Sustainable Charity

Over the past year, a popular buzzword that I have picked up on in the development world is that of sustainable development. Of course, those of us who are skeptical of these development-world buzz words immediately cry foul, asking what that even means! What is not sustainable versus what is sustainable? Sustainable in what way? Monetarily? People supporting a project through labor? I became even more confused when people started saying that charity is considered a sustainable income source. Now I was really confused, but like all things that confuse me, I began to think about it; began to think about sustainable charity

After thinking about this and thinking more about what charity really means and codifying these terms in a particular way, I began to see how charity-based operations can be considered sustainable, but not as they stand here in Kenya. First let’s clarify. When I say charity, I am referring to an organization that receives private sponsorship or donations from individuals and uses that money to fulfill a humanitarian role without seeking profit. Characteristics that we can assume about charities (though might not always hold true), is that they often rely heavily upon unpaid volunteer workers to complete daily, necessary functions.

I see charities as a way for a society to say, “Our government is not fulfilling a critical humanitarian need, and thus we will do this ourselves.” Of course, the government might not be fulfilling the need, such as homeless shelters or soup kitchens, etc, because possibly not all individuals in a society feel the government needs to spend money on such social programs. However, the charities are able to exist because enough people are willing to pull together the bare minimum necessary to make it work, considering it impacts few and supposedly only helps and does not hinder a society. As long as enough individuals feel strongly that this need should be fulfilled they will support it. In this way, charities are as sustainable as anything else in a capitalist market: supply, demand, liquid income and all.

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2 Comments

Filed under A Category Other Than Uncategorized, Ars Politico Africanae

2 responses to “Sustainable Charity

  1. jesseosmun

    Indeed it is problematic sometimes.. I don’t suppose it’s clear-cut either. On one hand, an NGO is meeting needs that the host country has, even if it undermines the desire of a government to fully act, providing much needed people and skills when properly implemented. On the other hand, your point about who gets helped is valid.

    Often times, ownership in the process between helper and helped can be unbalanced. In the middle, Peace Corps has to navigate in a way that allows volunteers some autonomy, but still respects the cultural, social, and political complexities that come with development. I would say overall Peace Corps has done a very good job in this arena.

    It’s very easy from a Western perspective to assume we know what’s best for development without fully assessing all factors. Ideally, “charity” is a collaborative effort, whether in Kenya or not.

  2. Jan

    I wonder if you saw this article about African orphanages in the Sunday NYT:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/world/africa/06orphans.html