (Nicaragua), Raphael Okumu (Kenya) and Emmanuel G.V. Dolo (Liberia)

Madeline Mendoza (Nicaragua): We need to change the perspective of charity. What we need in our world is not charity but justice. Charity doesn't change the root causes. It promotes dependency: the donors are saviors. We need to help create the structural changes that will make disappear what is called charity. We need a different approach rooted in solidarity and awareness of what I do and what the results are. It's not about me being so good and nice and I want to go save these poor people. If we really want to change the world we need to address the structural causes of poverty and injustice.

Human rights... I think it's important for donors or foundations to support grassroots organizations that are focusing on the realization of human rights, but as a whole, without separating civil and political rights from economic, social and cultural rights. It is also important to be aware that official development aid system is structured in a way that reinforces the advancement of neoliberalism in the world. For our countries, free trade agreements harm small farmers and small producers.

Liberalization policies have affected food security in our countries, for example, now we are importing a lot of corn flour that is produced with genetically modified corn. Because this corn is cheaper than the one produced in Nicaragua (small local farmers can't compete with subsidized imported crops). We are changing our local crops for crops that are created in laboratories and there's not conclusive data about the long-term effects of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism) on humans. That is changing the food we have eaten for generations and threatening our health.

Development aid very often comes with many strings attached, which respond to the political and economic interests of "donor" countries. For example, if we receive aid from Spain (as it has happened with many projects in Nicaragua), we need to buy services or hire agencies from Spain. So, considering the reality of official development aid and its interests, for small grassroots organizations trying to create real structural changes, independent donors can make a huge difference.

Mabilia Joj (Guatemala): Lack of health in rural communities and how can we improve the situation for women. Women can invest all their money in a business with a microloan. But they not only need capital to invest in businesses. The reality is in the rural areas we know they need to get money for many things. Our partners hired an assessor to look at the business run by a woman. They said OK, you only invest 50 percent in the business and the other amount in other things such as food and daily necessities. Maybe you only need a loan for half as much. But we're talking about very small subsistence businesses. How can we improve their situation? I think it's a challenge and I know it's a long process. It's not like now we begin the project and next month they have changes.

Rocío González (Mexico/Guatemala): Help both sides, not just work with locals but with leaders and managers of these organizations. It's so easy to fund programs but I don't even know one that is working to train leaders. Nonprofits are not collaborating. We are not getting together to talk and nobody is interested in putting us together to share and learn from each other.

Agueda Ordeñana (Nicaragua): I think donors need to know the reality of the countries. I work with small farmers with land of less than 10 acres to improve the quality of products for export. Many are producers of organics. Sometimes these organizations feel alone because they don't have support. Rural areas are vulnerable to climate change. The conditions are very bad, and they don't have basic services like clean water and sanitation. People's lives are very hard so they migrate to other cities or to Costa Rica. In big cities you see people that are not skilled for jobs. Women raising the children have the burden of more work.

Raphael Okumu (Kenya): In Kenya we used to have and still have great corruption crushing our economy, and tribal issues affecting our social affairs. We are in a total shift with a new constitution. We now have a good level playing field. We need a new level of civic education for our people to understand and own the constitution better.

It's true we have our challenges. We have the solutions to our challenges. All we need is the means and capacity to facilitate this to happen at both level. We don't need you to be there as a policeman or policewoman it might not be sustainable.

If someone is willing to give support, one of the questions they should ask is whether they are willing to invest their time and stick in our dust of challenges within our local slums and informal settlement. Change can not be bought from just pressing a button. Things are totally different. In the USA everything is just press the button. I believe the youth can take our Kenyan economy into next level of self sufficiency and hope. There is strong hope in Africa. It's not lost and we will never lose it. Don't be sorry that people cannot use an ATM and buy a latte for $6. Let's share love and love where we have chosen to help. He who wears the shoe knows how it pinches. We can rebuild our hope.

Emmanuel G.V. Dolo (Liberia)
: The impression lots of donors have about my country through the media is different from the reality. The notion that as long as there is no fighting or firing of guns in the streets that mean we have peace. The truth is that down the line, most people are still carrying grief, hatred, the desire for revenge, and other vices that give rise to violent conflicts.

Liberia is like a minefield: On top, you see green grass; but underneath, are explosives. There is a critical need to help the country in the recovery process by rebuilding trust and sustainable reconciliation among former warring tribes and traditional leaders; there is a need to help us create a space where our local leaders can work together to define their problems and work together through dialogue to solve them not hut at the top political level but also at the grassroots level.

Also, another challenge is the high unemployment rate (around 80%) in the face of a not-too-successful DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration) program for war affect youth. Most Liberian youth are now roaming in our rubber plantations, national parks, and other places struggling for survival. I really appeal that the global community help to rescue these young people because I strongly believe that they can be redirected to become responsible, peaceful, and productive citizens again. Violence was never a choice for them; they were ensnared by heartless politicians and brutal warlords to become victims'.

Despite the economic crisis and too many domestic and international problems, the American people still honor their responsibility of promoting humanity dignity and freedoms around the world. This effort of sharing give hope to the world poorest.


That's a wrap for this blog for 2010. The experience over these last two years has been incredibly valuable and now it's time to move on. I will be focusing on longer pieces and projects for the paper and experimenting with other media technologies for storytelling. I'll continue covering topics in business, philanthropy, technology and health from a global perspective and exploring Seattle's connections with the world. Thanks for reading.

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