Charity or Empowerment?

This post is in response to Indispire Edition 31: “Charity or Empowerment? Are charitable donations to feed and house the poor really the way out of the mire of poverty or do NGOs need to focus more on skill development? Should we as donors be more proactive rather than merely donating money?”

In reply to this question, many, maybe most of us would quote the proverb,
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” (For the record, I haven’t been able to get an authoritative identification of the source of this proverb.)

In other words, charity will feed a person for a day or a few days, but if that person learns a skill, (s)he will feed herself/himself for a lifetime. Skill development is probably the most important part of the long-term solution to a person’s poverty.

However, any person would be physically fit enough and in the proper frame of mind to learn any skill only if her/his basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met, at least partially if not completely.

Most of us have been lucky enough to have been born into families where our basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met adequately, maybe much more than adequately, and we also enjoy many luxuries. However, there are many persons for whom, for no fault of theirs, even partial fulfilment of their basic needs is a distant dream. Before such persons start learning any skill, their basic needs must be met, at least partially. Hence, NGOs first focus on feeding, clothing and housing the poor, then on skill development. It’s not about charity or empowerment. It’s all about charity and empowerment!

How can we be more proactive as donors? We must donate only to those NGOs that utilise most of their funds for their core activity. This need not mean that we donate only to large and well-known NGOs. There are quite a few smaller NGOs that are doing excellent work. We should donate to such NGOs as well after making background checks, directly or through any reliable person(s). Many NGOs allow donors to specify the purpose for which their donations should be used. Some NGOs have schemes by which a donor can sponsor the education of a particular child; reports on the child’s progress are sent periodically to the donor, and the donor can also interact with the child if (s)he so desires.

If we look around and ask around, we can find persons whose basic needs are met, but who do not go in for education or skill development due to financial constraints. These could be our domestic helps, drivers, security staff, etc. or their family members. We could help such persons by financing their training and/or by helping them to obtain financial assistance from various organisations that we may be aware of.

There are some highly skilled workers whose career growth is severely limited by their lack of knowledge of English and/or lack of exposure to computers/internet/email. Whenever we come across such persons, we should help them acquire these skills. Such persons can become excellent mentors for others in similar situations.

There are many more ways in which we can be ‘proactive donors’. The only requirement is we must be prepared to spend some time and effort to ensure that the money we donate is used well.

10 thoughts on “Charity or Empowerment?

  1. I entirely subscribe to the view that donations ought to go to good and credible NGOs where the beneficiaries can be identified individually and their progress monitored by yourself as well as children of anyone like drivers’ or domestics’ kids whose growth can been seen for yourself, I’d add the boy who drops newspapers every morning.

  2. Proactive donors – that’s a thoughtful concept! Some thorough research is necessary before donating to the NGOs, there are so many out there which are nothing but money-grabbing organizations and some are simply serving the hidden agendas of their parent organizations. So donors better be careful!

  3. The concept of being “Proactive Donor” is really something to be followed, agreed to it But basic needs and education should go side by side, Collaborative effort while one NGO looks after the basic needs and the other for education, till the time the government doesn’t take the onus on its shoulder.

  4. Proactive Donor – a very nice concept. Can you elaborate more on how to begin with. I’ve been meaning to do something of the sort but never found the right way for it. I wanted to start with the girls studying in the govt school my Mom teaches at, but just giving the money away to one needy doesn’t end it. How do you ensure she doesn’t keep coming back for more. How do you refuse any more who may be coming to you? How do you decide who’s need is more than the other.

  5. Agree with you completely! First the basic needs have to be met and then we must empower them. Yes, choice of a NGO is important too, because there are so many which have questionable code of ethics and conduct.

  6. That way I like Rang de..they provide loan at nominal rates to very poor people to help them with earnings.and Goonj also….then Narayan Sewa but otherwise I prefer to help my maid or some orphanage or other known people who need help…

  7. The meaningful words proactive, basic needs, charity, empowerment, etc sure serve the purpose of helping the hapless, if adopted as you said here. Sometimes the ways adopted by the concerning parties keep an underlying selfish motto. Of course there are selfless ones are also aplenty.

    You have touched all the essential parts of charity through empowerment..

  8. Very good post…Agree that basic needs must be met first, then empowerment. Also thoughts on helping out people who don’t have skills like English/internet etc. are great! We can all be positive & proactive donors! 🙂

  9. Awesome post. A very rational view on the topic. I am totally convinced and second your views. Also, the initial quote, “”Give a man a fish…” is something which I have also elaborated on my blog.
    Enjoyed reading a convincing article.

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