The Blog

Want a Better World? Stop Giving Charity!

Peter Amores is changing the world. Not your world, but the world of young people in Tondo, Manila, one of the Philippines most dilapidated slums and densely populated places on earth. Peter gives the people of Tondo no money or physical resources. Instead, he treats them the same way he treats his friends, with dignity and respect. He doesn't give hand-outs, he gives opportunity. The results are astonishing, truly!

Like many of us, Peter was born with an opportunity to achieve. There was, if he wanted, a clear path to success; pick a career, listen to adults, get good grades, work hard and achieve your goal. Those born in Tondo are born into opportunity apartheid. That is to say, they are not expected to achieve success. Yet, Peter and the children of Tondo have something in common - they are all Futkalero's. There are Futkalero's all over the world. Futkalero's are purposely driven towards making a positive change through football and their actions speak louder than their race. Futkalero's are equal, colour blind and limitless.

Tondo has the same problems of any severely underdeveloped community; disease, grey water, famished children, acute poverty and homelessness. Yet Peter's NGO doesn't show this side of Tondo, choosing instead to promote achievers, entrepreneurs, engineers, teachers and positive role models. Simply by instilling confidence and showing what is possible, he is creating a new chapter for Tondo and for the Philippines. He is creating a cohesive level playing field and weaving a social thread so convoluted, it's been described as Nation-building!

Big charity are no longer big charities, they are big businesses who fight for market-share of public/private donations. Where fashion and make-up say 'give us money and you won't feel so ugly,' charity says 'give us money and you won't feel so guilty.' While there is nothing clever or necessarily wrong (depending how you like your coffee) with this revenue model, it fundamentally doesn't help make the world better for those at the BoP.

Writing during the great depression of the 1930's, Reinhold Niebuhr described a top-down donation to charity as 'a display of power and an expression of pity'. UNICEF is one of my favourite mega NGOs. Together with the Red Cross and Save the Children, they've been the lifeline for hundreds of millions of the world's most vulnerable children. If you were to visit any of above NGOs website, you would see heart-breaking pictures of indigent children and a call for your help. It's easy. You just click and give. It's so easy and the cause so great that any person with a moral compass vaguely pointing in the right direction will want to give. The perception created is that the children are dependent on you. Help them or you will indirectly prolong their suffering.

The problem with this model is that it is not built on equality. It is built on dependency and does not allow for achievement. This kind of charity doesn't just stifle achievement, it kills it completely. Yes, I'm generalising, but my point is not without merit. For how much good (bad) aid has done in Africa, Harvard educated Dambisa Moyo provides a compelling case. For Africa and beyond, former World Bank Economist William Easterly shares his personal accounts on the subject. More critically, this model of enslavement and aid fosters an insidious culture of social disintegration, civil insubordination and weak governance. It's imperialistic and most significantly it's paternalistic, which makes it dangerous because it doesn't lift the poor, it only serves to keep them at the bottom.

I'm focusing on the developing world, yes, but the model of dependency is rife here. We live in a dependency state in the UK. I don't think it's because the UK is a welfare state, I think it's because we've inculcated a culture of state welfare. The answer is not to cut benefits; it is to stop the culture of benefits. It is to foster achievement over bumming. It is to create a new reality built on what people can do, not on what they can't.

Africa for Norway is a funny and clever example of how you begin to shift culture and perceptions. The Futkalero's are another. Juan Guerra is democratising access to education. Ben Drew is giving opportunity to urban youth in London. David Levin is transforming education and misconceptions in the US. Kenny Choi is giving a voice to the renascent drove. Mel Young is making homeless people matter. Shawn Carter is paying it forward. Novak Djokovic, when not winning slams (couldn't resist), is creating a dream factory. I could go on, but I hope you get my point. Giving to charity is good; giving because of it is bad. Changing culture takes time - it took Muhammad Yunus 30 years, but he did it.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that giving shouldn't be easy. It should be hard. Earning money is hard. Why are we expected to give it away so easily? I have no right to tell anyone how to spend/give their money; I just believe if you want your donation to attack the causes of social injustice, you have an obligation to ensure it is doing just that. If you just want to alleviate your guilt, redemption is just a text away!

I first met Peter in 2011 and I didn't get it. In 2012 I met him and the Tondo Futkalero's and I got it. Opportunity, not charity is the answer to a better world. I believe human relationships, not concrete buildings are how to break the poverty cycle of the bottom billion. I believe people helping one another is the way to make change because, we're all better off when we're all better off.