Walking a Path Together


Half The Sky

By Adam McLane

There’s a lot of money given to charities around the world. I’m not an economist, I’m a youth worker. So I don’t know how much money is given but I’m pretty sure it’s in the bazillions.

Until 2010, I was relatively ignorant of the long-term impact of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world. Sure, I’d heard rumbles here or there from a visiting missionary at my church or a talking head on TV, but I largely assumed that all money and efforts coming from the Western world were somehow good for the Developing world.

That changed five years ago when an earthquake rocked Haiti. For all the charitable giving, for all the investment, for all the generations of money that had been given to help Haiti… it all just crumbled in an earthquake which devastated the infrastucture of the nation and killed hundreds of thousands.

It wasn’t just buildings that crumbled. It was the world getting exposed to the epic fail of generations of aid work.

When I went and saw the impact of the earthquake on Port-au-Prince in February 2010 my eyes were opened to the good and the bad of international aid groups. As my group drove around, helping where we could, we saw lots of charities not helping others but instead making sure that their logo caught the attention of media cameras. In short, we saw a lot of “helping.” (Where they were helping themselves while helping others, raising money while not helping suffering.)

That experience shifted my focus with aid groups. When I put my name on work with organizations like World Vision it’s the culmination of the work, not the beginning. Books such as Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts helped validate some of what I feared, that lots of international aid not only didn’t help end suffering but often times created dependencies which made things worse. Since 2010, I no longer make an assumption that any and all help for the developing world must somehow be helping to a much more difficult form of engagement. Instead I do a lot more homework. I am more than willing to invest in things that can show me how their work makes a long-term, sustainable impact.

A couple years ago I read the book Half the Sky from Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I was taken aback by not just their presupposition that long-term change in a society is effected by investing in women, I was also encouraged by their approach to issues of social justice. As trained journalists they listen to the anecdotal stories so pervasive among aid groups, but they also take the time to investigate each groups claims to reveal what’s really going on. Then, only when evidence backs up the claims, they help find ways to make sure that the good guys get the funding they need to build on their success.

That resonates with me. I want to get behind that.

In their new book and PBS Series, A Path Appears, they take this concept a step further to look not just at gender inequalities but also cycles of poverty, systemic traps, and evidence-based approaches which are actually solutions for these problems.

This idea, taking an evidence-based approaches to solve problems, is one of the things I love about the 30 Hour Famine.

You, as a youth worker, have the opportunity to educate your students about the issues our world faces and then challenge them to take a very practical step– raising money to fund programs that make a massive difference. When you do that, you don’t just have something really awesome in your youth group (and the Famine is, indeed, that.) You even do more than raise much needed funds to address today’s problems. You are actually helping your students see what role they can play today and into the future.

To borrow a line from a credit card company… when you do that: It’s Priceless.

 Photo credit
Audrey Hall – Used with permission of A Path Appears