Marc posted “What does working on technology mean?” After reading through my post, I realized that I had this question on my mind: “What does working on philanthropy mean?”
One of the perks of the life of a consultant is the incredible flexibility. This week, I am working from my kitchen table overlooking the lake in our 19th floor condo. I don’t say that to brag about our great little condo in a downtown high rise (a very spoiled life indeed). I point that out to emphasize the image I am about to paint. A few weeks ago, visited the Boys and Girls’ Club of Orlando which is right next to the Hunger Coalition in Orlando. The children at the Boys and Girls’ Club that day were homeless children. When I looked up the address the club, I did a double take because it was on my same street address. The same street as my neighborhood of high rises and 1st world problems (more about 1st world problems later). To be exact, this place was 0.8 miles from my our condo complex. I could see my building from the hunger coalition. Going to school in Atlanta and volunteering around downtown, I was used to the stark contrast of economics from one block to another. New to Orlando, however, I was surprised to see this for myself. I remember it started storming while people were still scattered in the streets with their belongings while I was there from 0.8 miles down the road thinking my day of volunteer service would make an impact. I will post images soon.
That said, is there bad philanthropy? By bad, I mean harmful or useless to the population. I often wonder this. Does cleaning up a park in an urban, run down neighborhood really help? Does volunteering one day a year at a soup kitchen or playing with homeless kids really make a difference? I don’t ask these questions in a cynical way. It is an honest, what type of aid is really worth it? The actions I just mentioned are on a small scale. I often think about large scale aid like providing money and food to poor and disaster stricken areas around the world. When we see pictures of skin and bones kids or houses completely flatted by disasters, we as a society feel inclined to donate money. It is the natural thing to do right? Text a certain number to give or submit paypay payments or send in checks. I think of instances with Japan, Haiti, Africa and many other areas where our 1st our nation hurries to donate. But does that really help? Setting aside everything that might come with handling the money and properly distributing it, does providing funds to a different economy help?
A great example and listen of the negative effect of aid is NPR’s Planet Money: How Foreign Aid is Hurting Haitian Farmers. It discusses how foreign donation of rice, food and money hurt the local farmers. They cannot compete with the free food from abroad and thus cannot make a living and regrow their businesses. Other examples come when 3rd world regions are given aid and money and sometimes do not develop skills on their own, become dependent on aid and do not grow their own economies. I am not currently any kind of expert in social and economic growth and what causes different dynamics to occur. However, I often wonder about the value in the aid we provide locally and internationally despite how great the intentions.
That said, I will forever be a champion and advocate of philanthropy in regions that need it. I just need to figure out the right aid and how to do it properly to help the economies build and thrive instead of provide them with solely a crutch.
- Reflections by two young technologists taking on big questions about the future of our planet.
Kathy Pham - IBM consultant, magnet for cool people and projects
Marc Pare - freelance engineer, fire and software geek
(this blog in no way reflects the opinions of our respective employers)