Every so often I’ll have a conversation with a ‘normal person’ (humanitarian industry non-insider). Maybe it’ll be a celebrity you’ve never heard of or some wealthy “potential donor” sent by my employer to the field where I’m onsite and expected to host. Or maybe it’ll be a friend of a friend that I find myself talking to in a social setting. I dunno – maybe cable news is full of the latest large-scale natural disaster, or maybe they just read one of the famous tomes about humanitarianism. Somehow they’ve just had their moving epiphany about poverty, or for some other reason begun to feel the humanitarian impulse personally.
And the question that comes is, “So, what can I do?”
It’s a good question. It’s the right question. I’ve certainly devoted plenty of time in pubs around the world and words on websites around the Internet carrying on about what those well-intended amateurs should NOT do. So, good – they’ve asked the right question.
For posterity, here’s the answer:
If you are a normal everyday person, not a full-time professional humanitarian, and you’re moved by what you’ve read or see on the news, or have seen with your own eyes somewhere; and now you want to “do something”, great! There are three things that you can do.
1. Donate money to an organization that makes a difference. Cash, not stuff, not time, or some other form of gift in-kind (GIK). Cash. There is lots of opinion around about which organizations and charities do or do not make that difference. I won’t endorse or slam any specific org here. For me, the things to look for are: Actual programmes in-progress now dealing with the issue you’re passionate about, on the ground in the place you’re passionate about. Do your research, know the organization. Don’t base your decision on how nice their website is or how “responsive” their call center is. Don’t pay for startups.
2. Vote for politicians who push poor-friendly agendas. No political party has a corner on the market here. You have to do your research. It’s person by person. National elections are relatively easy. The next level is becoming politically engaged in your own voting district on issues that matter, whether local or global.
3. Make the commitments necessary to become a full-time humanitarian yourself. If this is the life you want, go for it. It’s a good life in many ways. Similarly lots of information around about what the life is like, how to get a job in the aid industry, and all of that. But for me, on this issue, the operative point is make the commitments necessary to become a full-time professional humanitarian. Don’t volunteer for two weeks. Don’t go to Mexico to build a church. Don’t start or work at an orphanage in Uganda or Cambodia. This is a full-time job, a life choice. Make the commitments or don’t make them.