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.