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If You Can't Buy 700 Bicycles, Don't Buy Any
August 22, 2010 10:27 AM   Subscribe

The Hughes family does a good deed and gets beaten up by some in the international development community, reigniting the debate on poverty tourism. (previously)
posted by Xurando (83 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
If giving bikes to kids is wrong, then being right is not all it is cracked up to be.
posted by pmb at 10:38 AM on August 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


They should join up with existing programs that are providing projects that are proven to be sustainable.

Not that I don't understand the criticisms, but this really just reads like: "Programs run by my organisation". In any case, the amount of debate that goes on within the aid community makes it clear that there are no programs that are accepted by everyone as sustainable, cost-effective, and not without unwanted side-effects. In the absence of a gold standard of "effective" development aid, how does it make sense to criticise amateur efforts?
posted by atrazine at 10:42 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the absence of a gold standard of "effective" development aid, how does it make sense to criticise amateur efforts?

There's no gold standard in the treatment of cancer, yet we can all (mostly) agree that homeopathic cures for cancer are worthless at best and harmful at worst, insofar as they pre-empt other, more effective treatments.

Just because experts don't have a single answer doesn't mean that we suspend all judgment about relative worth.
posted by fatbird at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, atrazine, it's entirely possible that while no single professional relief effort is lauded by everyone, everyone still thinks the myriad of professional programs are considerably better than amateur efforts.
posted by oddman at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2010


It's not so much that it's wrong, it's that no real problems are actually solved by doing it...

The question is, is it ok to make a few kids happy when the money could have gone into a micro-credit program, for example, and created business opportunities in the community? It doesn't feel as warm and fuzzy, but it might do some actual good. (Besides just making kids happy, which I admit is a good thing.)

Of course, there are criticisms of the whole micro-loan thing, too...
posted by Huck500 at 10:47 AM on August 22, 2010


From the "up" link:

The question that inevitably comes through – sometimes overtly, sometimes indirectly, is this: is any harm really being done?

And here I’d be remiss if I did not say that in my sincere opinion, yes – these kinds of projects do cause harm. Actual harm....

Rather, the kind of harm being done is simply a perpetuation of stereotypes and assumptions about who the poor are, what they need, and how they should be helped.


Seriously, this is dumb. Well meaning, but dumb to the point of embarrassing me to be reading it. No one (least of all the Hughes family, as far as I can tell) thinks that giving the bikes solves all the problems for those kids, much less for an entire society. But at the end of the day, those kids need to get to school; there aren't competing (and better) local programs that this project is siphoning support away from; and there aren't icky paternalistic strings attached to the donated bicycles. Maybe the families will sell them to buy food (and if so, more power to them, and I hope they get some tasty meals out of it), maybe the kids crash the bicycles and they sit rusty and unrepaired, and maybe all that happens is that the Hughes feel good.

So fucking what? It's not like the alternative is utopia, some perfect grassroots project that solves all the problems. The alternative is nothing. Nada. Zilch.

As long as you aren't deluding yourself that giving the bikes is going to solve everyone's issues, and you are buying them locally, and you aren't making people debase themselves in exchange for the gift, give all the damn bikes you can afford.
posted by Forktine at 10:49 AM on August 22, 2010 [69 favorites]


As far as I can tell, a whole lot of the braying about how bad "slum tourism" (guess who came up with the term, just guess) is comes from a position of on-high and privileged relief workers looking down at everyone but themselves in finger-waving reactionary editorials at the rest of us. They decide whether the tourists' experience was worthwhile. They decide why it is that the locals should retain their dignity over receiving aid. They decide what sort of help is "good" and what sort of aid is "bad" (hint: the beneficial sort of aid is the kind they're providing.) Not everyone can go into the slums and get their hands dirty and really help with their bodies and hearts without coming home to the West impoverished and homeless. Not everyone can start their own charity. Not everyone can take a few years off before law school to take on a relief aid contract because they've got parents to come home to when they're done. Everyone seems to be able to judge, though.
posted by griphus at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


"It's not like the alternative is utopia, some perfect grassroots project that solves all the problems. The alternative is nothing. Nada. Zilch. "

Of course, this isn't true. The alternative is some other program in the area or, better yet, asking a relief expert for advice on starting a more effective program for the children.

(Not that I agree with the criticism links, it's just that you're oversimplifying the alternatives.)
posted by oddman at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


They decide why it is that the locals should retain their dignity "dignity" over receiving aid.
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2010


Just because experts don't have a single answer doesn't mean that we suspend all judgment about relative worth.

Point conceded.

Well, atrazine, it's entirely possible that while no single professional relief effort is lauded by everyone, everyone still thinks the myriad of professional programs are considerably better than amateur efforts.

Just to clarify: I was only really talking about long term development aid, not disaster relief. I think in acute crisis response there is broad agreement regarding how to do it, long term economic development not so much. (Partially because we don't really know how "developed" economies work either)

Of course, there are criticisms of the whole micro-loan thing, too...
Precisely. Is business credit the key to economic expansion or is the whole thing just a loansharking racket that happens to be trendy at the moment? Field staff and researchers with decades of experience disagree vociferously.
posted by atrazine at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2010


I really don't see that the Hughes were involved in poverty tourism. They seemed to be going on a wildlife safari package which included a stop in at a school. And that stop affected them. And they decided to do something to help a situation which they felt they could immediately impact with their limited resources, and made good decisions (like purchasing the bikes locally) which help the overall economy.

The criticism seems to be (in the case of the first link) based on a lot of speculation about what happened after the bicycle giveaway, none of which is based on follow-up visits, and in the case of the second link, a longing for a deeper resolution to a very large problem (poverty).

But time and time again, here in the "safety" of eastern WA, I hear that the best path out of poverty is education and opportunity. Giving these students bicycles is an excellent way to create both of these. What if they keep going back to this school over and over until finally every single person in every single family serviced by that school has a bike of their own? (Which would alleviate the unfounded assumptions in the first criticism link that the parents will wrest control of the bicycles away from the children... An assumption I question because simply having the children in school represents an investment the parents are choosing to make....)

Reading those links criticizing this effort makes me feel more that those writing are more upset that someone is doing something on their own and not dealing with their sacred official channels for such things. Smacks of sour-grapeism to me.
posted by hippybear at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I kept waiting for the "up" link (this one) to explain how donating bicycles was an example of perpetuating paternalistic stereotypes. Never quite got around to it — just a bait-and-switch about minstrel shows and watermelon. I do understand that maybe the bikes will go unused or unrepaired or get sold. I'm trying to feel a sense of revulsion at this but it ain't happening.
posted by argybarg at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


comes from a position of on-high and privileged relief workers looking down at everyone but themselves in finger-waving reactionary editorials at the rest of us.

griphus,

Your whole comment is an inaccurate characterisation of aid workers in my experience.
posted by atrazine at 10:57 AM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I suspect the arguments against this type of charity are valid to some degree, but those two anti-Hughes links don't make a very convincing case to me. The first link asserts various ways the poor people will misuse the bikes which feels an awful lot like a lazy stereotype, while the second rails against perpetuating stereotypes of poor people. Okay? Surely there are some better links about this that involve actual research and not just aid workers irritated at American "poorists". I'd like to read those.
posted by cj_ at 10:58 AM on August 22, 2010


I'm glad I entirely ignore the poor. Aid types are usually to busy fighting with each other to come after me.
posted by planet at 10:59 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kept waiting for the "up" link to explain how donating bicycles was an example of perpetuating paternalistic stereotypes.

I think it's along the lines of "oh, those poor Tanzanians just need a single generous gift to lift them from poverty and start them on the road to being... well, like me." On the one hand, a bike makes an actual difference in some lives, but it also creates a different have/have-not equation for the locals, and does little to address the systemic problems that put them and keep them at their level of poverty.
posted by fatbird at 11:01 AM on August 22, 2010


Oh, I definitely did not mean all relief workers and I hope it did not sound that way. I mean, specifically the ones who write said editorials and make callouts about how ugly and wrong the efforts of others are because they do not match their own views of the situation. Take this one for instance. Nothing but finger-wagging based on the authority of having lived in said slums, and speaking out for the slums without ever having been asked to by the residents.
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on August 22, 2010


Yeah how dare they help kids. Those bastards.
posted by w0mbat at 11:04 AM on August 22, 2010


I'm more interested in knowing how these seasoned aid workers reckon their cause is advanced by shitting all over the good intentions of non-professionals.

I mean, since we're focusing on end-results and all...
posted by felix betachat at 11:08 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait, griphus, I don't understand your issue with that last editorial. This is a man who lived in the slums and saw tourists come poke around, and is sharing his thoughts on being in that situation. That seems far more valid to me than the expat aid workers who declare they have a problem with it.
posted by lullaby at 11:10 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a weird pile on to me.

Some girls somewhere starts a lemonade stand to help raise money to combat cancer. Pretty much the same thing as a couple of folks doing a bike give away. Now the girl has a huge professional organization. What's to say that the bike thing can't take off just as well? I read all the links and at the end of the day I wish I was in a position to donate a few bikes.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:10 AM on August 22, 2010


And that's not to denigrate the work aid workers do or dismiss their feelings offhand; I just don't find these two blog posts very convincing on their own. I do kind of think "poverty tourism" is problematic, but donating 100 bikes isn't exactly the same thing as justifying a vacation to the slums because of a few tourism dollars left behind. IMO, anyway. There's a good argument to be made that the latter perpetuates a not-very-good situation to make wealthy Westerners feel good about themselves. But even then, it's a point of debate, not a slam dunk.

it also creates a different have/have-not equation for the locals

"have/have-not" inequality is pretty common in America too, isn't it? Some would argue it's a driving force of capitalism, though I don't know if I would argue that myself or that it's necessarily a good thing. But I do feel it's too simplistic an argument to dismiss this type of charity on that basis alone, or else you could reduce pretty much every charitable donation into something bad and do away with it entirely. If there's some specific type of charity that is arguably more effective (backed by research), maybe these aid workers should be advocating that in these rants against the Hughs.
posted by cj_ at 11:15 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, this isn't true. The alternative is some other program in the area or, better yet, asking a relief expert for advice on starting a more effective program for the children.

The Hughes family bicycle program doesn't prevent anyone (you, me, the local government, or the Gates Foundation) from coming in and providing a comprehensive development program. However, no one is going to do that, and even if someone did, giving out bicycles doesn't hurt it, and might help slightly.

The criticism of this sounds to me like criticizing the mobile dental clinic that is the only way poor people where I live can access dental care on the basis that a) only some poor people can access it, so it perpetuates inequalities, and b) a better answer would be to have comprehensive and universal health care, so those paternalistic congregations that are supporting the dental clinic should take their money back and wait for a national solution. Seriously, doing a small and very localized good thing is ok, even if it isn't going to lead to structural change. You need both, and one doesn't contradict or prevent the other.
posted by Forktine at 11:16 AM on August 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


Jina Moore has an interesting response to that first blogger.
I'm all for aid and media critiques; I'm all for all of us asking for better foreign policy, better interventions, better conversation -- and by better, I mean things that make a tangible, positive impact on the lives of the people on whose behalf we are moved to thought and action. But I'm also for acknowledging that there is meaning and importance is the small-scale human endeavor. It may not be perfect, but I think it's based on exactly the kind of human connection we're all hoping might the basis for change.
(And then the first blogger responds to her here, then she writes again here.)
posted by lullaby at 11:18 AM on August 22, 2010


I can sympathize a bit with the aid workers. Picture this: you work long hours, grinding conditions, with little guarantee of even minor success - and anonymously

And then a couple jets in, gives away some bikes, and gets profiled in the Washington Post.

I can see why it would chafe.
posted by kanewai at 11:28 AM on August 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Even do-goodery has become a commodity for people to whelp and piss themselves over.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 11:29 AM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought the development blog community did a fantastic job of heaping scorn on the ill-conceived One Million Shirts campaign a few months ago, but like most of you I'm really not feeling the same outrage here.
posted by Adam_S at 11:32 AM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]



I'm more interested in knowing how these seasoned aid workers reckon their cause is advanced by shitting all over the good intentions of non-professionals.

Well, I think that's clearly spelled out in most of the links provided. Experienced aid workers are saying over and over that good intentions can cause a variety of discrete, direct, indirect, and diffuse harms in communities receiving the aid.

To ignore this is to ignore the entire debate and provide a strawman that simply protects our collective guilt at benefiting from a systemically inequitable economic system.
posted by RajahKing at 11:45 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two hard-working individuals use their largess to travel, and find a small niche where they can lend a hand. Buying locally, they gift children at random, with school transportation. Whatever else is going on in that neighborhood, these two people choose a simple good deed to do. Then, they want to do this again.

Meanwhile, effete dorks sitting at typewriters decry the effort, and then go downtown to buy lattes and fume because they feel like they are doing something. They feel like their words are ever so important, much more important than outright deeds. They may even donate a little once and a while to a worthy cause, especially if it will attract the attention of babes who like guys who seem to care...may vintage typewriters become the mouths of devouring robots, and go for these metro-sexual wags, tout suite.
posted by Oyéah at 11:53 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


So you give 22 bikes away. 21 of them get sold for scrap or otherwise misused. One of them gets used by a boy or girl to help them finish their education and make their way out of poverty. I think that's a decent enough deal.
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on August 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think as long as whatever it is you're giving away, you're buying from local producers, I think anything is fine. The really damaging stuff is from aid that's just airlifted in.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's important to be careful and thoughtful about aid. I can think of some cases here in the US where people donate computers to schools, but without appropriate training, support, etc. for the teachers, the computers just sit in a corner of the classroom gathering dust. But that said, bicycles? For kids? There's no downside to that.
posted by math at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2010


No matter what people do with their money and time, there will be someone, somewhere, who will get all self-righteous about the fact that those people are doing something other than what THEY want with their money and time. It's a particularly insidious form of puritanism, when you think about it.
posted by deadmessenger at 12:19 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


may vintage typewriters become the mouths of devouring robots, and go for these metro-sexual wags, tout suite.

45¢ a day can mean the difference between an Interzone writer going hungry, or a fix of mugwump jism.
posted by benzenedream at 12:22 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


21 of them get sold for scrap or otherwise misused.

I think the point was not that this would be "misuse" but that the resources being provided were not all that appropriate to the circumstances in the community; nothwithstanding that, the community would likely make productive use of them.

That said, I'm still with the 'small, well-meaning gestures are fine by me' crowd.
posted by Urban Hermit at 12:27 PM on August 22, 2010


But that said, bicycles? For kids? There's no downside to that.

That depends on whether they are diverting potential aid money from other programs. Are those dog-groomer dollars new aid dollars (which would be wonderful) or would those customers have given some or all of that money to a more traditional aid program? I suspect most of those dollars are new aid dollars, but if that's not true it is possible that the bicycle program makes people hungrier.

I do like it as an experiment -- people trying to solve large, persistent problems need to experiment more -- but they need to track the bicycles and kids and they need to publish specific results. The goal is to get kids to school. Kid X got bicycle A in 2009. Where is kid X in 2010? In school every day? Riding the bike to get there? Getting good grades? Where is that bike now? If it was sold or diverted to other uses, what was the result of that? If some kids are getting to school and some aren't, is there a pattern that can be used to better determine who should get future bicycles and who shouldn't? Most importantly, are they giving kids fixies?
posted by pracowity at 12:30 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The criticisms of the Hughes's all boil down to the same thing: You violated the Prime Directive!

And is it really "poverty tourism" when you set up a profit-redistribution network that includes your customers, , businesspeople in the community you're distributing aid to, and an egalitarian system for parceling out limited resources? How is this different from any other international aid? How are the problems enumerated in these articles not also problems in other programs?

What they're guilty of is starting a new aid org.
posted by clarknova at 12:35 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


RajahKing: "Well, I think that's clearly spelled out in most of the links provided. Experienced aid workers are saying over and over that good intentions can cause a variety of discrete, direct, indirect, and diffuse harms in communities receiving the aid."

It really isn't spelled out at all. We have one post telling us that this is bad because it perpetuates stereotypes and assumptions, but makes no effort at all to tell the reader what those stereotypes and assumptions are or how they are perpetuated. We have another telling us that it offers "little in terms of real solutions" because it doesn't immediately solve everyone's problems and isn't "proven to be sustainable" (and this post is written by someone who spent a year in Kenya and makes no claims to being an experienced aid worker). The last link is about poverty tourism, which is certainly a connected issue, but doesn't deal at all with the issues of the harms caused by any particular aid program.

So, no, the harm in this case is not spelled out at all.
posted by ssg at 12:37 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


If I've got a couple million dollars and decide I want to spend it making sure a group of kids who don't have shoes get two pair of Converse High Tops each, I think that's a good thing, regardless of whether the person who tries to make sure they have something to eat gets a case of ass over it.
posted by Mooski at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2010


No matter what people do with their money and time, there will be someone, somewhere, who will get all self-righteous about the fact that those people are doing something other than what THEY want with their money and time. It's a particularly insidious form of puritanism, when you think about it.
This I can't agree with because what's involved is not just the Hughes' money and time, but also the recipient community and the impact their donation will have there. Thus I do think it's entirely legitimate to raise questions about the latter (although the objections at the linked sites are not particularly compelling they do hint at issues that bear examination, such as the model for distributing the bikes).
Of course you come off looking like a moaning sod having a good long peer down the gift horse's throat, but I also think true giving should be a considered and selfless act - ideally that would be a sense the Hughes broadly share, as I'm sure they have the best of intentions, and perhaps the final outcome will be them working with someone (maybe one or other of the critics can offer) to improve their generosity still further.
In sum, I wouldn't want to get on people's case for trying to go a good thing, but I would hope they'd be amenable to making that good thing even better if possible.
posted by Abiezer at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oyeah, would it make it OK if they didn't buy lattes?
posted by layceepee at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Context: I work in an INGO concerned with sustainable, non-disaster-relief international development; however I do not work "at the sharp end" and I do not speak for my employer here.

I just don't find these two blog posts very convincing on their own

I agree, in fact I'd go further and say I found them extremely unconvincing. One thing that I can definitely agree with, from the second:

The question... is this: is any harm really being done?

I didn't feel either made a good case for this.

In terms of concrete arguments how this is project has bad/unintended consequences, the first one offers (besides its rather repulsive "white heroes" snark):

[1] helping some makes those not helped feel bad
[2] the bikes may end up getting used by the parent for work rather than kid for school
[3] there is no provision for maintenance

Well, [1] is a little bit "perfect is the opposite of good", and I can't agree with that. Of course it helps to consider those left unhelped, to do the helping in such a way as to minimise the number of those left unhelped, or the pain/resentment felt by that number. But in itself, I don't personally agree with "we haven't helped everyone" being a good reason to stop you helping anyone.

[2], so? Being used by a parent may well be an unintended consequence, but it's not clear how it's a harmful one. Economic productivity of the family is bad, somehow? Perhaps the father, covering more ground quicker with the bike, earns more money, which he ultimately uses to buy the kid a bike anyway.

[3] what would spur the existence of a local bicycle maintenance industry more than a load of bicycles being in circulation? One could easily project an entrepreneurial mechanical type starting up a bike maintenance service in response to this gifted growth in bicycle ownership, meaning the bikes actually helped create additional employment.

Of course, in all cases you can argue these perspectives are unrealistically optimistic. Well, yes, but I don't intend to state the above will be the case, and that the bike scheme is all good, no harm; I just certainly don't feel the blog posts did a good job of proving the contrary.

The second one offers only "it perpetuates a stereotype" as harm, and I agree with argybarg that it does a poor job of pointing out exactly how, or quite how harmful this is, offering instead the extremely weak watermelon "bait and switch".

I don't think "they want the Tanzanians to be '...well, like me'" is really fair. There's nothing in here to suggest the Hughes are doing this to make the kids are more like them. They're doing it so the kids can get to school. The blog complains about "stereotypes and assumptions about who the poor are, what they need, and how they should be helped." Surely if there's one thing the development community agrees on, it's that universal primary education is at or near the top of the list of "what the poor need and how they should be helped"?

That leaves the "a single gift can lift them from poverty" aspect. Again, I don't see how the Hughes are claiming this. Surely their claim is not so much "kid has bike = kid has no poverty", as it is "kid has bike = kid can access education = kid stands a better chance of lifting themself out of poverty". Again, I was under the impression there was an extremely strong consensus that access to education is A Good Thing.

I can see that a bike is ultimately a one-off gift so the "teach a man to fish" principle does somewhat apply. But exactly how far can you push this before it becomes ridiculous? Don't give them bikes, give them a bike factory. Wait, don't give them a bike factory, give them the knowledge how to make a bike factory. No, don't give them that, give them the knowledge to grow an economy from which bike factories arise naturally.

Well, that's great, but there are already people trying to do that, and even by their own best-case expectations it'll take decades to come to fruition, and in the meantime, the kids don't have any damn bikes! And how are you expecting to reach a fully self-supported industrial economy supporting bike factories anyway, with no educated workforce, because the kids don't get an education, because they can't get to school, because they have no bikes, because you deem it improper for them to have bikes until you finish creating a fully self-supported bike-producing industrial economy...?!

Basically, this seems to be back to "perfect is the opposite of good".
posted by Slyfen at 1:05 PM on August 22, 2010 [12 favorites]



I do like it as an experiment -- people trying to solve large, persistent problems need to experiment more -- but they need to track the bicycles and kids and they need to publish specific results. The goal is to get kids to school.

While supplying research subjects for the economists of the world has a certain amount of value, it seems to me that taking the first, say, $20K of dollar bills stuffed in the tip jar at the dog groomers to make sure you've got the funding to cover a well-researched efficacy study would be a misapplication of the funds in question. If someone, somewhere wants to get the funding to study how well programs like this work in practice, that's great, it'll be food for thought and useful down the road. But we're arguing about 45 bikes, here, people.
posted by Diablevert at 1:24 PM on August 22, 2010


pracowity, I'm not really following your argument:


That depends on whether they are diverting potential aid money from other programs. Are those dog-groomer dollars new aid dollars (which would be wonderful) or would those customers have given some or all of that money to a more traditional aid program? I suspect most of those dollars are new aid dollars, but if that's not true it is possible that the bicycle program makes people hungrier.


I kind of see what you're saying here, that bicycles might be replacing food, but your worst-case scenario (of bicycles making people hungrier) assumes that the Hughes were planning on donating money to a food-aid organization in Tanzania anyways, and then they suddenly diverted that money to bicycles. There are two things wrong with this. First, I imagine that an international food-aid organization would have a large budget with thousands of donors, and the loss of a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars wouldn't be noticed too much. But second, I don't find it likely that the Hughes were going to be donating 10% of their income to Oxfam. "Pets for Oxfam" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Pets for Pedals".

One thing that it's easy to lose sight of is the personal relationship that people often want to have with their donations. It's not much fun to just write a check to some large organization and wonder how much of that will get eaten up in overhead, advertising, salaries, etc. It's a lot of fun to give a kid a bicycle. Sure, charity shouldn't be motivated by the need to fulfill one's savior complex, but it often is just that, and the best charities can manage that.

Best case scenario is that this becomes an obsession for the Hughes, and they learn about how to manage charitable giving over the long term, and how to best integrate this into the lives of the villagers in Tanzania.

Let's also note that the Hughes didn't just go rogue in their charitable donations. As mentioned in the Washington Post, they're working with the Grand Circle Foundation, which seems to be (at first glance) the charitable arm of a travel organization and presumably has some experience in development.

Again, I say, bicycles? to kids? There's no downside to that.
posted by math at 1:45 PM on August 22, 2010


So by this standard my friend who bought a bunch of books for a school in Africa when she went there last year with money she solicited from her friends was being unhelpful? Mmmhmmm..
posted by wierdo at 1:50 PM on August 22, 2010


Oh, one other thing.

Rather, the kind of harm being done is simply a perpetuation of stereotypes and assumptions about who the poor are, what they need, and how they should be helped. They’re like racial stereotypes

Even if this is taken as fact, it raises a question: which do you think the uneducated Tanzanian young adult considers a bigger harm to their life - that some subset of the people who read Washington Post Sunday supplement features may have an innaccurate and racially stereotypical view of him/her, or that s/he doesn't have an education and can't get a job?

Even if this blog made a compelling case that this project resulted in this stereotype-perpetuation form of harm, which I don't think it does, it's a long way from proving that this harm outweighs the good it does (or the harm of not doing it).

Honestly, the more I think about it, it's like these blogs just knocked out the standard issue "does more harm than good, isn't sustainable, promotoes stereotypes" rebuffs to newcomers to the development field without stopping to think if they were at all coherent in this instance. There may be useful criticisms of this project coming from the aid sector but I'm pretty sure these linked blogs aint it. There are better arguments being raised here, such as pracowity's call for thorough M&E feeding back into the programme's implementation.
posted by Slyfen at 2:05 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


isn't one of murphy's laws that no good deed shall go unpunished?
posted by kitchenrat at 2:11 PM on August 22, 2010


If I've got a couple million dollars and decide I want to spend it making sure a group of kids who don't have shoes get two pair of Converse High Tops each, I think that's a good thing, regardless of whether the person who tries to make sure they have something to eat gets a case of ass over it.
posted by Mooski at 3:46 PM on August 22


oh gawd, no. why wouldn't you give the money to getting families out of refugees camps or to give it to teenagers in poor areas, along with technical training, to start their own businesses?

just because you have money doesn't mean it entitles you to fuck up with the lives of the poor so you can have your own little messiah trip. here's some of the problem with the defenders of these messiah complexes:

you think exploitation is something that others do.

you think poverty is something you do not actively contribute in creating right now.

you think that giving a few of your FirstWorld crumbs is far better than actually allowing poor farmers in Africa preferential market treatment over the US multinational ConAgra or Monsanto.

you think that giving a few bikes is better than opening our markets and our immigration borders wide-open to those 'poor people' you keep trapped in economic and political blockades.

you think that a few bikes is better than getting rid ofthe yearly bailouts we give to US businesses to squash local industries and markets worldwide.

look, giving out 1Million t-shirts to Africa or a few hundred bikes does not absolves anybody from their FirstWorld exploiter sins. on the contrary, these gosh-golly charities are exactly a symptom of the world-wide wealth exploitation system that created the world-wide systems of poverties in the first place.

i have my problems with the whole NGO-Financial-Military complex, but if there is one takeaway from this discussion is: YOUR MONEY IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT TO PLAY FEEL-GOOD MESSIAH WITH THE LIVES OF POOR PEOPLE.
posted by liza at 2:11 PM on August 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


"They" walked downtown in their vegan hemp shoes, and drank tap water from coconut halves, decrying the gift, suggesting rather they donated wooden goat-chariots with linen tackle, to the village. Then they hit on some hairy vegetarian ladies, trying to guilt them into freegan love, via discussion of how the cows suffer to make the yogurt, they eat to keep strong bones. You can't please everyone...
posted by Oyéah at 2:13 PM on August 22, 2010


But second, I don't find it likely that the Hughes were going to be donating 10% of their income to Oxfam.

Maybe they would have and maybe they wouldn't, but that's not what I was getting at. Their customers are told up front that a chunk of their money (10 percent of a dog grooming fee?) is going to go to this bicycle program, right? I was suggesting that there's a chance that some customers might consider this a charitable donation and therefore be less likely to donate to other charities. If you take Fifi in for a 50-dollar grooming and you picture 5 of those dollars going to help kids in Africa, you might be less inclined to throw money into the next Salvation Army bucket. That's the only way I could see that this little bicycle program might do direct harm: a few kids somewhere else in the world starve to death because a more effective feeding program doesn't get the few dollars it needed for a few more bags of rice. I don't think it's very likely that this is actually happening; I was just trying to come up with possible objections to an ineffectual but attractive charity.
posted by pracowity at 2:17 PM on August 22, 2010


liza: goodness gracious!
posted by hippybear at 2:18 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"YOUR MONEY IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT TO PLAY FEEL-GOOD MESSIAH WITH THE LIVES OF POOR PEOPLE."

I bet the poor people would mention you are dead wrong on this one. Help is help, anything functional is better than listless nothing, even if we helped create it buying ice cream for our kids on Sunday, or DU tipped cruise missiles that each cost more than a trip through medical school.

The world is whack, every person that attempts good, is a David that will not super the Goliath we have unwittingly created, but a little good is better than none.
posted by Oyéah at 2:18 PM on August 22, 2010


And...What the micro loan makers discovered when they made incredibly small loans to individual women, was that the women lifted their children out of poverty in one generation. The recipients of micro loans, immediately educated their children, and ended their poverty. This was a totally unexpected outcome. The bicycle that takes not one, but two children to school, because you know they will ride double, or even triple, will change some things fundamentally. Perhaps children will get a one way ride, with a parent, to school, to town to work, there are many variables in this equation.
posted by Oyéah at 2:25 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is giving kids bikes demeaning or playing messiah?

It's offensive that we spend more on grooming our pets than helping the poor, but stating that fact is less helpful than giving someone a bike. And cutesy names are a plague on all good causes-- we might groan at Paws for Cancer or whatever, but I don't think cancer patients would refuse the money based on the annoying name. Poor people can joke about things just like rich people--it's more "otherizing" to paternalistically attempt to protect people's dignity for them than it is to try to genuinely help, person to person.
posted by Maias at 2:57 PM on August 22, 2010


YOUR MONEY IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT TO PLAY FEEL-GOOD MESSIAH WITH THE LIVES OF POOR PEOPLE.

OK, WE'LL KEEP OUR MONEY. I THINK I'LL GET SOME SEAT COVERS FOR MY CAPRICE CLASSIC, THAT WILL HELP KEEP SOMEONE IN THE THIRD WORLD EMPLOYED WHILE AVOIDING THE FEEL-GOOD MESSIAH COMPLEX.
posted by MikeMc at 3:02 PM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


liza you think that giving a few of your FirstWorld crumbs is far better than actually allowing poor farmers in Africa preferential market treatment over the US multinational ConAgra or Monsanto.

you think that giving a few bikes is better than opening our markets and our immigration borders wide-open to those 'poor people' you keep trapped in economic and political blockades.

you think that a few bikes is better than getting rid of the yearly bailouts we give to US businesses to squash local industries and markets worldwide.


What kind of power do you imagine individual First Worlders have? This seems so ridiculously obvious to me that to point it out feels bizarre: the decision to allow preferential market treatment, open borders, and give bailouts to banks is not made by ordinary individual First Worlders. These decisions are made by powerful (and numerous) cabals within First World societies, people who consider themselves no less than the owners of you and me, and practically speaking they are correct in that assessment. Furthermore they are group decisions, emergent consequences of bureaucratic rules and policy goals. For example, consider this: to stop the bank bailout, how many specific individuals would you have had to shoot? Paulson? Bush? To affect that social change, the list would have needed to be dozens of names long. (And of course targeted assassinations wouldn't actually work anyway.)

We have almost no power to effect policy change as individuals. We do have some, but absent a total society-wide revolution, which would presumably require leaving our computer chairs, none of these extremely drastic suggestions that you have that you think are "better" will or even can happen. They may well actually be better, but your dismissal of the consequences of opening borders (which would include but not be limited to utter chaos) compares oddly to your pedantic concern for the consequences of giving away a couple of bikes.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:19 PM on August 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Experienced aid workers are saying over and over that good intentions can cause a variety of discrete, direct, indirect, and diffuse harms in communities receiving the aid."

This is very true. And this project may well cause some unintended consequences -- jealousy between those who got a bike and those who didn't; unwanted attention from local bandits; hurting the business of a local bus operator. But this project is super small-scale, and isn't promising to fix the world. It is promising to give kids free bikes, and is totally hands-off in terms of what the kids (or their families) choose to do with those bikes.

So by this standard my friend who bought a bunch of books for a school in Africa when she went there last year with money she solicited from her friends was being unhelpful?

Possibly. Books are really tricky -- were they in the right language? connected to the school curriculum? culturally appropriate? desired by the recipients? Consumer goods (eg bicycles) are a lot less complicated than books and media.

i have my problems with the whole NGO-Financial-Military complex, but if there is one takeaway from this discussion is: YOUR MONEY IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT TO PLAY FEEL-GOOD MESSIAH WITH THE LIVES OF POOR PEOPLE.


Sorry, this is just kind of nuts. No one is doing a nasty scientific experiment with these kids, forcing them to live like lab rats and taking their culture away from them. (That's been done many times before and takes a lot more effort than buying some bikes.) It's a well-meaning but probably mostly ineffective charitable gift of bicycles. If people don't want them, they can sell them or throw them away.

The bicycle that takes not one, but two children to school, because you know they will ride double, or even triple,

Very true. I've seen entire families on one bicycle, as well as people carrying crazy loads (more, losts more). Ideally, these bikes have the same kind of synergistic effect that best-case microloans have. Worst case, the local bike dealer makes a few bucks and the locals roll their eyes at the irritating foreigners.
posted by Forktine at 3:21 PM on August 22, 2010


Forktine wrote: "Possibly. Books are really tricky -- were they in the right language? connected to the school curriculum? culturally appropriate? desired by the recipients? Consumer goods (eg bicycles) are a lot less complicated than books and media."

Actually, yes. (her friend who works there made specific requests) ;)

They were all in English, FWIW. Apparently teaching kids English is a big thing in a lot of countries.

The reason I bring it up is that the only reason she was going over there, and thus in a position to deliver books, was to go to some safari resort. Point being that people can help out in small ways when they are in a position to do so and it does nothing to demean the larger system of aid.
posted by wierdo at 3:30 PM on August 22, 2010


I bet the poor people would mention you are dead wrong on this one.

Have you asked them?

We can hem and haw and yell at each other all we want, but I do think it's a bit problematic for us to presume to speak for an already marginalized population. Part of the problem here seems to be that people are confused as to what the communities in question actually need to help improve their lives in concrete, lasting ways. That problem is not going to be solved by a bunch of "first world"-ers sitting around discussing this amongst ourselves from our comfortable homes via our high-speed internet access - we simply aren't capable of understanding the lives and needs of impoverished Tanzanians the way that those Tanzanians can understand their own lives and needs.

Here is a study I found about participatory research on poverty and aid in Tanzania.

Here are a couple of articles about agriculture in Tanzanian farming communities that seem to primarily rely on interviews with people living in those areas.

It'd be nice to see more information referencing - or ideally, produced by - people actually living in poverty in Tanzania being used in these discussions.
posted by ellehumour at 3:54 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


And all along, bike manufacturer Kona has been donating bikes to Tanzanians too!
posted by mendel at 4:16 PM on August 22, 2010


Experienced aid workers are saying over and over that good intentions can cause a variety of discrete, direct, indirect, and diffuse harms in communities receiving the aid.

As can the aid workers! A friend of mine eventually sought out cocaine for some Italian Red Cross employees who kept pestering him. The drug was transferred through the region, but he had never seen it. Luckily he never found any; it's trafficked by Al-Qaedi and could have landed him in some trouble, like a life jail sentence and torture.

I remember mentioning the idea of "poverty tourism" to said friend in Mali, and that I wouldn't want him to be an objectified by ignorant Western tourists. He looked at me incredulously. "But they're going to give me money!" The poor aren't stupid.

When the overpaid workers lament those trying to help, I can't help but wonder if it's their own pride. Their "poor" belong to them, and how dare anyone else step into their realm.

"They wanted much, but he could give them all they wanted without ruining himself. In exchange he had their silent fear, their loquacious love, their noisy veneration. It is a fine thing to be a providence, and to be told so on every day of one's life. It gives one a feeling of enormously remote superiority..." - Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands.
posted by iamck at 4:27 PM on August 22, 2010


YOUR MONEY IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT TO PLAY FEEL-GOOD MESSIAH WITH THE LIVES OF POOR PEOPLE.

Bullshit. My money is to do with as I wish. I keep 40 bucks in fives in my ashtray to give to the guys who stand at the Interstate exits with various poorly-lettered signs announcing their poverty; I also go and get gifts at Christmas to put into boxes to be given to kids who may not have Christmas dinner to go with their game boy knock-off. Why? 'Cause I can't fix the world, but I can afford a couple of pairs of shoes and a basketball.

You do what you fucking can. Not all of it helps much, maybe some doesn't help at all, but you do what you can.
posted by Mooski at 4:35 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


aeschenkarnos said it far better and more eloquently than I could. liza, I think that aesch. raised some important points, and I'd love to see your response.

For me it's a question of marginal utility (if I'm using that term right). Let's suppose I have 100 hours and $10,000 dollars. I can use that time and money to try to influence public policy, and with that kind of cash and time I could probably gain access to an US representative, maybe even a senator, at one of those fund-raising dinners (to be specific, Barbara Boxer is on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and recently had a fundraiser with President Obama, with ticket prices ranging from $100 to $2000 to $32,000, the last one giving you a photograph with the president). I can instead use the money to launch a letter-writing campaign. Or, I can buy some bicycles, make sure they get to the right people, do some follow-up trips, and get some articles in the newspapers back in the states. Which do you think would be most effective? Which would be most rewarding? Which would I be most likely to do?

If you're talking millions, then yeah, you should be more careful in your donations, and you should talk to the folks who have been in development for a while to get some insight into the best way to use your considerable funds. Great power, great responsibility, etc. But for the middle-class First Worlder who wants to do some good, that's unlikely to be the case, and if they want to spend their $10K on bicycles, well, I don't see the harm.

(I acknowledge that there have been some colossal screw-ups in charity aid, the result of a perfect storm of arrogance, hubris, pride, colonialism, and ignorance, that have left the recipients worse off in every measurable way, but I don't see bicycles for kids as falling anywhere near that line.)
posted by math at 5:04 PM on August 22, 2010


From pracowity's response,

... If you take Fifi in for a 50-dollar grooming and you picture 5 of those dollars going to help kids in Africa, you might be less inclined to throw money into the next Salvation Army bucket. That's the only way I could see that this little bicycle program might do direct harm: a few kids somewhere else in the world starve to death because a more effective feeding program doesn't get the few dollars it needed for a few more bags of rice. ...

Thanks, pracowity, I understand your argument better now. Thanks for the elucidation.
posted by math at 5:26 PM on August 22, 2010


Where is the best place to put your time and money? I see a lot of criticisms but not a lot of solutions.

I think the bike program seems like a well-thought out idea, but I have had problems with similar program. For example, I had a friend involved with a charity organization that divided its time between drinking expensive cocktails and purchasing sports equipment for poor people in Africa. I could help but wonder if it was really a good thing - I'm sure the children of Africa aren't so culturally impoverished that they have never come up with an alternative to tennis.
posted by fermezporte at 5:51 PM on August 22, 2010


The Bamboo Bike Project is trying to bring bikes to Ghana. They have a different approach.

(Disclaimer: I know people involved in this)
posted by sciencegeek at 6:01 PM on August 22, 2010


On the one hand, a bike makes an actual difference in some lives, but it also creates a different have/have-not equation for the locals, and does little to address the systemic problems that put them and keep them at their level of poverty.

Well cancel the Secret Santa, and the free Thanksgiving meals. No more bringing the city kids to the country for the day, or buying new toys for the homeless shelter. Shut down the soup kitchens. None of that stuff solves the underlying systemic causes of poverty, so you know, fuck it.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:04 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see what is so difficult about asking the potential recipients what they need. The latte-sipping-messiah-complex comes from pretending we already know.
posted by desjardins at 6:54 PM on August 22, 2010


I was starving in Sarajevo while various large governments and charitable organizations were dithering over whether to do anything, or what to do if they decided to do something. Often, when something was decided, it was a hideously stupid, damaging decision, such as the illegal decision to ban Bosnia from importing arms with which to defend itself (illegal under international law, because as a sovereign state, Bosnia had every right to defend itself) - a decision which essentially fixed in place Serbia's gargantuan military superiority, and thus thousands of additional people were killed. Large NGOs dropped off food supplies at the airport, which was under Serb control . . . so they simply stole the food meant for Sarajevans and kept it for themselves or sold it to people at prices 20 to 50 times higher than "normal".

My attitude then was, if this is large-scale assistance, we're completely fucked. And for a long time, while people did freeze and die from malnutrition-oriented illnesses and shellings and so on, I was completely right about this. We were fucked, and we were largely fucked by the big, "responsible" charities and political bodies. My parents died while the "serious" folks fucked around.

I was saved by the simple actions of a few individuals, mostly journalists, writers and thrill-seekers, who decided to do what they could - as little as it might be - to help out a few people, like me. A blue winter jacket, two jars of cooking oil, chocolates. Those are the things I know saved my life, and they were, if you want to be an ass about it, the residue of what slum tourists left behind (I don't see war adventuring as anything all that different from slum tourism).

And some of the most ridiculous offerings, like an Italian Vogue magazine, did as much to keep my spirits up as anything else.

More than anything against this criticism of slum tourism is the racist implication that such things like bicycles might become objects of jealously and inequality. Fuck anyone who says that; the poor and the desperate are better sharers and appreciators of the good fortunes of others than objective observers can ever hope to know. What gall it takes to claim we shouldn't do our little part, because the recipients might act like we would when Oprah gives everyone else in the audience a new car. The truth is, it's really ever like that.

There's something to be said for giving wisely. But when skepticism and over-thinking leads to the criticism of people acting with open hearts, well, I shudder for humanity. Fuck these haters, and please take it from someone who's been on the receiving end of personal
generosity . . . I wouldn't be here writing this if these "critics" had had their say in things a few years ago.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:58 PM on August 22, 2010 [46 favorites]


Would you rather the rich do something with their money other than directly help poor people? It may be a condescending arrangement, but why not trade someone a sense of gratification for something useful?
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:58 PM on August 22, 2010


schoolgirl report: "... Shut down the soup kitchens. None of that stuff solves the underlying systemic causes of poverty, so you know, fuck it."

Yeah! Don't these jackasses the Hughes know that, any moment now, trickle down economics is going to reach these fine African people and save them? The Hughes should have known that if they'd have simply consumed more goods themselves, rather than undertake this bicycle foolishness,the effects would have soon led to employment for these kids. These kids are missing out on all the real-life education they could be getting by working 12-16 hour days in diamond or gold mines.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:02 PM on August 22, 2010


Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. So because the Hughes aren't official aid workers and can't build a bike factory, they shouldn't do anything at all? How ridiculous. And how mean-spirited and damaging of those articles, we need more people like the Hughes, not less.
posted by Jubey at 8:34 PM on August 22, 2010


I like lattes and I wish you folks would stop hating on me and my fellow latte sippers. Every other thread has some unprovoked attack on people who enjoy diverse coffee beverages as if we form some elite cabal bent on keeping you regular people down. Enough already.
posted by Tashtego at 8:58 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's exactly what an elitist would say!states
posted by telstar at 9:43 PM on August 22, 2010


[i]If I've got a couple million dollars and decide I want to spend it making sure a group of kids who don't have shoes get two pair of Converse High Tops each, I think that's a good thing, regardless of whether the person who tries to make sure they have something to eat gets a case of ass over it.
posted by Mooski at 12:46 PM on August 22 [+] [!] [/i]

what an ugly comment. this is the bigger problem, is that people who were born lucky (or wish they were) somehow think they can lord their money over the rest of us, and think they deserve to.
posted by eustatic at 10:24 PM on August 22, 2010


I don't know when spending money on other people became lording one's money over others.
posted by wierdo at 10:40 PM on August 22, 2010


I don't know when spending money on other people became lording one's money over others.

I don't know why this is so, but I had a little extra straw lying around, so I made a straw man and asked it why. This straw man criticizes us (and feels bad about itself, being a middle-class straw man) because we and it are middle-class westerners, and we wouldn't be middle-class westerners unless there were poor people somewhere decidedly unmiddle and unwest doing what it takes to keep us in that middle class, and those poor people wouldn't be poor and hungry if they weren't making our clothes and gadgets in our colonial factories instead of living their rich traditional peaceful fulfilling matriarchal lives in the paradises that were and are destroyed in our names. Our entire lives, therefore, are tainted, and throwing a couple of bucks into the Salvation Army bucket or any other charity won't even start to make up for it. Unless we're willing to abandon what we have and live like those poor people we created, we will never be free of the guilt. Anyway, that's what my straw man told me. He could be way off. Maybe I should have donated the straw to charity.
posted by pracowity at 11:48 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I heard about a friend of a friend who did something heroic and ended up in the hospital in a bad bad way and his family couldn't afford the bills, I donated to help them out in their time of need...

Should I have withheld that help and instead donated it to a non-profit supporting Single Payer Health Care since that's the best thing for the needs of the many?

Sorry but I'm not Spock....
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:21 AM on August 23, 2010


eustatic, I respectfully submit you have misunderstood the comment.
posted by Mooski at 5:22 AM on August 23, 2010


I'm writing this comment from Lubumbashi, smack at the bottom of DR Congo.

I work in international aid, with one of the big orgs. I'm in the field but not exactly at the bleeding edge of our implementations with actual beneficiaries (mine is a child-focused org). I haven't done this my whole life, but it is my life now - I see literally hundreds of kids *every day* whose lives would benefit from a bike. I can't give hundreds of kids a day a bike, but I can give one kid a bike.

And other INGO workers can sit on their high white horses of "experience" and look down and criticize that decision, pick out stupid shit like "oh you didn't buy a local bike that can be easily repaired with local parts" or "it was a lottery, think of all the kids who lost." And the rest of the world has to sit back and let them say whatever they want, because, well, hey, most of us can't be in the 2% of people jetting around the world's poorer parts trying to institute positive change.

I'm just chiming in to say: F that.

Its a bike. For a kid. I can't even remember how many bikes I burned through as a kid. At least 4 or 5. Most American kids will in their lifetime. And yet we're going to pick apart a well-meaning couples' intention to try to give a few kids THE ONLY EFFING BIKE they'll likely ever have, and actually try to twist it around into being a bad thing.

This is how insanely self-important most aid-worker writing drivel typically is. Its literally insane. They end up at these kind of obscure points of closure that on the face appear to be making a very introspective and meaningful point, but in fact make little or no sense. I'm not even sure the authors themselves know what they are trying to get at, half the time. Its banal. Consider:

And our inability to see poverty for what it is is at least partially due to the fact that we continue to caricature the poor, rather than seeing them as real, whole, people.

WTF does that even mean? Of course they are people. That's why we have a natural urge to help them! Nobody comes to Africa to see the animals and walk away feeling bad for how poor they are.

I can't even read their blogs anymore. I tried when I first got into aid work. I thought maybe I'd find like minds out there. Instead, I found this stuff. It just makes me angry. Its pompous crap on the level that makes me genuinely fear that anything I would say about any aid or development related topics would come out the same - maybe I'm infected by the same disease. They scare me right into shutting up and not saying or writing anything at all.

And their writing is crap. I'm not a writer, but I can - sometimes - tell the good from the bad.

If there's a frequent-flier priority check-in line when we get to hell, everyone in the developing world who's content to sit around and bitch and argue about what the best and worst ways of helping solve these situations are, well that's their line. These aid workers who try to break down every simple attempt to do something good for someone in need? They'll get the first class treatment.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:37 AM on August 23, 2010 [18 favorites]


I was suggesting that there's a chance that some customers might consider this a charitable donation and therefore be less likely to donate to other charities.

Maybe. I think what's more likely to happen is that people who weren't necessarily going to pay for someone to groom their dog would go to Pets for Pedals thinking "Oh! They give some of the money to charity! I have a dog, why not give him a haircut?" They're buying something they wouldn't ordinarily purchase out of a feeling that buy consuming, they're also helping the world in some small way.

Same reason why the Product (RED) marketing scheme worked: people in the market to buy tshirts will buy one that's $5 more if you tell them that the $5 goes to AIDS research. Those people probably weren't going to donate money to anyone with said $5, but get a rush out of feeling like "Hey! I bought a tshirt AND helped cure AIDS!"
posted by sonika at 6:51 AM on August 23, 2010


Well, I can understand that there’s a continuum of helpfulness, and that every kind of gift isn’t an unalloyed good. But it’s up to the donor’s sensibilities what constitutes an appropriate donation that meets the ends they’re looking to achieve – it need not be the model of utilitarianism. There’s surely something to be said for adding some small joy to a few lives rather than marginally improving the quality of thin gruel available to everyone. Sure, if they’d spent the money on a fireworks show, we could say that tips the balance toward wastefulness, but I think many sub-optimal solutions are very, very welcome – and who the fuck is saying otherwise? Not the recipients.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:15 AM on August 23, 2010


You can always find someone on the internet to complain about something. That's the reason it was invented, right?

As someone whose job gives them the chance to interact with not only aid workers, but donors as well as aid recipients, I have to say that most of the aid workers that I know probably wouldn't have much of a problem with this type of effort. It is small scale, can have a real benefit and tangible results, these are the things that we strive to achieve.

Now they might look on it a little differently if it were a three million dollar program paid for by USAID, DFID or UN, but I suspect most of my colleagues would be either neutral or positive about a small privately funded activity like this. Especially since the Hughes family seems to have taken steps to ensure bikes are purchased locally and distribution is fair (random).

Of course most of the aid workers I know aren't writing "development worker" blogs. Not that there's anything wrong with being a blogger, but many of the same pressures to write about something that exist in large scale media operations exist with small bloggers as well. Interesting content is needed and controversy gets attention, so there's a tendency to highlight things you disagree with.

Just because a couple of bloggers fussed about it, doesn't mean that it would raise the ire of the majority of development workers.

allkindsoftime, hats off to you for the DRC work. I've never been, but I've heard from colleagues about the challenges of working there. Stay safe.
posted by cptspalding at 4:12 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


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