(I originally just titled this “On being wary of NGOs and aid organizations.”)
So a number of my friends are working together to support a major international aid NGO. I have to preface that I don’t dislike this organization. I think they do decent work with good intentions, but as many of us know, good intentions are not always enough. I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly investigate this organization in recent years, but based on its past I do know it’s not the first organization that I would want to throw money at. I’d rather invest in an organization that focuses on long-term impact and in which I value its efforts 100%. Growing up, my parents and I supported said NGO, but between our mediocre experience with it and my continual education on aid and development, we’ve ceased giving money quite a number of years ago.
Because my friends, whom I care for quite a bit, are working so hard to give support to this NGO, I’ve just been keeping my mouth shut about my feelings on its efficiency or effectiveness. I kind of slide out of the conversation whenever it comes up and try to just politely be a bystander. (I do plan to support in some manner, if possible, without going too much against my beliefs.)
However, recently I got cornered. One girl directly asked me to support in a major way. Initially, I made up some other excuses, as I had before when general requests were made to our social circles, but somehow she squeezed out of me the truth: I’d support in a small way (like giving some money to show support for my friends’ efforts), but I couldn’t go and actually advocate on behalf of this NGO or participate in one of the programs that I don’t strongly support.
I was pretty quickly told that I was hard-hearted and arrogant, with implications that I also am closed-minded and enjoy being negative. Despite the fact that I was being antagonized, I was the one that ended up feeling bad. This girl looked like she was going to cry (and punch me). I tried to be diplomatic and tactful, but it didn’t matter. I simply was not as good of a person as I claimed to be because I didn’t want to be a champion for an NGO that gave money to little poor children in Africa. Apologies if that sounded crass.
(I have other theories on why the conversation went so sourly, and it has little to do with the actual NGO, but that’s not something I will blast here.)
Anyways, that conversation made me realize how difficult it is to have the average American really understand what development and social impact really looks like, and how charity and “doing good” needs a huge overhaul.
I’m not super knowledgeable or experienced in this by any means and have much to learn myself, but I do know we need to be investing our money and efforts more wisely. We need to question the institutions through whom we are channeling our giving, and we need to demand more transparency, efficiency, and long-term impact.
I swear I’m not a snob. I just care.