Overseas charities – helping or hindering?


This note is to highlight a very clever form of helping others that recently came to my attention.

Australia has a reputation for “lending a hand”, and charity is one area where many people regularly dip into their own pockets as a practical way of helping others.

There are lots of aid agencies of one kind or another and it is not unusual for people to give to a number of different charities.

Charities are not usually an area of contentious debate. However, one area that does tend to generate debate is overseas giving. Some may simply prefer the idea of “charity starts at home” but a lot of people are wary of giving money to overseas charities for any number of reasons. Here are just a few.. 

  • Aren’t you just helping make people lazy?
  • The charity is pushing Western values and ideas in return for cash help
  • Too much money disappears in administration costs

A lot of these issues are completely washed aside in the approach taken by a group called Kiva. Their website is here… www.kiva.org. I was recently introduced to the Kiva concept of helping people in underdeveloped countries by Mar and Mark, two people who recently returned from spending a year in volunteer work in Ghana, Africa. Their website is here – http://knoxshircore.wordpress.com/ – it includes interesting impressions and experiences, and is well worth a visit when you have a moment to spare. It will give you a different perspective of voluntary work overseas.

One of Mar's brilliant photos - "Praise Singers". Their job is to literally sing the praises of the chief

Exposure “on the ground” has reinforced to Mark and Mar the importance of focussing on a sustainable form of support for those in underdeveloped countries, and on ensuring continuous feedback to ensure that everyone has a stake in the success of any venture entered into.

The approach from the Kiva people is to use modern technology as a medium to bring together aspiring entrepreneurs in developing countries and those who wield spare capital (that’s we folk here in more developed countries). The rough idea is that you select a person to support then provide your funding as a loan to that individual (through Kiva) and, if all goes to plan, you get that money repaid at a later date. You’ve provided very practical and worthwhile help to a genuine individual. The cost to you is that you do not receive interest on your money, and there is a chance that you will not be repaid (the site rates those who have a good repayment record).

It is then up to the individual (you) to choose to reloan some or all of the money; to receive it back to your bank or to donate it to Kiva to support their operational costs.

As you can see, this is not exactly charity. It is however, a very “hands on” approach to providing assistance to people in developing world countries, and an alternative to standard donations. Spend a little time on the website and you will quickly see that this is an idea that could transform lives.

This post isn’t suggesting you do or don’t participate in the Kiva form of microfinance but rather a pointer to some of the very good work being done around the world to help alleviate poverty and provide opportunities for those with a great idea and a willingness to work to make it a success.

Update and further reading

  • Mar and Mark are intending to run an open night, where they will share their experiences in Africa, as well as discussing their views on aid and assistance in developing countries. If you are interested in finding out more from people with “on the ground” experience then this is your chance. When details are available they will be posted to Mark and Mar’s website.
  • Other examples of micro-funding inlcude the following list of 69 organisations.
  • Some readers may remember Chris Cuffe, the fund manager who left Colonial First State to work in the microfinance world – the business he joined is Opportunity International (Australia).

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