Friday, May 14, 2010

Donate a shirt or shoes and destroy a business in Africa...STOP this madness please!!!

No good deed goes unpunished...OR is it a good deed?  There seems to be a consensus in the international aid business that, no matter the good intentions, people who collect a variety of goods to send to poor countries are really hurting more than helping...Click HERE for original story from TIME Magazine "Bad Charity? "All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!)"
In the history of foreign aid, it looked pretty harmless: a young Florida businessman decided to collect a million shirts and send them to poor people in Africa. Jason Sadler just wanted to help. He thought he'd start with all the leftover T-shirts from his advertising company, I Wear Your Shirt. But judging by the response Sadler got from a group of foreign aid bloggers, you'd think he wanted to toss squirrels into wood chippers or steal lunch boxes from fourth-graders.
Little did Sadler know he had stumbled into a debate that is raging in the aid world about the best and worst ways to deliver charity, or whether to give at all. He crashed up against a rather simple theory that returned to prominence after aid failures following the 2004 Asian tsunami and 2010 Haiti earthquake: wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you're doing.
 Dumping "free" goods that are readily available in these countries (yes, there are LOTS of viable industries/businesses in ALL parts of Africa) have negative consequences on the local economies...
But why gang up on a guy who just wants to help clothe people in Africa? First, because it's not that hard to get shirts in Africa. Flooding the market with free goods could bankrupt the people who already sell them. Donating clothing is a sensitive topic in Africa because many countries' textile industries collapsed under the weight of secondhand-clothing imports that were introduced in the 1970s and '80s. "First you have destroyed these villages' ability to be industrious and produce cotton products, and then you're saying, 'Can I give you a T-shirt?' and celebrating about it?" says James Shikwati, director of the Nairobi-based Inter Region Economic Network, a think tank. "It's really like offering poison coated with sugar."
Mr. Sadler has relented and is not going to send the shirts to Africa. He is going to raise money with them or donated them to local charities...

Sadler has proven flexible: he says he is listening to his critics and no longer plans to send the shirts to Africa. He says he will find another way to use the T-shirts he collects, possibly for disaster relief, giving them to homeless shelters or using them to create other goods. He says any profits would then "go back to the company's goal of helping foster sustainability." And judging by the response on the Web, he's getting a lot of donations. "I've since listened to a lot of these people," he says. "I want to change this thing into something that's better, that's more helpful and that listens to the people that have the experience that I don't have."
This story is just representative of the whole "problem" of foreign aid, BUT I believe the model is changing for the better.  Aid is necessary for immediate relief to save lives---NO question about that. However, when it extends beyond that scope you risk the unintended consequences of imposing harm on local  industries and entrepreneurship, and that is the only real hope for life beyond subsistance level in developing countries.

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