Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Doing good well - there's greater impact in helping through informed giving

TWO weeks ago, I was on a flight back from Singapore. One of the newspapers had a poignant picture of a young boy in tears. I could practically feel him staring at me.

He had been rescued from a saree embroidery factory in Kathmandu. Child labour in the Kathmandu Valley is extensive and there are up to 80 such factories which employ more than 500 children, mostly below the age of 14, to make those sarees. And the sad part of the story is that many do not want to be rescued.

The Kathmandu operation was timed to coincide with World Against Child Labour Day which was on June 12. According to the International Labour Organisation, hundreds of millions of girls and boys throughout the world are involved in work that deprives them from receiving adequate education, health, leisure and basic freedoms.

More than half of these children are exposed to abuse because they work in hazardous environments where slavery, forced labour, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, and armed conflict are common.

The plight of these children weighed heavy on my mind on this short flight back.

The following week, I was on the road listening to the radio and I learnt that World Refugees Day was on June 20. It is estimated that more than 45 million people worldwide have fled their homes due to conflict, persecution and other abuses.

In Malaysia, there are over 100,000 registered refugees in Kuala Lumpur alone, and one can imagine the actual figures nationwide, especially those not registered.

In looking at the two big issues here, we may wonder what we can do to make a difference in the lives of so many people.

Certainly there are many communities who will benefit from our giving and volunteer efforts – the aged, homeless, abused children and women, addicts, the poor,disabled, orphans, victims of human trafficking, etc to name a few. Then there are the sporadic needs in times of natural disasters.

And this is where the work of NGOs is significant. Many NGOs come about in response to a specific need and are small and limited in their operations. But there are an estimated 20,000 NGOs that operate globally because the causes they fight for transcend national borders.

And for the work they do, they need support. Some of these NGOs have a strong global presence and are able to draw funds and resources from many sources.

An executive from a large company once asked me what worthwhile organisation or group his company can contribute to.

I pointed them to a community in need of help for social change. They are children in estates who need assistance to enable them to stay in school. I told him that it would be better for him to visit the community in a somewhat remote area and understand their situation and needs.

The legwork proved to be a deterrent and so the company chose a children’s home in the Klang Valley instead. It was easier to arrange and provided ample photo opportunities for the company’s magazine.

There are many us who are willing to give and contribute. However, our giving can go further when it is done right.

For a start, we should go beyond being compassionate and generous, and instead be prepared to do due diligence to determine the deserving causes. This is called “informed giving” and it requires us to hold the organisation accountable so that the funds given are effectively used. It is not just giving, but following up for accountability and performance.

Sometimes it might be better to channel the funds raised to a reputable foundation to be administered instead of making the contributions direct. When I made this suggestion at a recent fundraising discussion, it was met with some laughter. Why would you give money to another organisation which already has so much money?

I know of trustees in a charitable foundation who diligently visit the communities they support. They want to see for themselves how the money is spent, whether the classroom has been built, and how the children who received financial aid were doing.

Just as the executive could not find the time to check out the community I recommended, many of us also do not have the time to do follow-up and accountability.

So we should consider those organisations which take the work of giving seriously. They are the ones that are managed professionally, with full transparency and accountability.

Companies and individuals can partner with such organisations which are more efficient and have a proven track record in helping others.

This is the reason why Warren Buffett gives such generous amounts to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to pass on to the right people. Buffet knows that he should just continue to do what he does best, which is to make a lot of money, rather than rolling up his sleeves to manage the giving directly.

There are many practices in companies which can be applied to social work to transform lives.

Like businesses, charitable organisations need the best leaders and people to execute the programmes.

Many of the issues faced are complex. We need to understand the issues and provide insights on the right solutions to address the root causes of the problems.

Which is why simply doing good is not enough. We need to move to “doing good well”.

TAKE ON CHANGE By JOAN HOI

Joan is inspired and influenced by the book, Doing Good Well. What does (and does not) make sense in the non-profit world by Willie Cheng.

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About Doing Good Well 

 The way we see the world can change the world. In this book, Willie Cheng frames and explains the nonprofit world while providing fresh insights as to where and why it works - or not.
He covers a spectrum of nonprofit paradigms including:

The structure of the marketplace - challenging whether a “marketplace” truly exists.

Concepts of nonprofit management - disputing why charities must follow corporate mantras of growth and reserves accumulation.

Philanthropy and volunteerism - questioning the motivations of givers.

New social models of social enterprises, social entrepreneurship and venture philanthropy - seeking to explain why these may not have worked as intended.

Nonprofit quirks - showing how the rules can result in the extension of the rich/poor divide into the charity world and make fundraising inefficient through an efficiency ratio.

In describing his ideas through an easy writing style and hearty anecdotes, Cheng engages and provokes the reader with a strategic review of the status quo as well as the enormous potential in the nonprofit world. After all, as Cheng describes it, charity is no longer simply about “Just Doing Good” but “Doing Good Well.”

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