7 worst international aid ideas

Like my energy drink or the kids starve. Image via Africa is a country

Maybe their hearts were in the right place. Maybe not. Either way, these are solid contenders for the title of “worst attempts at helping others since colonialism.”
1. One million t-shirts for Africa

Foreign aid circles employ the cynical acronym SWEDOW (stuff we don’t want) to describe initiatives like Jason Sadler’s 1 Million T-Shirts project. Sadler had admittedly never been to Africa, and had never worked in an aid or development environment before. But he cared a great deal, and came up with the idea to send a million free shirts to Africa in order to help the people there.

Like some sort of lightning rod for the combined venom of the humanitarian aid world, Jason found himself pilloried across the web in a matter of weeks. Everyone from armchair bloggers to senior economists spat fire on his dream until it eventually ground to a halt. In July 2010, Jason threw in the towel and abandoned his scheme. And somewhere in Africa, an economy sighed in relief.

Why was the idea so bad?

Image cia PDX Reader

Firstly, it’s debatable whether there is actually a need for T-shirts in Africa. There is practically nowhere that people who want shirts are unable to afford them. Wanting to donate them is a classic case of having something you want to donate and assuming it is needed. Just because you have a really large hammer does not mean that everything in the world is a nail.

Secondly, dumping a million free shirts is inefficient. What it would cost to pack them, ship them, and transport them overland to wherever it is they are meant to go would cost close to the manufacturing cost of the shirts in the first place. That’s just incredibly wasteful. If you wanted to get people shirts, it would be far more cost effective to simply commission their manufacture locally, creating a stimulus to the local textile economy in the process.

Which brings us to the third critique of free stuff. When people in the target community already have an economy functioning in part on the sale and repair of the stuff you want to donate (shirts in this instance), then dumping a million of them free is the economic equivalent of an atom bomb. Why buy a shirt anymore when you can get a five-year supply for free? Why get yours repaired when you can simply toss it and get another? And in the process everyone who once sold shirts or practiced tailoring finds themselves unemployed and unable to provide money for themselves or their families to buy anything.

Except shirts. Because those are now free.

And before you think dumping free shirts is the sin of an uneducated maverick, Jason’s poor logic was subsequently repeated by World Vision, in accepting 100,000 NFL shirts to dump on some poor, shirtless village in Africa.

2. TOMS Buy-One-Give-One

Bearing in mind all of the criticisms above, TOMS Shoes has built a brand on the premise that buying one pair of their shoes automatically includes the provision of another pair to an underprivileged child in a developing nation somewhere. Three months after Jason abandoned sending a million shirts to Africa, TOMS celebrated sending a million pairs of shoes to the underprivileged. It continues to do so.

While there are possibly more people in the world who need shoes than might need shirts (though this is debatable), TOMS can be (and has been) broadly criticised for the same kinds of unintended consequences of dumping shoes in places where people might otherwise be employed to make them.

Further, though, the TOMS campaign — like the million shirts — misses the fundamental point that not having a pair of shoes (or a shirt, christmas toy, etc.) is not a problem about not having shoes. It’s a problem of poverty. Shoelessness, such as it is, is a symptom of a much bigger and more complex problem. And while donating a pair of shoes helps shoelessness, it does not help poverty.

Things like jobs help poverty. Jobs making things like shoes, for example. But TOMS doesn’t make its shoes in Africa, it makes them in China where it’s presumably cheaper to make two pairs of shoes and give one away than it is to get people in a needier community to make one pair of shoes.

The result of this setup, as Zizek explains most succinctly, is that on a big-picture level, TOMS (and other buy-my-product-and-donate companies) are busy building the exploitative global structure that produces economic inequality, while on the other hand pretending that supporting them actually does something to fix it.

It doesn’t. It just gives people shoes.

3. Machine gun preacher

The criticisms of TOMS, Jason, and other purveyors of SWEDOW tend to be intellectual, economic concerns. Problems with Sam Childers, the machine gun preacher, are so much more straightforward.

It’s dangerous and insane.

After a misspent youth in the United States and a few years behind bars, Childers headed to Sudan on a missionary project to repair huts devastated in the war. There he would be commanded by God to build an orphanage for local children and, incidentally, take up arms against the Lord’s Resistance Army, who was terrorizing the region. With an AK-47 and a Bible, Sam would spread the wrath of the Lord and rescue abducted children for the next few years.

Imagine John Rambo with a biker’s beard hunting rebels in the savannah and you pretty much get the idea.

No matter how much you care to help the women/children/villages/gorillas in a particular warzone, trying to solve what is in effect a problem of armed insecurity through establishing another minor armed militia is never a good idea. However entertaining the film turns out to be, it’s the security studies equivalent of pouring gasoline on a forest fire. Peace — and a long-term future for those affected by violence in what is now South Sudan — can only be guaranteed through a diplomatic agreement between the groups that command the thousands of men with guns. Playing Rambo in the bush would not be tolerated back home, and it shouldn’t be here in Africa.

Childers is not the first person to get the crazy idea of solving violent situations by running in with guns. Hussein Mohammed Farah Aidid is an ex-Marine, and the son of Gen. Mohammed Farah Aidid (of Black Hawk Down fame), who returned to Somalia in 1996 to lead the powerful Habr Gedir clan in the country’s civil war. That hasn’t worked out so well either.

4. 50 Cent ransoming children in Somalia

Just this month, rapper 50 Cent visited Dolow in Somalia at the request of the World Food Programme. The trip was presumably intended to raise awareness of the issues in the way that Angelina Jolie and George Clooney did for Sudan and Oprah did for South Africa. There are quite a few examples of celebrities connecting with Africa actually. There is even a map to keep track of who has “dibs” on what region.

If the trip was nothing more than Fifty touring hard-hit areas in order to bring the world’s lazy media along, then it would have been useful at best, and benign at worst. But there is more.

If you Like the Facebook page for his Street King energy drink, he will provide a meal for a child in need. If the page received a million Likes before Sunday, he would donate an additional million meals.

So let’s break that down.

  1. If you Like Fifty’s Facebook page — without even buying the drink — a child, presumably in Somalia, gets fed.
  2. We can infer that there is a pot of dollars somewhere earmarked for feeding needy children. Two million meals worth of feeding if you count the million Like-meals plus the potential million bonus.
  3. Those meals, while they could be donated, and have presumably been budgeted for, will not be, except to the extent that you give Street King props online.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is called extortion. Dramatically photographed, concealed-as-humanitarian-activism, extortion. I can feed so very many meals to these starving children, but I won’t unless you give me something.

The benefit of involving celebrities in foreign aid work is often that it works to focus the attention of their fans and the media machine more generally on understanding, for however brief a moment, something that is happening somewhere in the world. Out of that can come the kind of empathy and activism that makes things like the Save Darfur campaign possible.

The celebrity’s contribution, though, hinges on whether they can successfully translate attention on them into attention to the issues. When a humanitarian issue becomes a platform for pushing an energy drink on the back of people’s suffering, we should be ashamed.

5. Donor fund restrictions

Not so much an organisation or a specific event, this a policy constraint that isn’t as widely known as it should be. When many governments donate foreign aid money to countries that have been wracked by disasters, or which require long-term assistance, it often comes with a giant asterisk in the fine print:

A significant portion of the cash provided for such assistance must be spent on goods and services provided by suppliers from the donating country.

Not only inefficient, this policy prescription can lead to outright ridiculous results. In the case of the Mozambique floods in 2000, I met a medical volunteer who explained how the only US-made bikes that they could find to get around the country on short notice were Harley Davidsons. And so three of them ended up running between medical stations like some breed of medical Hell’s Angel. Fascinating to behold, but utterly wasteful.

Far more troublesome, as is often the case, are the economics of this sort of donate-and-bill-back activity. Where the donor aid money is tied to spending on donor-country products and services, far less of the amount spent in foreign aid actually ends up benefitting the recipient country. Few local people are employed, and few local organisations see any new opportunities to bid for and provide aid-goods.

This has two effects: firstly, what could have been a large financial boost arriving with the humanitarian aid is effectively neutered — shunted into a much smaller economy-within-the-economy; secondly, without the opportunity for competitive pricing on local goods, the money is spent on buying comparatively expensive imported products and staff. Harley Davidsons, rather than dirtbikes, for a tenth of the price.

6. Making food aid the same colour as cluster munitions.

Probably the most devastating screw-up in the history of helping was the decisions that lead to cluster munitions and daily food ration packets both being coloured canary yellow.

Left is delicious. Right will kill you. You try telling the difference if you can't read English and live out in the steppes.

Each yellow BLU-97 bomblet is the size of a soda can and is capable of killing anyone within a 50 meter radius and severely injuring anyone within 100 meters from the detonation. A Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDR) package contains a 2,000 calorie meal.

It was inevitable that Afghans coming across the yellow packages in the field would confuse the two. Children in particular — with no English and little idea of what a BLU-97 is even if they did — would investigate the yellow containers and try to pick them up, with devastating consequences that an Air Force general described as “unfortunate.”

7. Making USAID a foreign policy tool

In 1990, on the eve of the first Gulf War, Yemeni Ambassador Abdullah Saleh al-Ashtal voted no to using force against Iraq in a security council session. US Ambassador Thomas Pickering walked to the Yemeni Ambassador’s seat and retorted, “That was the most expensive No vote you ever cast.” Immediately afterwards, USAID ceased operations and funding in Yemen.

USAID, despite its appearances as a benign, well-intentioned member of the humanitarian aid community, is deeply compromised in being beholden to the whims of US foreign policy. Unlike organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières which strictly guard their neutrality, USAID’s ability to hand out food aid and other assistance is subject to the political agenda of groups like Congress and the US Military.

In the case of the army, USAID in Afghanistan has repeatedly had to participate in administering humanitarian relief in cooperation with army elements engaged in the “hearts and minds” strategy of manipulating assistance in order to win over civilian populations. The unfortunate side effect of this relationship is that USAID’s operations come to be seen by opposing forces as complicit in the enemy war effort and thus legitimate targets. An even more unfortunate side effect is that other humanitarian groups with far more benevolent agendas may find themselves tarred with the same political brush and unwittingly targeted for attacks and abductions too.

Sometimes bad foreign aid is just the consequence of someone caring too much, but knowing too little. Other times it’s people who should have known better not being diligent in considering the consequences of their actions. And sometimes politicians and unscrupulous businessmen are simply manipulating the suffering of others for their own ends. When it’s benign or thwarted, it’s easy enough to laugh it off. But when a bad idea is carried through, the results can be diabolical.

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  • http://www.hereishavana.wordpress.com/ Connergo

    Fantastic post Richard. I have seen much of what you write about in post-disaster situations as well (Pakistan, Haiti) in my work as a health reporter.

    Big props for pointing up the USAID carrot/stick and how it is wielded around the world. As a journalist based in Havana, Cuba, I live with this every day (see Alan Gross kerfuffle) since it is used so blatantly to (try and) undermine the sovereignty of nations.  

    • Richard

      When I heard the Yemen story, and that USAID does much of the dogwork for the DoD in Afghanistan, I was pretty shocked. It really undermines the credibility of all the other groups really trying to be impartial and make a difference when the men with guns see one bunch pursuing partisan objectives.

  • http://ianmack.com/ Ian MacKenzie

    Great post Richard – I think you’re bang on. I like how you outlined the complexity of the issues without devolving into mean-spirited critiques. For those that are genuinely wanting to help, it’s important that they learn from many of these mistakes, without losing their passion for engagement. 

    • Richard

      I absolutely agree. I really believe that there is scope for individuals to make a difference, it just needs to be well thought through, in addition to being well-intentioned. If I recall the story right, the campaign to end landmines began with a handful of people who meant well and pursued their cause cleverly – an example of the difference you can make if ever there was one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4300940 Anne Hoffman

    Wow. Thank you for writing this. Really humanizes and demystifies aid/development concepts.

  • http://suerissberger.com/ Sue Rissberger

    Good post. I appreciate the research that went into this. Thank you!

  • Ripthejacker51

    I find you a little bit naive in expecting celebrities like 50 Cent to donate without wanting something in return. I think it’s perfectly fair of him to say support my business (Street King) and I will continue to provide aid money. That’s not extortion. In our capitalistic society, we should encourage such behaviours. And it will create a competition of most the efficient charitable, for-profit businesses. 

    • Nate_boyda

       You’re an idiot. Its blatant extortion. Helping people shouldn’t be based on what you get in return it should be based on generosity and compassion from those who have to those who have not. If you are using starving people as a means to get your product out there its a disgusting excuse to help people which is one of the many reasons why so many countries think Americans are pigs. Just sayin.

      • a9

        I agree with Nate – this is not for-profit work. Aid for profit is just another business and at some point, capitalism dictates that the business extract as much value for the owner as possible.

        But I think the author miss a point about something else celebs contribute. Many organizations use celebs because they are better at getting visibility for an issue than just the issue itself. 50Cent’s asking ppl to like his page probably built a following for this issue which it didn’t have and wouldn’t have if he just quietly gave the money – which he should do anyway.

      • Xenocles

        I suppose he could always do nothing if the concept so offends you.

      • sd

        Extort: to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power.  Clicking on a “like” button is now extortion?  The last time I chose to log on to facebook and read a post, I didn’t notice anyone holding a gun to my head threatening me to click on the “like” button.  When companies earn a profit and are then able to help another person with a hand up (or a meal on a plate) it’s their business why they choose to do it, even if you don’t agree with their reasoning.  No one is forcing you to purchase Street King energy drinks to help the people of Africa.  Find an organization or company that meets your personal needs and send them your “50 cents” to send to the people of Africa.  But don’t call people who are contributing how they are comfortable, idiots.  He is raising much more than money.  He is raising awareness among his fan base to the plights of those suffering in Africa.

    • Richard

      Capitalism doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum. It would be economically efficient for me to reinstate slavery, to threaten debtors with murder to get them to pay, or to ransom starving children for a marketing exercise. 

      Fortunately, capitalism is not a license to do anything to get ahead, regardless of moral boundaries. It’s practiced in a social universe with specific (occasionally anticapitalist) ideas about the common good. Whatever else we may disagree with in terms of ethics, I think you would find wide agreement that withholding meals from starving kids as a marketing ploy is a bad thing.

  • Abbie

    This article is well-researched, Rich – nice work! I especially like this line –  
    “Further, though, the TOMS campaign — like the million shirts — misses the fundamental point that not having a pair of shoes (or a shirt, christmas toy, etc.) is not a problem about not having shoes. It’s a problem of poverty.”

    • Richard

      That distinction between helping the symptoms of poverty and addressing the overall system that makes it possible really is fundamental to making a difference. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Zizek link in the piece, I would recommend it – it’s deeply relevant :)

  • http://www.beyondgoodintentions.com/ Tori Hogan

    Excellent article, Richard! All true from my experience. The sad part is that these seven points are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the slew of problems we see in international aid.

    I’m grateful that you are sharing this information with such candor. It’s time that the donor community got called out on their often ill-conceived and inappropriate ideas to “save the world.” Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to change the mindsets of donors, though– whoever has the money holds the power. I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of bad aid ideas out there until we find a way to hold the donors responsible for their “good intentions” gone bad.

    Have you ever heard of any recipient communities standing up against major donors like USAID or TOMS and refusing their “goodwill”? I’d be curious to hear about i!

    • Richard

      I seem to recall stories about places like Zimbabwe refusing grain from USAID, though that is less on the grounds of noble principle, than because they seem to delight in punishing the population. Beyond that, I haven’t actually. Those would make for really interesting stories.

    • connergo

      Cuba has been IMF and World Bank-free for almost 5 decades. USAID finances “democracy building” programs in Miami (read: exiles – some proven and self-proclaimed terrorists – with an axe to grind) to try and force regime change in Cuba. Decades of this type of activity (what used to be covert ops in the old Cold War days!) have failed. Alan Gross is a subcontractor in the employ of USAID who smuggled illegal communication and computer equipment into Cuba and is now serving a 15 year jail sentence in Cuba as a result.

  • Namita

    Come on,  nothing comes close to the World Bank’s policy forcing poor people to pay user fees for health services.  See here http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/main?pagePK=64193027&piPK=64187937&theSitePK=523679&menuPK=64187510&searchMenuPK=64187283&theSitePK=523679&entityID=000178830_98101903430786&searchMenuPK=64187283&theSitePK=523679

    This policy has cost the lives of millions and believe it or not the people behind this scandal are still working in development.   http://www.resultsfordevelopment.org/whoweare/board They should be in jail.

    • Richard

      Thanks for sharing this! I had actually put ‘structural adjustment’ in the original line-up, to be cheeky, but felt there was more than enough to argue about without looking at some of the biggest poorly-conceived policies of all.

  • KM

    So true! Good intentions do not
    always translate into good results.


    I think a potentially eighth worst
    international aid idea are religious groups that use aid to win converts. I
    have seen churches and cults in Latin America that pull frightening
    bait-and-switch tactics to lure people to meetings. In one instance, after a
    guy rapped about Heavenly Father in English to a group of culturally and
    linguistically confused Mayans, the cult raffled off flat-screen TVs in
    exchange for membership into their organization. Afterwards, an indigenous man
    told me he was insulted that the religious group came under false pretenses,
    and he felt that the raffle was condescending.


    I can also think of a church from
    Kansas City that founded and financially supported a local Guatemalan school
    that church patrons *thought* was helping the poorest, but in fact charged tuition
    fees over eight times as much as the public school, and thus became the
    institute for wealthy children in town. The Americans subsidized an incredible
    education for people who already had the resources to pay for it.


    That said, not all religious groups
    have a proselytizing motive, but many prey/pray on people’s poverty to get them
    to join their ranks.

    • Richard

      That reminds me of a group of missionaries who went to Haiti and were arrested on the border for trying to smuggle a busload of ‘orphans’ out of the country who turned out to have parents. Besides the fact that even kidnapping orphans is not OK.

      That said, this brand of stupidity is not limited to the religious groups only. I suspect they are just the majority of the sample group in aid work :)

  • http://project7100365.wordpress.com/ Kathleen

    And then there’s the fact that people don’t like to donate to causes that don’t “show a before and after”.  Much of what is needed is in the software, paying teachers, creating jobs, teaching people skills.

    • Boomz4

      Yeah and graphs and charts that take 10-20 years of follow up evaluation to produce aren’t particularly interesting to most people unfortunately.

  • Hydrabadchik

    For 2 or 3 years now, I’ve been reading different article critiquing the impact of legitimate and well intentioned charities and helping organizations – esp when this is happening internationally/ cross-culturally.

    That I’m still learning with each essay/ article/ blog post makes me imagine there could be some use to consultancy/ courses/ or maybe a documentary on this topic.

    • Kelsey

      Would be interested to read your blog- could you share the link?

  • Kelsey

    Thank you for this.  I’d be interested to hear the author’s input/analysis of the group Invisible Children.

    • Richard

      My gut reaction, from what I know about the group, is that they have largely been a positive force for Gulu and Northern Uganda in general. Admittedly, the initial documentary made me cringe with all the ‘idiot westerner goes to Ahfreeka’ video diaries, but in the end, I think the organisation did well to bring what was happening there to the attention of the rest of the world. 

      From what I know of them (and I welcome correction here), the group works pretty closely with groups actually in Gulu and surrounds on projects that are not simply dictated from somewhere in the states. Plus, their focus on advocacy/awareness means that a bunch of people who would otherwise think that Northern Uganda was still a bloody warzone are able to learn different. That in turn, I suspect, means that a number of smaller NGOs and donor funding gets directed at somewhere that might otherwise have been forgotten.

      Are they perfect? I doubt it, and have questions about how much of a threat the LRA actually is these days, and of the methodology used in identifying LRA attacks on their LRA crisis tracker site. But they *do* seem to be fairly self-reflexive, and pay attention to the facts of the place they are trying to help. More than very many others.

      What are your thoughts Kelsey?

      • Kelsey

        I am going to start by saying my opinion has improved a lot over the last year, while there are still gimmicks that strike me as rather exploitive, overall I think they’ve cleaned up and I have much less frustration with this org. now.  I got involved with advocating pretty early on, slept outside for ‘Displace Me’ and in 2009 went to Uganda for the first time (with a entirely separate NGO)- I’ve been living in between the U.S. and Southeastern Uganda for a little over 2 years now- Through living and working there I’ve caught extremely VARYING opinions/analysis of the org. From foreigners and Ugandans alike. While I don’t anyone would claim they haven’t helped or achieved global attention about Kony/LRA, I think there are a lot of things that could have and should have been handled differently (what NGO can’t we say that for, though?)  

        One of my biggest concerns in the beginning was that while during their filming there was obviously still conflict in Northern Uganda, with the release and major attention given to the documentary- the war in Uganda was over-  Kony had moved elsewhere.  In researching before my travel to Uganda for the first time (nearly 3 years ago now, WOW), I still thought that Northern Uganda was unsafe- That there were still attacks.  I didn’t see a major shift in their campaign until much later on to address that the conflict was primarily in Congo now.  There should be a disclaimer (maybe there is now) to address how much the situation has changed.

        Another major problem was in their missions statement, which read in 2008:
        Invisible Children is a social, political and global movement using the transformative power of story to change lives. By inspiring youth culture to value creativity, idealism and sacrifice, the movement fuels the most effective, adaptable and innovative programs in the world.That missions statement (in my opinion) painted IC as doing a lot for the Ugandan people directly, not just through advocacy.  When you look at their budget/expense breakdown (which is accessible via their website) the amount of money seen by the programs on the ground in Uganda to help people impacted by the war is very small in comparison to everything else.  They did end up changing their mission statement (a big reason I’ve become more neutral toward IC).  But I can’t help but think about how many young people (including myself) were misguided as to what their money was actually going toward- not that money for advocacy isn’t important.  It is, but so is transparency.Lastly-on the exploitive end- more recently IC has been doing this thing where the 25 people who raise the most money for their org. get flown to Uganda- all expenses paid.  You live in Africa so you know how expensive that is!  All expenses paid for 25 people to spend a week touring Northern Uganda in what I can only imagine manifested as at some level as poverty tourism.  I don’t know if I can be okay with a “sweepstakes” model to motivate our nation’s youth to care about people’s suffering across the world.Also- I’ve been told IC brings ex-child soldiers over to the U.S. on ‘speaking tours’ where they share their most vulnerable stories with complete strangers.  For shock value?  To raise funds.  I get the need for awareness and for people in the global community to get what’s going on- but there is a fine line to walk so as to not exploit the pain and suffering of the very people we’ve set out to ‘save’ or ‘help’ or whatever.These are purely my thoughts and perceptions of this NGO.  Like I said, overall I am mostly neutral, and I feel they’ve done a lot to communicate the shift in conflict and the fact that they are primarily a group of advocates.  I just was curious (since I looked at your blog and saw you visited Northern Uganda) to hear your thoughts/analysis of how ethical IC has been.  Thanks for your observations!

        • Kelsey

          Sorry for the poor grammar/ structure of that- I wrote it on my ‘smartphone” that just so happens to make me look less-than-smart.

          • Richard

            On your smartphone? That’s damn impressive.

            I agree with all the points you’ve raised here actually. :) IC fascinates me (I  am busy with an MA in media studies at present) as an example of an NGO whose most valuable contribution is constructing a story of a place, which then makes certain actions possible (and limits others). The narrative of ‘Northern Uganda is a giant warzone’ was useful in the early days perhaps for the attention it brought, and the investment in development by various NGOs that might otherwise have not been involved. 

            But at the same time, when reality outgrows that story (as happened some years after the LRA’s departure) and the narrative itself doesn’t change, then it can trap the place. I am also amazed at how many people  still think of places like Gulu as being fraught with violence and deeply unsafe to visit. Reality is anything but. At that point, the story becomes deeply problematic. 

            The same dynamic may actually be at play in parts of the Congo too (there is a great overview of this idea at Texas In Africa’s blog – http://texasinafrica.blogspot.com/2012/02/recommended-reading-autesserres.html)

            I am partial to the idea that the stories we strengthen about areas ultimately shape what solutions we can come up with (because they shape what we think the problem is).  Journalists are one contribution to this effect, but so too are advocacy groups that push dramatic stories of places in order to raise awareness/funds. 

            I absolutely agree that if the stories that advocacy groups like IC tell about the place don’t keep pace, they can interfere with how and where we try and help. 

            To the latter criticism, I am also uncomfortable with poverty tourism. God knows South Africa specialises in township tourism, where people get packed on a bus with expensive camera gear to go and take photos of the locals in the shacklands. It’s awkward and not well enough thought through at all. I have seen a move in some places lately to try to make these trips less about narcissistic gawping and more about actually getting the visitors to connect with the people in the area (using their services, visiting their shops, overnighting in accommodation they provide, volunteering, or otherwise undermining the power relations of the scenario). Those sort of changes might go some way to improving the ethics of the visits, but you will always run up against the question of “would it not be more efficient to send the money and keep the volunteers at home?”. In which case you can ask in reply whether the volunteers would have raised as much money as they did without the prize of a trip. It’s very tricksy. 

            Equally, you raise excellent questions as to the ethics of (essentially) exploiting the past trauma of people from places like N Uganda for research/journalism/advocacy/. Rather than make a long reply even longer, I would point you here (http://chrisblattman.com/2008/03/10/so-you-want-to-go-to-a-post-war-zone/) and say that I agree with the advice here. He raises some excellent questions that I really wish more people would ask before going out for postconflict hi-jinks.

            Phew. Sorry for the length!

          • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

            Thank you, Richard- I will check out both of those links.  I’m working on a thesis for a paper on neocolonialism in OVC care in Africa (namely through institutionalization and international adoption).  What you write on is really interesting and insightful.  Thank you for stepping out and challenging the unethical aid models- it will anger many of the staunch supporters but my hope is that rather than completely tuning you out it would at the least spark conversation and get people thinking about how even many of our well-meaning actions can actually perpetuate oppressive ideologies, limiting true social justice (movement  out poverty).

          • John Rudolph Beaton

            Hi Richard and Kelsey,

            First off, love the article. Well written and I definitely agree with the points made. I was scrolling through the comments when I came across y’all’s discussion and felt like I should contribute.

            My name is John Beaton and I am a Crisis Tracker Project Developer for Invisible Children. I have been working on the LRA Crisis Tracker since it’s infancy over a year ago and I have spent countless hours working within our database in order to make the Crisis Tracker as comprehensive, effective, and informative as possible.  Trust me when I say that is no easy task. I shudder to think how many gray hairs the project has given me. I tell y’all this because I am genuinely interested in learning in what ways you think we could improve our methodology. We have built the Crisis Tracker into the tool it is today because we asked everyone who would listen for advice when we were creating it. So if either of you, or anyone else who reads this post, has any questions, concerns, or ideas regarding the Crisis Tracker, please feel free to e-mail me at jbeaton@invisiblechildren.com.

            I fear I won’t cover every point y’all brought up in your extensive previous posts, but I will do my best. If I don’t cover a concern, please point that out to me and I will address it. I say this because Invisible Children is an organization I truly believe in, and I consider myself a very critical and skeptical person when it comes to the NGO world.

            Beyond my current work on the Crisis Tracker, I also spent a 6 months on the road for Invisible Children on two different “speaking tours.” On one of those tours, I had the privilege of traveling with Lilian and Benna, both Ugandan and both affected by the LRA. Lilian’s parents died as a result of the intensely negative changes the LRA brought the northern Uganda, both direct and indirect. I know that y’all are both well informed on the conflict both past and present so I will spare you the story. Having toured with Lilian, who I consider a dear friend, and met with many, many other Ugandans who come to the States to advocate for their brothers and sisters back in Uganda, I can safely say that there is no level of exploitation going on here. These Ugandans are choosing to leave their friends and family to travel the States for 3-4 months. They actually have to go through a rigorous application process, just like the American speakers do.

            As for how we spend our money, the last time I checked I believe we spent roughly 83% of our funds on our programs and awareness. Slightly more than half of that 83% was spent on programs and the remaining slightly  less than half was spent on awareness. 13% goes toward overhead. Check any other NGO and you will see that our numbers tend to be on the better side of  how little of our budget we spend on overhead. If you disagree with how much we spend on awareness, than we will have to just agree to disagree. We believe that in order to succeed in bringing about an end to the LRA and to allow our sustainable programs to thrive, the world must be aware of what the LRA is doing and what Invisible Children is doing to counter the LRA’s effects.

            Lastly, (and again, let me know if I missed any points) I traveled to Uganda for 10 days through Invisible Children. While it was not one of the all-expense paid trips that y’all mentioned, it was the same trip that the trip winners go on. I am glad that y’all are aware of poverty tourism and keep a critical eye out for it, but as someone who has been on the trip, this is NOT poverty tourism. During our time in Uganda, most of  which was spent in northern Uganda, specifically Gulu, the group I was with went to visit all of IC’s various programs throughout the region. We visited schools being rebuilt and talked with students, we sat in on 2 hour microloans meeting in a village near Koro, we ate and talked with locals in Awere and spent the night in their village, we spent entire days 1 on 1 with Ugandan mentors as they traveled to visit the families of students who are in IC’s scholarship programs… in short, this was a visit to connect with the people that we had been working hard for for many months or years and to see how they were helping themselves out of the situation the LRA put them in. This trip was not about walking around and feeling sorry for the poor Ugandans. This trip was about getting to know Ugandans who are picking themselves up and rebuilding their own future. It was an eye opening and humbling experience.

            I will try to check back on this blog for replies, but the best way to reach me his by e-mail. Again, any questions or concerns about IC or the Crisis Tracker, I would love to from y’all. Especially in regards to the Crisis Tracker. 

            Thanks for taking the time read this and thank you for writing this great article.


            John Beaton
            Crisis Tracker Project Developer
            Invisible Children, Inc. http://www.invisiblechildren.com http://www.lracrisistracker.com

          • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

            Hey John- Thank you for taking the time to write! Hope you have enjoyed your visits to the region and that it has truly helped in furthering your passion and desire to develop the Crisis Tracker into something that is or will be extremely beneficial in protecting the Congolese people. 

            However, I think I’ll have to pull the “agree to disagree” card on most of the points you’ve made- I’ve heard them made before but you’ve done it way more respectfully/less attacking than some in the past, so thank you for that! 

             I know organizations who have coerced Ugandans to cry in their promo videos to gain more support/pity, and the Ugandans did so willingly! Why?  They were benefiting from their program of course.  Here we have a- ‘If you let us exploit you, you’ll benefit from our services.’- a very interesting power relationship, huh?   While I am not accusing IC of that (because I have no idea how the Ugandan youth are chosen to come over to the U.S.) I am only stating that exploitative behavior can be more covert than I think we realize.  I’m just as likely to fall into that to help my organization make more money- so I’m not on my high horse about this, just saying it’s something that concerns me and should concern others.  Poverty tourism is relative to the audience being ‘toured’- If Ugandans don’t feel exploited in the process, I’d say awesome, keep on!  BUT I think we forget that most Ugandans know how much it costs for a plane ticket- they know when they see 25 mzungus snapping their photos that it cost them each more than most make in a year to fly over and do so. I’m also not aware of what positive/sustainable impact a visit that short can have on the target population beyond a sort of “tour” of the programs like you mentioned.  It’s just wild that supporters and advocates are awarded with free trips nowadays that around to at least $50,000.  

            I also want to say that overall I think IC has done an amazing thing at capturing the attention of the global community, I know my critique overshadows any of my positive opinions of your organization, and I’m sorry that always has to be the case.  I just think it important to wrestle with and talk about the things that need changing, just as we celebrate the really awesome things we are a part of accomplishing.  And who knows, maybe one day you can call me out and question the approach/ program model we are currently implementing for OVC and at-risk families in Uganda.

            Again, thanks for responding and offering your insight!

          • John Rudolph Beaton

            Hi Kelsey,

            I’ll attempt to respond to each of your points in order. For the sake of brevity, I will just say  now that I appreciate the kind things you have said about IC. Now, onto the critiques…
            I know organizations, as well, that use exploitative and coercive measures to bring speakers to the US. I will refrain from mentioning them by name. You may not be accusing IC of such heinous activities, but you are heavily implying it. I want to say this emphatically and clearly: Invisible Children does not exploit, intentionally or unintentionally, the Ugandan speakers who choose to come to the US. Whether or not these speakers went on tour across the US would NEVER affect what their participation if any of our programs. Period. I apologize for the strong wording, but I feel very strongly about this. I agree that the issue, as a whole, is concerning and should concern others. But it is not happening at IC.As for the trips to Uganda, your math pretty accurate from what I can tell. $50,000 is a good estimate for the most recent trip cost, out of $1,700,000 raised. That’s 3% of the total funds raised for that one campaign. I do not have the statistics, but while I believe that people should help causes for the sake of the cause, incentives do help. I wonder if not offering any trip at all would have negatively affected the fundraising by more than $50,000. I can’t know for sure, but I think it would have.But talking about money is cold. And I think your bigger concern (rightfully so) is the effect the trips have on the local Ugandans. I know IC goes to painstaking lengths to explain proper etiquette while traveling. We are forbidden from taking any pictures of anyone without asking for their permission first. The main idea behind how one should act on the trip is: If you wouldn’t do it in the States, you shouldn’t do it here. For example, it’s not okay to take pictures of people’s children without permission in the US. Why should it be okay in Uganda? It’s not and those who go on the trip are told that. That is one example of the many precautions IC takes when bringing people into northern Uganda.I’m a bit confused by your use of “target population” in your point about the positive impact these short trips can have. The positive impact on those who are traveling to Uganda are immense. It is one thing to fundraise for years to rebuild a school. It is quite another to visit that school and meet students and teachers there. I see these trips as a way to bridge the cultural gap and build relationships and understanding between the two groups. The day I spent traveling on the back of Amos’ (a Ugandan mentor for students on IC’s scholarship program. Not a sponsorship program, mind you.) motorcycle was very impactful to me. I met the families of students in the program and listened  to Amos tell them about where their children were struggling in school and where they were succeeding. I think the positive impact of seeing these programs in action speaks for itself. As an aside,  when I used the word “sustainable” I was referring to our programs, not the trip. Though I fully support the trips.

            I agree that it is very important to wrestle with these issues. I just want you to know that IC is constantly wrestling with these issues, as well. I believe in IC, but my faith isn’t blind. I am critical of IC the same way I am critical of other NGO’s or TOMS.

            I worry about how skinny this thread can get…

            Please feel free to e-mail me at any time in the future, as well.


  • Mary

    Best article I’ve read on Matador in a really long time. Spot-on, sad and almost laughable at the same time.

  • Beth

    I read TOMS’ Giving Report (which you should, too), and I think it’s a bit unfair to criticize without further research. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t go into too much detail, but it does address some of your concerns. According to the Report, they work with other chartiable organizations to insure that providing shoes would not hurt the local economy. TOMS isn’t blindly choosing recipients–the shoes are a part of a larger, more holistic effort, designed by their partner charitable organizations (I wish they gave a list of their partners, so we could better evaluate). Also, the criticism of “Africans need jobs! Why are you producing shoes in China and then shipping them to Africa?” is just bad economics. TOMS is likely giving shoes in communities that could not develop a comparative advantage in shoe production, but instead could develop other better economies. Just like dumping hurts local economies, dictating what economy someone should develop is bad international aid.

    • Richard

      I just read the report now – thanks very much for pointing me to it! I absolutely appreciate the effort they have gone to in ensuring things like not interrupting local cobblers, and making sure shoes are actually needed in the community. Also, the very fact of producing a report is great. Even if you aren’t perfect, being transparent is the critical step in ensuring that you can always solicit feedback and improve where needed.

      That said, while I am happy to back off the worst of the microeconomic critique, I  still think that shoelessness is caused by poverty, and that properly effective assistance would be assistance that allowed parents the opportunity to buy shoes  (and other things) for their families, rather than being given shoes but having all other economic circumstances remaining the same. Particularly when it would certainly be *possible* for TOMS to spend money on creating economic opportunities, rather than producing a shoe surplus to give out to the shoeless. “Buy-one-donate-to-economic-development” is just a much less sexy proposition though.

      I also still stand behind the idea that these places are ultimately as poor as they are because of the way the economic order works (see the Zizek piece at http://matadornetwork.com/change/zizek-says-your-donations-to-charity-are-hypocritical/), and that donating shoes merely serves to maintain that inequality. The fact that TOMS are not produced in the States, and that the shoes are made elsewhere precisely because that ‘elsewhere’ is cheaper, is evidence that – on the larger scale – TOMS is as complicit in perpetuating inequality as Apple, Starbucks or anyone else.

      • http://www.annandarayata.com/ Lara

        I agree with you Richard.  Have you heard of Oliberté  http://www.oliberte.com/  A really great Canadian shoe company making stylish shoes in Africa with African sourced materials

      • Bec

        Sorry Beth but I have seen first hand what “partnering with local organizations” means and its not good. Basically it means partnering with someone that has tax exempt status in that country so they don’t have to pay customs duty getting the containers of shoes into the country and then dumping them on the unsuspecting public wiping out every shoe seller in the capital for months. Why would you buy shoes when you can get them for free.

        I think they started off with the right heart it just does nothing for the economy or the people of that nation. Instead of giving them the shoes they should use what ever money it would cost them to produce them in China or where ever they are made and spend that money producing shoes or anything for that matter in the country they want to help. It wouldn’t matter if they have a competitive advantage etc or if they got less shoes for the same money they would be creating jobs and jobs transform lives. Shoes don’t!!!

      • http://twitter.com/KelseyTimmerman KelseyTimmerman

        Richard, fascinating piece.  Machine Gun preacher!! I had never heard of that guy.  Anyhow, as a fellow critic of TOMS Shoes I hope you are ready for the onslaught of name calling heading your direction.  Fun stuff.  

      • mikesoul

        I am reminded of an NGO, which shall remain nameless, that sends volunteers to developing countries and which talks on its web page of its “proven process for ending  extreme poverty.”   I am not opposed to volunteering overseas–I’ve done it myself–but I also realize that there is a difference between aiding those who are victimized by poverty and claiming that this aid is solving the problem.  You treat a headache with aspirin because it addresses an immediate problem, but you don’t claim that aspirin cures the disease.  The problems I have seen in countries like Guatemala are linked to the presence of powerful economic oligarchs who control most of the wealth and who have historically used the power of military and paramilitary forces to prevent any serious effort at challenging their economic dominance.   None of these alleged “proven” methods address any of this.   Like I said, I do favor giving out aid and I think that volunteers can make an impact on the lives of the people they serve–but to pretend that they are solving the problem is really missing the boat.

        • Boomz4

          I think it is also important to point out that anyone wanting to volunteer in a developing country should thoroughly research different organizations, their practices and development philosophy/theories. There are a lot of feel-good organizations out there – organizations that pay for or subsidize your 2-3 week trip to Haiti to build a school, church or community centre – but make a minimal, and in some cases, detrimental, contribution to the local community.

          There are a few key things to look out for when researching organizations:
          – Expenses breakdown – what portion per dollar donation is spent on administration, marketing and other overhead costs? A well-run non-profit should never be spending more than 10% on non-program expenses.
          – Where do they purchase project materials? Are materials that can be purchased within the local community purchased there, or are they imported?
          – Do they use volunteers to supplement the local workforce, or do volunteers effectively take jobs from the local workforce who could be hired to build the school/church/community centre?
          – Is there an ulterior motive? I am personally averse to church-based NGOs. I grew up in the church and I have known several missionaries. I think it is rude and disrespectful to use “development” as an “in” to proseltize.

      • Brian

        Richard, you sort of missed the idea of Comparative Advantage Beth was talking about. You acknowledged her point, then went right back to arguing your own point, absent of the point she made.   If you can understand how the free market in which we live in works, then I think it makes TOMS and Sadler’s ideas worthwhile. I’m also curious as to how Apple and Starbucks perpetuate inequality?

        • Dean

          Brian, I think you’re missing the fact that we don’t live in in a “free market,” no matter how you would try to twist what is happening to that term.

          US and EU trade and non-trade tariffs make it nigh on impossible for African countries to compete against Western companies, who in turn, use East Asian labour to give them a comparative advantage relative to virtually anyone. 

          You would battle to justify carrying out “strategic shoe drops” (as TOMS claims to do) over a transfer of skills project to endow people with the necessary skills to develop any comparative advantage.

      • Sologirl

        The last sentence doesn’t really make sense. Producing shoes in somewhere that is ‘cheaper’ doesn’t mean perpetuating inequality; in another view it actually means creating jobs in a place where people need them more (because they are poorer, which is why wages are lower).  This is a good argument for why it is good to produce things where they are cheaper (as long as the labor standards are fair and ethical – a very key point!)  Earlier you had rightly pointed out that jobs reduce poverty. 

        The real culprits in perpetuating global poverty may not be these type of companies, but the states that are providing massive subsidies to agriculture. As you also rightly point out, these communities might not have a competitive advantage in producing shoes. In fact, they have a competitive advantage in AGRICULTURE, which is still being subsidised in developed countries to the extent of THREE TIMES the amount of global aid volumes.  ($400Bn per year according to IEA). This is the key global structural issue, in my view since it is equivalent to dumping. And it”s not even being addressed.  People seem to have forgotten about it.

        In fact, maybe aid makes us think we are doing something about poverty, when we are not addressing this trade issue. Aid can never compensate for this structural manipulation.

        I reckon TOMS won’t be causing local job losses in shoe production but it might harm local shops that stock shoes.  The only way TOMS could ensure this doesn’t happen is by making sure they target those who wouldn’t have any ability to buy shoes otherwise.

        • Boomz4

          I agree with you to a certain extent that low-paying jobs are still jobs and they are better than NO jobs, BUT the problem with many of these factory towns and villages in the developing world is that the wages paid to workers are too low to really stimulate anything of a local economy and actually plays a huge role in perpetuating a stagnant economy. In order to stimulate a local economy, the labour pool must have excess income – that means income above the minimum needed to cover food and shelter.

          Sweatshops pay so little that a family cannot sustain itself on the income of a sole factory worker – several family members must pool together their wages to make ends meet, and they do not have the excess income to spend on locally produced goods and services.

      • Jake

        Please help me understand. You are critical of TOMS because they do not create economic activities in Africa and critical of them providing economic opportunities in China (ie jobs)? So you would be against multi-national companies providing jobs in Africa as well because the labour may be cheaper there?

    • Jessie

      I like how Richard says they need jobs.  How about education?  There’s a chance that these kids are going to get a chance to walk to school now.  It’s always nice to have an educated workforce as well as a workforce.

      • Richard

        A parent with a job could buy them shoes and pay their school fees. Otherwise you are walking to a school your parents may not be able to pay for. 

        It’s a glib response, I know, but the point is that shoes treat a symptom. Broader assistance, well targeted, deals with the overall problem.

    • Skrywar86

      I would also like to add, that not having shoes can lead to disease. a persons overall health is part of poverty, healthy people can lead to less poverty. 

    • ban voluntourism


  • Corrin

    As the Director of Operations for a new US based non-profit focused on helping to raise communities out of abject poverty worldwide, I deeply appreciate this list and narrative. We are committed to innovative, sustainable solutions and believe learning from what hasn’t worked, as well as thoroughly evaluating the big picture, is key. This helps solidify our conviction. Thank you. 

    • Corrin

      ps – your replies to other posts are respectful, well thought out, and further explain the need for organizations to be thoughtful in their Aid programs (and equally important is the need for individuals to do their due diligence in programs they support!). Thank you for the time and effort you are taking to openly discuss this critical area. 

  • Rob

    A lot of what’s here seems right and it’s interesting to see it put this way. I’ve always had a problem, though, with the idea that, say, 50 Cent shouldn’t tie his aid to a marketing scheme, or that a nation’s government shouldn’t require the purchase of goods that its citizens produce as a condition of its aid. Those are the same issue, really, and what they amount to is that anybody who is giving something away has the right to put whatever conditions they want on that thing. The recipient can accept or deny the gift accordingly. And if there’s no option other than to accept it or starve, the only fair reaction the world can have is gratitude that, in that void of international charity, at least one person (or government) stepped up to help the people in question, regardless of the rules they imposed. 

    • Richard

      I feel that if you are going to commit to a philanthropic cause (or at least make the public noises of doing so), then you are in essence committing yourself to a specific principle (helping others in need), and your success in that endeavour should be measured on your efficiency in pursuing it. If you are really committed to helping others, then wasting money via spending restrictions or withholding it for a marketing ploy make a mockery of your dedication to doing good. 

      Alternately, if you are simply lying about wanting to do good (i.e. your real motivations are otherwise, and you are cloaking them in humanitarianism), then I feel that is a callous approach at best, and outright fraudulent at worst. You are, after all, sucking the support of people who believe you care about the issue.

      This all aside from the fact that those dollars that could be spent, but aren’t, translate (often quite directly) into actual human lives. Capitalism, however appealing, is not worth sacrificing people for.

      • Rob

        I get you and I appreciate what is apparently an honest commitment to do the most helpful thing possible. If only everyone looked out for each other with that kind of integrity, right? My main point is that, in lieu of donors who give without thought of return, donors who give with conditions are an acceptable second place. So, classifying them as the “worst” might be a little hyperbolic. No offense, of course. I’m a reporter, too, and if I had my way, I’d throw hyperbole around like it’s tax-payers’ money in a Mozambique Harley Davidson outlet. This article has been a good conversation starter, thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/calpinkney Cal Pinkney

    Great Post Richard – Really liked the 50 Cent address, to which a few friends of mine were discussing that it did smell a little like a cleverly “hidden in humanity extortion” mission.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

    I’m going to jump in and say how inappropriate I feel it is for people on the defense of any program model critique to throw the “what have you done/what are you doing?”- This literally has NOTHING to do with discussing the ethics of aid models.  Whether you are Mother Theresa saving the world or a bored college kid doing research- teasing out the structures and way we ‘do aid’ IS important.  That’s the only way we can learn from our mistakes and try to improve the services we offer- if not we remain static and repeat the same mistakes, and what good is that?  We need to open up this dialogue- to hear each other out, and learn from one another- while you are quick to the TOMS defense (i’m assuming you own a pair or two), maybe you’d do better to consider the structural implications of this model then just simply calling it all “BS”.  While a child having shoes IS GOOD (Jiggers are a nasty thing, and those are just some of things shoes can protect children from)-  This sort of “Doing some good is better than nothing” attitude can be detrimental in implementing successful and truly beneficial programs- programs that go beyond handouts/charity and toward true social justice for the world’s most marginalized. We shouldn’t just seek to do good, but through adequate research into evidence based/best practice models, we should seek to do the very best we can.  This is important whether you agree with the TOMS argument or not.

  • Jerry Rotten

    What about the infamous “Oil for Food”-program ?

  • concerned33

    A few good  points made about the idea of good intentions not always yielding good results, however there are some things that are way off point.

    USAID is unapologetically a tool for U.S. foreign policy and I understand the concern about this. However, you seem to applaud Save Darfur and other aid organizations as if they are neutral themselves. 
    MSF is rare in the aid world in terms of neutrality and I would even question their feelings on some issues (Israeli/Palestinian conflict ). 
    Save Darfur is an example of under-informed advocacy run amock. A black and white view of the conflict meant opportunities were missed and people suffered. Darfurians needed basic humanitarian supplies, not intervention. They didn’t need the constant attempts to label the conflict a ‘genocide’ which very easily could be argued against considering the ambiguity of race in Darfur and that  the Janjaweed were ordered to attack towns which supported rebels, not those who were considered “black”. 

    Darfur and Sudan in general is full of shades of grey and should have been treated as such. Bashir belongs in behind bars, but to illustrate the complexity of all of this his main political rival for the past decade is Hassan al-Turabi AKA the man who invited Bin Laden to Sudan in the mid-90’s and  longtime champion of Sharia Law (although he’s recently softened his stance in order to spit in Bashir’s face). Turabi is credited as the ideological influence for one of the main Dafuri rebel groups the JEM, whom literally got away with murder for years thanks to the black and white narrative presented by Save Darfur. 

    Practicality comes into play with aid and it cannot be ignored. Orgs like MSF have to be practical and not always neutral in order to help as many as they can. USAID, which is funded through US tax payers,  must be able to a show a reason beyond “good intentions” . I guess it comes down to a point of view: If you believe US foreign policy does more harm than good, you won’t support USAID. If you believe the US to summarily be a force for good in the world, you understand why USAID must have other functions in addition to humanitarianism.

  • Jessie

    Like most articles, lots of criticism and no solutions.  So there, you exposed 7 organizations.  Now, what should we do?

    • Boomz4

      I found that most of his criticisms could be followed to their logical conclusions, which were typically solutions. For example, when discussing the t-shirt drop – if you take his criticism and extrapolate it logically in your head, you come to the conclusion that the better thing to do would be to fund the development of a local, small-scale textile manufacturer.

  • Jimbo

    Toms is great. Make cheap shoes & say you’re going to give 1 pair away for each pair sold, then sell them for 4x what they should be and make a ton of money doing it.

  • Morgan

     “Shoelessness, such as it is, is a symptom of a much bigger and more complex problem. And while donating a pair of shoes helps shoelessness, it does not help poverty.” Agree agree agree agree

  • TBrown3

    some of these criticisms are pretty weak. It benefits everyone when companies use charity in their marketing. Its NOT called extortion, its called business. To somehow claim that the energy drink charity is a bad thing is foolish and idealistic.

    • John Rudolph Beaton

      No, it’s extortion AND business.

    • Erica_JS

      It does not *automatically* benefit everyone when companies use charity in their marketing.  Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t – the devil is in the details.

      In this case, 50 Cent wasn’t carrying out a social enterprise, where the proceeds from the business help finance good works.  He was doing something similar to  “matching donor” fundraising, where a major donor says he’ll match whatever amount individuals pledge during a given period of time.  The difference is that 50 was doing this not to raise additional money for the children, but to raise “Likes” on his Facebook page.  He wasn’t using his product to help the kids, he was using the kids to help his product.  That’s what’s objectionable.

      • TBrown3

        but it..still..helps..the kids..

  • kwillia


  • Maritsa

    I disagree somewhat with
    accusing 50 Cent of extortion. SO MANY COMPANIES use this method
    of philanthropy, in combination with other methods – and doesn’t it
    raise awareness and make people like they’re giving something with 50
    Cent even though they’re contributing nothing but a click?

  • Maritsa

    making food aid the same color as cluster munitions is WAY worse than ‘ransoming’ a million dollars for meals, but
    since 50 Cent will catch the eye, you put him higher on the
    list…seems a little exploitative.

    Which is interesting for a list accusing some others of being exploitative themselves.

  • veggiedude

    “If you wanted to get people shirts, it would be far more cost effective to simply commission their manufacture locally, creating a stimulus to the local textile economy in the process.”

    And then be criticised of creating a sweat shop.

  • Man

    Its always easy to criticize people for doing something they do but even though the people above might not have the best idea of how to help the poor, they at least tried to help. Dear author of that article, what did you do so far? Probably not much so you should better start thinking of you own contributions before criticizing others

    • Boomz4

      “at least they tried”

      ..sorry, but no – tried isn’t good enough and when your “trying” actually causes more harm than good, it would have been better for you to just not have done anything at all. As for your assumption that the author has not done anything to help – it is utterly baseless.

      The road to hell is paved with good intentions. All this article is doing is asking people to put a little more thought into things and do a little research before jumping on any sort of feel-good bandwagon. Be choosier about the programs, projects and organizations you donate you. If you’re working in international aid & development, consider the potential ramifications – both good and bad – that your project will have on the local community.

  • Patrick Worms

    Most stupid ideas in foreign aid. Making food aid the same colour as cluster munitions must be the very worst ever.

  • Peetah

    I can’t believe the United Nations and their long list of EPIC FAILS didn’t make this list!

  • tessrae

    Very prescient piece, Richard. I think it’s important to examine the results of aid programs rather than giving a pass for effort, as I think a lot of people do for TOMS. In light of your views about TOMS, I’m curious what you might think about the similar but different efforts of a company like Warby Parker, who with each purchase of a pair of (very inexpensive) glasses, provides funding and/or a pair of glasses to a nonprofit like VisionSpring. I think they do a few keyt hings right asa  company and would love to see them gain a higher profile. I think glasses are probably a better thing to donate in this kind of system, as they are much more difficult to produce locally and have a significant impact on a person in poverty’s ability to learn and function. Warby Parker also uses their nonprofit partners to try to train people to sell affordable eyewear in their communities. 

  • Ferdiwijaya

     Great piece. Thanks Richard!
    A few months ago I watched a movie about that machine gun preacher (I forgot the title of that movie). There is a small conversation between the preacher and a humanitarian worker about the consequences of his act, but overall the movie portraits him as heroic. I think there are a lot of people doing the same things, especially those motivated by religions (Islam, Christian, Jews, etc.).

  • Birikimo

    I wonder why everyone assumes people are poor because they do not own a pair of shoes. The weather in Africa is warm enough that shoes are not a necessity.What is important in the west might be totally useless in africa eg.microwave.

    • Peetah

      Shoes (or some kind of covering for the feet) are a necessity for public health. A variety of parasitic diseases and infections can enter the body through the feet, such as hookworm, tungiasis, and podoconiosis…

  • http://www.timandolive.com/ Tim Chan

    Dear Richard Stupart, would you write an article about the 7 best International Aid Ideas?

    • Gary

      To be honest, writing about these idea’s in very very important, I’m writing this from Lesotho, where you witness many BIG outside ideas delivered with good intention which in the end do much more damage than good. people should understand how important it is. Just because an idea sounds good to people in the FIRST (haha) world, it does not mean anything in a real world!!!

      • http://www.timandolive.com/ Tim Chan

        I’m sorry to hear that. Would you rather people in “first world” countries not help?

        • Gary

          that’s not the point, in fact if you read the article you should understand that you should think much harder. Remember the first world is loading up on ton’s of loot at the same time…We the first world takes much more out of Africa than the trinkets we give back.. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

            There’s a lot of discussion on this- on the West’s ability to maintain control of Africa through neocolonial structures/ideologies- asserting that Africa is “developing” or “less developed” helps to maintain our power and control.  There are a lot of resources there that we have interest in.  We’re  very obviously interested in the bigger aid to these countries for selfish reasons much of the time.  That plays a lot into the poor regulation/distribution, furthering corruption, I think. I’d suggest reading Moyo’s ‘Dead Aid’- While I don’t agree with her entire proposal, I think she sheds light on what many of us are trying to here.  That aid money and program models, if implemented poorly, can do more harm than good, keeping Africa in the revolving “developing” state economically.  I think it’s awesome for us to praise the good models- that’s what one should do when trying to find what non-profits/NGO’s they should be donating to- both in the U.S. and internationally.  Rightly so, we should also (and I’ve said this before), be examining poor aid models just the same- discussing why they don’t work and how they can cause more harm than good, even while trying to do good.

          • HAHAHA

            Great insight and I completely agree.

        • Mmm2313

           Again, you miss the point.  The point is not DON’T GIVE.  The point is THINK about the bigger picture before you GIVE.  Informed people should make more responsible decisions.

      • Rachel

        Honestly, Gary, that kills me. Yeah, I understand the point, but its one more pair of shoes put on a child’s foot than any complaining does. If you come up with some pant-line that builds to this status and awareness while raising the economics in Africa, go for it. You did nothing by this article but raise awareness on a different view point. Can’t you argue that Toms shed MORE awareness by their cause?  (Much more effective and generous if I might add.) But, then again, WE aren’t the ones struggling without shoes day to day so I’ll keep wearing my Toms proud and realize its just the first STEP. 

        • Lauryn

          You would have a point, Rachel, except that the article made the case that TOMS adversely affects local economies. If the only effect TOMS had on these communities was in fact “another pair of shoes on a child’s feet”, then sure, that wouldn’t be a problem, but it hinders long-term progress, which is the problem.

          People often use the analogy “Give someone a fish, or teach them to fish.” I think this analogy largely misses the mark because it assumes we know how to help these people, and that they themselves do not. I think a much more accurate way of looking at the problem is to say “Let’s see what’s polluting the pond, and help empower these people to clean up their pond, because only they really know the best way to do so.” TOMS gives people fish, and makes it harder for them to clean up their pond.

          • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

            Brilliant, Lauryn.  I’d be interested to hear your further insight on the “teach a man to fish” approach in relation to neocolonialism in aid/mission/humanitarian work.

          • Auto5734955

            How about we build pumps and generators instead of planes and tanks,  pipes and electric wires instead of rifles and bullets, hospitals and equipment instead of rocket propelled grenades an cluster bombs. If we’re going to waste our money with no return in foreign lands at least let the wasted money help instead of hurt.

          • tid

            how about we teach them to build pumps and generators?

          • NA

             Kelsey, please, just shut up.

          • Tub56099

            This is great

          • Jucedupp

             Genius retort there, mate.

          • bick

            she was too dumb to understand it the first time… hopefully she might comprehend the second time…..

          • Sophia

            They don’t because a lot of the time these kids can’t get access to new shoes their parents can’t afford it.

          • Brian

            I think another major point a part from adversely affecting local economies is the fact that we assume they need shoes. This point was lightly brought up in the article by addressing the fact that the real need is to address poverty, but after living in Nicaragua 2 years working alongside nationals in humanitarian aid and missions work I came to see not everybody even needed the Toms shoes. First off, most had at least 1 pair of shoes, they just chose to not wear them all the time to protect them. 2nd, many times, they would take the shoes and SELL them because their real need was food and shelter, not shoes. We are the ones who assume they need shoes because we can’t imagine living without them, but the truth is, we have to look at the reality of the actual needs (not perceived needs) and find a way to include nationals in the development of meeting these needs.

        • mmm2313

           Have you ever actually been outside of the first world? Shoes in developing countries are not expensive, people are not worried about  where they will get their next pair of shoes.  They are worried about where they will get work, food, medical care, etc.  All problems stemming from failing economies, which are further harmed by irresponsible aid – like TOM’s shoes.  The point of this article is to inform, not complain.  Imagine what could have been done with this aid  money if it were invested in more effective aid!

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_P476YZNFDDCFJR35QE4K56U2VU Dennis M S

          Can people eat shoes? What good are the ‘free’ shoes if you are dying of hunger and thirst… any sane person would either sale them off or trade hem in exchange for a morsel ..resulting into a cyclic situation where they still end up are foot.

          Much have rather created jobs for them by training and paying them to make their own shoes as well as shoes for sale to a global market. That would be a much better situation.. other than flooding the local market with free shoes pushing more families into joblessness and poverty (those who make local footware..like tyre or animal hide sandles from their backyards) thus destroying a vibrant cottage industry

          They dont ‘need’ your shoes they have been making their own for ages.
          This kind of superiority mentality doesn’t really help, forcing products the aren’t needed onto the local population





          • Sinae Hong

            Health, adequate nutrition, and having access to water are important necessities, and should be heavily prioritized. However, education is also another aspect to development that needs to be addressed. I don’t know if you realize that indirectly, TOMS is providing access to these children to receive an education. In countries such as Ghana, schools require children to wear the correct uniform, which includes a proper pair of closed-toe shoes (no sandals or flip flops). The students are barred from entering the classroom if they are not wearing the proper attire. Many families are unable to provide a pair of shoes every year for their growing children, which means they are denied a seat in the classroom. 

            Also, in many isolated communities, children are forced to walk the many miles to the nearest school. In some cases, the terrain and environment can be rough, and the thought of walking barefoot or in thin sandals can be a valid enough reason to not pursue the journey. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=550622185 Jake O’Toole

            Finally someone points out the purpose of TOMS. The shoes provide an education. What better way to better a country as a whole then educating the youth so they can one day better their own economy? Assuming the education is a good one of course. Do more research on a company before you turn a whole bunch of readers into haters of a company trying to help provide an education.

          • John Rudolph Beaton

            Jake, that is a pretty hefty assumption that the shoes lead to better education. The shoes might help students fit a school dress code or help them get to school, but you are assuming that the ONLY barrier these children have between them and an education is their shoelessness. I don’t believe that.

            TOMS is treating a symptom of the much larger problem that is poverty. Treating symptoms do not lead to cures. Honestly, considering the negative impact that TOMS shoes can and does have on local economies via flooding the market with free shoes, one could argue that TOMS is exacerbating poverty which leads to a lack of education. How is the shoe maker going to pay for his children’s school fees if everyone in the village was given a pair of free shoes?

          • Realistic

            You are being way to sensible! All these people like TOMS shoes “charity” because they can go on consuming and spending like normal, without really giving a damn about poor kids in Africa, but they get a badge of honor by being responsible for some poor kid getting a pair of shoes.

          • HAHAHA

            HAHAHA TOMS is educating the youth? Can we please go back to the definition of education before we make comments like these just because we are soo attached to a brand that we will convince ourselves that it never misses the mark sometimes.

          • http://www.digitalgamebreak.com/ Sein Maestro

            first Sentence. lmao Point!

        • Labamski

          Rachel, just because this article has possibly made you not feel as good about wearing your TOMS as you did before reading his article, doesn’t mean that you should attack what he’s saying. Poor aid and develoment efforts should not be allowed to hide behind ‘at least we’re doing something.
          TOMS – kids making shoes in sweatshops for other kids on the other side of the world. Doesn’t make a whole heap of sense to me.
          Apart from making western consumers feel a lot better about themselves. Not much else changes. Shoes wear out…

          • Mariana

            Best comment here. They’re giving shoes to people that have much more important needs, harming their local economy and encouraging sweatshops. I’m sorry but if TOMS really wanted to make a difference and not just use charity as marketing technique they could star by changing the source of their shoes.

        • http://usalama.wordpress.com/ Carol Jean Gallo

          Have to agree with Lauryn here; where shoes are readily available, it makes a lot more sense to buy them for kids there if they need them. Manufacturing them and shipping them from the US is not only more expensive, but puts locals out of business. Plus, I’ve seen those things. They wouldn’t last two weeks in New York City (at least on my feet), to say nothing of “the bush” or whatever. It’s great that you’re interested, and you feel compelled to be involved; the last thing I want is to imply that you shouldn’t. But use that energy to research the places and programs that interest you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions, of others and yourself.

          And keep in mind there are plenty of Americans and Europeans that ARE struggling without shoes; and stuck in a cycle of poverty and structural violence; and dealing with racism. These problems are not unique to “developing” countries.

        • Tom

          We live in a world of finite resources. If you give a man a pair of shoes he will have shoes for a day. If you teach him how to make shoes, he will have shoes for a lifetime. Stop wasting our resources.

          PS You can’t eat shoes.

          • Tom

            you all need to read Damned Nations… and all this will make sense!

        • Brad

          Without being overly critical of this article, and keeping in mind its purpose, it is MUCH easier to point of things that don’t work than things that do. That’s just the nature of development. Those in “developed” countries feel an obligation to help more? Say hello to neo-colonialism/imperialism, or SWEDOW, OR actions harmful to the country’s economy. Those in “developed” countries recognize these inefficiencies? They sit on their hands because there is no alternative presented to them.

          It’s easy to say that there needs to be improved quality of “education”, or “health”, but in reality that is too broad, too generic a suggestion to be helpful. It’d be like if a doctor were to diagnose someone as ill, and then say, “Well you have to get better!” There is no pathway to achieving the goal(s) that has been shown to be the “best” way to provide aid. So it is true that the article neglects to provide alternatives, but if there were WERE proven, efficient alternatives, wouldn’t they already be put in place?

    • Altair_blue

       probably 7 might be a really high number…

    • http://www.timandolive.com/ Tim Chan

      Being a critic is an important job. It’s healthy to challenge what people are doing and give them some perspective. But it is much much more difficult to be on the field, doing the work, trying to make a difference in the world. So for all you critics out there, I encourage you to use your creativity and critical thinking skills to make positive suggestions to these groups, or muster up the courage to go out and make a difference. 

      • HAHAHA

        Dude, sometimes the people that need saving the most are the ones that are trying to saving others. This article is educating people like you who think that by someone giving a pair of shoes or a t-shirt is actually a day of labour on a field. In fact you cannot even use a field as a metaphor for all of the ideas that are listed in this article. When you plough a field you plant a seed and you will wait quite a while for the first produce to grow and that produce will last you sometime and from that produce you will have seeds that can possibly last you a lifetime if Monsanto doesn’t come along and muscle you into a courtroom for using your own organic seeds.

        Wake up from your illusion, the reality of the so called first world countries is that their only priority is to make a profit no matter what it costs and take whatever they can from less privileged societies whenever the opportunity presents itself. Nothing wrong with wanting to make money but greed is a disease and some of these people that run these brands need to be cured and it starts with them being educated about what help and aid really is. If I can just highlight TOMS campaign, as much as they are donating a pair, it goes beyond that. A kid in Africa wears these shoes, learns the name and they are enslaved to the brand for life and possibly the entire generation. In actual fact TOMS is giving with the intention of getting more out this act in future. It’s called branding. It’s too subliminal for the disillusioned to see it’s effect.

    • Ceilidh Way

      I couldn’t agree more Tim, it seems all he’s doing is discouraging people from helping at ALL.

      • Daniel

        Richard lives and works in South Africa…(above description of author)

        So, am I the only one who read this? He is on the field, and I’m guessing much of what he wrote is from personal experience of seeing these negative effects. The first step to getting anywhere is identify what is causing the problems, then searching for solutions while removing said problems.

  • Kate

    Hey, I just wanted to say, as an American volunteer in West Africa for three years, I thought this piece you wrote was very insightful and true–especially the TOMS’ shoes thing. I was partnered with a Senegalese-run NGO working to provide basic services to homeless/begging children, most of whom don’t have shoes. I looked into TOMS’ as an option for us (to help curb some of the health problems that go with being barefoot on dirty streets) and was disappointed to learn an organization must be able to accept a minimum of 17,500 pairs of shoes to qualify for a TOMS’ donation. 17,500!! I don’t know any locally-run agencies that would have been capable of managing that volume.

    • KJ

       I think this comment actually invalidates the point in the article about Tom’s shoes.  Working with an NGO in a developing country, you must have intimate knowledge of how giving shoes will help/hurt your community.  In this case, your community would benefit from free shoes in order to curb health issues related to not having shoes and this benefit would outweigh any negative effects of putting shoe makers out of business.

      However, it does sound like Tom’s has a different issue which is it’s inability to work with smaller NGOs.

      • Kate

        The kids I was working with are a very specific population: koranic students force to beg on the street for up to ten hours a day, or Talibe. This system started out as an avenue for studnes of the Koran to learn humility but has now become a way for many of the teachers (not all, some are very dedicated to teaching the Koran) to maintain a comfortable lifestyle off the backs of children.  Unfortunately this system of exploitation is backed by the all-powerful islamic brotherhoods in Senegal, making systematic change very tricky. (There is a great HRW report on the whole system if you’re interested.) My NGO was commited to providing secondary services to the children, such as medical care and a space to wash and play…but we weren’t a lobbist or political organization trying to change the system. Whether the mission of the NGO was a good one or not is whole different disucssion.

        But, my point is: yes, having shoes would improve the quality of life of the kids to a point, but as the author of the article said shoes aren’t going to address or change any of the conditions that landed those kids without shoes in the first place.

  • Cody

    I’m a little confused.  Just because someone works in a factory for 10 cents an hour making shoes, doesn’t inherently mean that they can afford shoes.  I;m sure there are people in India who work preparing food.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t still millions of people still starving there.  And how does giving people in south east asia free tom’s impact their job status making nike’s for rich americans?  Just because they were given shoes it doesn’t in any way lessen the international demand for the products we like.  It sounds like the only form of charitable donations you support is cold hard cash.  Thats like saying…don’t give starving people food.  The problem isnt a lack of food, its a lack of money to BUY food.  Well good, but the bottom line is they are starving either way and food DOES address that direct problem if not the cause of it.  I don’t think these companies advertised that they were eradicating global poverty, simply that they were trying to do some good with a portion of their profits.  

    • Kyleigh

       I think you may have misunderstood the author’s meaning about TOMS. The issue is that shoes ARE available to purchase in most places. In poor regions, the shoes people buy are usually made relatively nearby because it is cheaper than shipping them from somewhere else. So if you give out shoes for free, the local people who make or sell shoes can’t sell them anymore because nobody will buy shoes if they are available for free. Basically, if you give out free shoes, the guy who sells shoes at the local market may no longer have a job. This isn’t about the people who make shoes to sell internationally. Most of those people live in China, not where TOMS gives out shoes. This is about people who make and sell shoes in the communities where TOMS decides to give out shoes for free.

      Also, it should be noted that TOMS doesn’t just make shoes in China, but also in Argentina and Ethiopia. TOMS identifies both of the latter countries as places where they have given a “high” volume of shoes. This doesn’t put me completely at ease with TOMS’ business model but I did find it encouraging that they are trying to make some of the shoes in the countries where they distribute them.

  • Cody

    And how is 50 cent donating money for a free click extortion?  Maybe, just maybe, they had a marketing budget for that product.  And instead of wasting that money on Ads, they allowed people to choose to follow the product on their own and donate that money to charitable causes instead.  You didn’t even have to buy the product just show support.  How is that worse than Hansen’s forcing you to buy a soda just to donate 5 cents to breast cancer research or buying shitty sugary cereal for your kids because each box top results in a donation to their school?  

    • Cody

      If he said…click my link or I will kill children, THAT would be extortion.  You should at least look up the definition of a word before you use it.  

    • nguges

      It’s worse than the examples you cited because in the case of those products, the company DOES NOT HAVE THE MONEY which it is donating before you buy the product. “Like’ing” a facebook page does not create any new money for 50 cent, and so he clearly already had the money. As you yourself said, “You didn’t even have to buy the product just show support.”

      50 cent had the money and was capable of doing some good with it. However, he made the disbursement of the aid dependent on other people doing something to better himself. Lives are at stake, and he yoked their survival to liking his page. That’s clearly extortion.

  • Mark

    Very interesting, I enjoyed the article and it was an education. Although, the writer’s critique of the Machine Gun Preacher was based on a complete misunderstanding of the LRA.

    The Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) is not a rebel faction or dissident political group but an armed roving band of rapists, child molesters, and kidnappers. They cannot be negotiated with like other more “reasonable” militant groups. Their M.O. lies in kidnapping kids and then brainwashing them and training them to be hardened killers. They travel over national boundaries and do not have any clear political or social objective. They are led by the madman, Joseph Kony, who has set up for himself a cult of personality and claims to be the spokesperson of God. This is not a group that can be defended against by simple words.

    Sam Childers took up arms because it was the necessary option in an extremely volatile situation. He did not “establish another minor militia” as the writer asserts but worked with authorities and government groups to defend vulnerable people in his region of South Sudan. I think the author of this watched the trailer of the Hollywood film and jumped to his own conclusions without doing research into the actual situation and history. Comparing Childers’ actions to Mohammed Farah Aidid is not only offensive but it is plainly ignorant.

    If he wanted to critique Childers in a way that showed he knew what he was talking about, he should have mentioned Invisible Children and the work they do rescuing people from the LRA: http://invisiblechildren.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/fiskmark Mark Fisk

    Very interesting, I enjoyed the article and it was an education. Although, the writer’s critique of the Machine Gun Preacher was based on a complete misunderstanding of the LRA.

    The Lord’s Resistance Army (or LRA) is not a rebel faction or dissident political group but an armed roving band of rapists, child molesters, and kidnappers. They cannot be negotiated with like other more “reasonable” militant groups. Their M.O. lies in kidnapping kids and then brainwashing them and training them to be hardened killers. They travel over national boundaries and do not have any clear political or social objective. They are led by the madman, Joseph Kony, who has set up for himself a cult of personality and claims to be the spokesperson of God. This is not a group that can be defended against by simple words.

    Sam Childers took up arms because it was the necessary option in an extremely volatile situation. He did not “establish another minor militia” as the writer asserts but worked with authorities and government groups to defend vulnerable people in his region of South Sudan. I think the author of this watched the trailer of the Hollywood film and jumped to his own conclusions without doing research into the actual situation and history. Comparing Childers’ actions to Mohammed Farah Aidid is not only offensive but it is plainly ignorant.

    If he wanted to critique Childers in a way that showed he knew what he was talking about, he should have mentioned Invisible Children and the work they do rescuing people from the LRA: http://invisiblechildren.com/

    • concerned33

      I’m not sure this is based on a misunderstanding of the LRA. The group did have political and social objectives at one point, but it seems to have transformed into a fight for survival by Kony following multiple joint  military operations against his group. One former LRA member recalled joining because he was indoctrinated to believe that he was fighting for the rights of the Acholi people..”but in the last year I have been surviving in
      the CAR [Central African Republic] forests protecting Kony’s wives”. So you’re assumption that this is a group of “bandits” with no goals doesn’t really hold up. 
      It’s true that it has reached a transformation point and can be considered a warlord militia more than anything else, but that’s only after multiple efforts to eradicate the group seemed to kill its ideological base and change its  strategy to operations purely to provide sustenance, but this is fairly recent. 

      Have you done your research on Sam Childers? Read Brett Keller’s piece on Foreign Policy or his own website.  There was an article in Vanity Fair that Keller cited in which the reporter with Childers writes about the man admitting he sold weapons to an armed group in the DRC (there are  no groups that can be considered “good guys” there I promise you) and many other questionable things about his operation. Couple that with the fact that SPLA officials have refuted many of his claims including his claim he was given rank in the the SPLA and I question both his credibility and his impact on the area. You might also want to research the SPLA’s illustrious history of using child soldiers. Hypocritical to be supposedly fighting to free child combatants while collaborating with a group that until very recently actively used them( and most likely still does on at least some level). 

      The answer in the region is not more guns, they have plenty. Look at the reemergence of the White Army in Jonglei State. An entity that was limited in impact traditionally because they weren’t armed to the teeth now has the capacity to kill thousands (the death toll between these raids and counterraids is getting close to that number). Arming oneself for and others for a “good cause” typically leads to problems down the road in this region, you know like arming oneself to defend the Achoili people. 

      • John Rudolph Beaton

        This is a great post. Period.

  • http://twitter.com/NinerKing21 Yousef

    I honestly did not think to much of this before I read the article as I thought any donation would be a good donation. But after reading this, it makes sense, why send a country free shirts or shoes when it’s not even a need? And a lot of other aid ideas were just plain stupid, especially the 50 cent and machine preacher ideas.

  • randybuist

    I’ve visited Kenya on six occasions in the past three years to work with a small NGO. There is a lot of truth to this article, but it also seems the author wanted to meet his article quota this week. To suggest there are not enough decent shoes in Africa rings the idiotic tone of watching one of the recent presidential debates. Seriously?

  • Jon Brown

    So, Richard, what you seem to be saying is: 1) If you can’t completely fix poverty, you shouldn’t do anything to try and help, especially if you are only treating symptoms. 2) Instead of donating useful items, corporations should just stick to throwing money at problems. 3) Corporations using gimmicks, like clicking ads, to raise awareness and drive donations from people who would not normally do anything at all. 4) Every manufacturer of every product ever used by any government should coordinate their efforts so that the incidents like the aid package/cluster munitions one, which would obviously have been crafted by completely different companies with no connection whatsoever, is not repeated? Is all the above correct, or am I reading you wrong here?

    • Boomz4

      So, Jon, what you seem to be saying is “your exposure of the complexities of development and criticism of some of the failed attempts makes me uncomfortable because now I have to feel bad about my slacktive approach to helping the third world so instead of learning from the criticisms you present, I am going to throw my hands up in the air and just not do anything at all.”

      He’s not saying don’t bother doing anything – he’s saying be more critical about the projects, programs and organizations that you choose to support or be a part of. He’s saying don’t get sucked in by feel-good campaigns that may actually do more harm than good.

  • Guest

    While Fifty Cent’s Street King energy drink strategy may not be the best aid idea ever, there is actually a logic at work and a potentially creative merging of advertising promotion and fund-raising for philanthropy, which is that Street King will presumably sell a heck of a lot more drinks if a million people visit the drink’s FB site and “Like” it — and it is those additional sales that will provide the funding for the free meals in Somalia.    You could make the same criticism of (Project)RED, which works with various companies to raise money for the Global Fund — i.e. you could argue that if those companies had money to give to the Fund they should just do it — except that the sale of these specific (RED) items actually increases the funds available to give to the Fund.   This is a whole new world of social entrepreneurship and market-based philanthropic fund-raising, and there is much to criticize, but I don’t think it’s fair to condemn the companies because they are assumed to have the money in hand already.  

    • Zzerks

      You make a big leap from liking a Facebook page to buying the product. Got any statics to share with us on how often that happens?

      • HarMone

        It’s not such a big leap because it’s the purpose of the fb page in the first place. Would you also argue that it’s a big leap between watching a commercial and buying the product? I am sure Street King could provide you with a rough number of change in sales per like. And it is exactly how this kind of marketing works. The aid is financed through expectations in change of sales.

  • PSB

    Shoes or not shoes
    I do agree with most of Richard s comments and am delighted to notice that he always mentioned words like if needed, which is debatable. Having shoes seems to be a real necessity to western culture, but let me tell you guys that in many cultures, it is not at all.
    I have been in many islands in the pacific, and have been surprised to notice that people often do not wear shoes, not because they cannot afford them, but because they just don t feel the need for shoes. People freely roam around in the streets barefoot and that is no problem to anyone.
    Even those who work and feel compelled to have shoes take them off as soon as they get into their offices and roam around barefoot.
    Just to say that we should not assume that shoelessness is necessarily a sign of poverty, it is sometimes a choice. For those who are actually too poor to afford shoes, giving shoes is of no help, as the most common fate of those donated shoes is to be sold for more necessary stuff which, by the way, for some people, can just be a bottle of beer…

  • Eating_wheaties

    Whether their strategies are right or wrong, these individuals and agencies are taking action and illuminating issues.  Kindness and humanness and ingenuity should be exemplified, not trash talked. Don’t judge TOMS, judge those who have the wealth and power to make real change. I didn’t read anything about missionairies and church groups who go to Africa or South America to dig wells, build schools, and convert the local communities.   

  • Global Nomad

    Actually USAID is no longer “tied” to the use of American products and services…which is actually frustrating at a time when we are trying to boost U.S. exports.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Cimone/512694865 Matthew Cimone

    Totally got stuck in the tied aid debacle. When trying to purchase a vehicle for our project, it had to be American;  trucks that we couldn’t get a single part for in West Africa. We bought a Nissan instead. The result. USAID closed down our entire project. Probably not the smartest move on our part in retrospect; going “rogue” and all. But an example of how ridiculous the aid market is.


  • Therawdawg

    this post fully sucks, i guess all these people that have tryed to make a business a little more then just making millions and the fact that they have offered back millions into helping where they can is awesome, sorry when is the last time that you spend 10 million on food for the needed.
    ya maybe they dont go about it in the best way but at least they are doing somthing and that to say more then 99% of the world who sits back and does nothing.
    with post like this i guess companies will just stop supporting any cause and just build there own net worth and dont give a dang about anyone else.  worst post ever way to rip into the people who are trying to start a new way of entrepreneurship that actually focuses on others.

    • JonnyRea

      Non-emergency aid to the needy should be predicated on a desire to assist them in creating an infrastructure by which they can continue and prosper independently.  Help them help themselves, so to speak.  Good intentions do not always produce good results and both must be critically examined because good intentions can often produce *opposite* results.  They are called “unintended consequences”.  It is the “give a man a fish…” proverb.  Giving people free food does not solve a problem, it simply satiates people for another day.  The focus should be on teaching people to make their own food.  Giving people free shoes does only that.  It was done with good intentions, but what happens to the man down the street who is making shoes?  Now his product is rendered meaningless and the economy of the region suffers.  Charitable organizations should have one operational goal:  to run themselves out of business by allowing the people they assist do things for themselves.

  • Realist

    All government’s use development aid as a foreign policy tool. US, to Kuwait to Japan to China. In an ‘ideal’ world this shouldn’t happen, but we do not and will not live in an ideal world, deal with it. Stop complaining, and yes, let’s showcase the best 7 aid ideas- positive change, not silly idealism!

  • Sbacko

    Definitely a little off-based in my opinion. Yes Mr. Stupart, donating millions of TOMS shoes is a HORRIBLE aid idea. How dare they give shoes to those who don’t have them while NOT giving them everything else you would like them to have. What horrible human beings.

    If TOMS were about food, they would claim to be about food. If they were about medical care, we would hear about it. Fact is, THEY’RE NOT. They supply shoes to those who don’t have them. ONLY in America do we criticize those who give because they dont’ give EXACTLY what WE think is most beneficial. Instead of writing articles criticizing, Richard, you should be building groups up who give (yes, like TOMS).  Giving shouldn’t have a ranking, but it should have our support.

    • John Rudolph Beaton

      Except sometimes, Sbacko, giving actually does more harm than good. Giving without thought has terrible consequences, and Mr. Stupart has outlined some of them succinctly and correctly.

      I wish the world we lived in was as simple has “giving is good,” but that is just not true. We must think critically about all possible impacts of aid.  Giving food earthquake victims in Haiti immediately after the fact is the right call, because that is what is needed for them to survive. However, if you keep giving food for years and years after the fact, you create dependence. People will stop farming for their own food and will instead just rely on handouts. This is a fact. It has happened in many places before.

      While I don’t agree with every stated in this book, I would recommend reading “Dead Aid” by Dambisa Moyo.

      • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

        We seem to agree on a lot of this, John.  We even both suggested Moyo stating we don’t agree with it in its entirety. I didn’t scroll down to this comment and I wrote a similar one above yesterday. 

        • John Rudolph Beaton

          I saw that! I was wondering if you had read my comment or not. By the way, I’ve received your e-mail and will get to it soon. I want to give it the time it deserves, but feel like I probably shouldn’t take that time at work…

          • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

            No worries at all.  You really don’t need to, I know you must be busy.  Developing/managing the Crisis Tracker is more important than you answering my questions. I’ve just honestly appreciated the respectful exchange, really.  I can tell through your comments on here that you stand behind IC and desire to not just ‘settle’  but deliver the best services possible.  So encouraging to see this in the NGO world-  Sadly, there’s not enough of it over there. We can only hope for it to happen more through opening the kind of conversation Richard did here.

      • the real

        sadly, the real agenda in Haiti was to have the US military crowd out local powers like Cuba who were much better positioned to help do their proximity from reaching Haiti and helping. The US people donated gads of money the US military invaded and much of the food and supplies sat at the airport in a beareaucratic conundrum while the Cubans and other regional powers were kept at bay.

    • Boomz4

      Actions should be lauded and/or criticized on their merits – not their intentions.

      “Giving” is not always the right thing to do.

      Sometimes we are giving the wrong thing – we’re simply flooding a market with items they don’t need or otherwise could have and would have purchased locally. This is bad for the local economy.

      Sometimes, our giving leads to dependence. Imagine a parent of a 25 year old who still lives at home and has all of their living costs covered by their parents. This “kid” has no need to improve their employability or to continually work on their professional development because their immediate needs are always met. But what happens when this “kid” is 40 years old and 15 years behind his or her peers in terms of professional development? They either continue to be dependent on their parents or they suddenly find themselves unable to cover their cost of living. What happens when the bank of mom and dad dries up? Or decides one day they’re done with paying for everything? Or they die? Now you’ve got one more person who is low-skill, low-income and high-need. All because Mom and Dad thought they were doing the right thing by “giving” their kid everything they needed well past the time when parents should be giving their kids much of anything at all.

  • Sarah

    Not a bad article, but lacks some research with regard to the criticism of TOMS. It is true that donating “stuff” can have negative effects on the economy, but in the case of TOMS shoes those donations go well beyond addressing shoelessness. TOMS shoes are for children, often ones who cannot attend school without shoes. I don’t think I need to mention the effects of an uneducated population!

  • Celine

    can we add Operation Christmas child to the list? Great intentions – really bad idea. What a waist of money that was! Sending boxes (mostly crap – trust me) all the way from America to Africa is a complete waist of money.  In America – maybe, we want every child to open a present on Christmas day.  in  Africa, it is a ridiculous concept. Most of the items sent end up on the local market the next day. The kids end up with nothing. I know because I participated in the project and saw the damage, the waist of time and money and the delusion. But it is great media coverage for the organization – A child smiling with a shoes box in his hand. Never again.

    • Megan

      great point.  And even if the kids did end up keeping the gifts what good is a sheet of stickers if you didn’t eat last night? 

    • M.J.

      You are correct. This is PR for Samaritan’s Purse. I know some missionaries in Mexico who have taken part in this. They said Samaritan’s purse charged their church $2 per box. And before a child could receive a box, he/she had to sit through a presentation of the gospel. The missionaries said the boxes frequently ended up for sale in the local street markets.

  • AP

    Notice that just about all bad international aid ideas take place in the African continent, which is generally the guinea pig for all aid projects, while poor countries in Asia and Latin America are able to zoom ahead without being pulled into this crap.

    • Boomz4

      It certainly doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the fact that Africans look the least like white people. That would be absurd……..

  • Felicity Electric

    I really liked your article and hope you write more like it ^^

  • Jeff

    For the sake of clarity, the country in #3 is South Sudan, not Southern Sudan.  Residents of the country take the different between the former and the latter very seriously, as they fought for far too long to officially make the transition.  It is more than just semantics.  

    Speaking of semantics, there seems to be some confusion in this article of the difference between “aid” and “development.”  Aid is an effort to preserve lives in emergency situations (natural disasters, famines, wars, etc.), and development is an effort to achieve long-term quality of life objectives.  Both types of investment are discussed in this article under the title of aid, so I just wanted to make sure that was out there for all readers.I also want to say that I understand where the author is coming from, and I agree that there have been catastrophic and disastrous failures in this space.  Though the author doesn’t state it explicitly, there are tones throughout that suggest that altruism cannot be connected with capitalism or foreign policy on any level.  This, too, in my opinion, will lead to catastrophic failure.  There are and should be mutually beneficial development relationships.  This is what the emerging industry of impact investing, social enterprise, or whatever else you want to call it is all about.  If we are going to assert that the only way for “those less fortunate” to gain is by “us more fortunate” to lose or give up something, we will see very slow or no progress.  Not only that, but it will further the already unfortunate chasm between the two groups.    There is no arguing that intentionally taking advantage of others is wrong, regardless of who is taking advantage of who and in what context.  But, I would rather see misguided attempts to get involved lead to lessons learned and inspiration for innovation, than I would to see those with the means and desire to get involved sit on the sidelines for fear of screwing it up and being posted in an article like this.  It is usually fairly easy to figure out the difference between the two approaches. And I do understand that it very well might be easier for me to say this because the lives lost or ruined as a result of those lessons learned are often not my own family or friends.  Just some food for thought, if we are all going to be honest about what is and is not responsible and admirable behavior.

    • Richard

      Thanks for picking up the South Sudan point Jeff – I’ve adjusted the naming now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/drucollie Drü Collie

    Re: Toms
    Please take a look at Sole Hope (www.SoleHope.org) who’s mission is to offer HOPE to widows, orphans and others within impoverished and forgotten communities around the world by teaching the simple trade of shoemaking which provides jobs and shoes to those in need.
    It’s more of the “teach a man to fish” approach.

  • P.V.Baiju

    It is worth an attempt so that donors would rethink their strategies, which apprently look all perfect, but end up in opposite results.

  • Lenabug13

    great article! i agree that the point is to get people to think critically, and consider or try to see what could end up causing unintended consequences.  i honestly never thought about how toms could actually be hindering local development, and good lord, made in china as well! numbers 5 and 7 are disgusting, and not at all surprising.

  • Houry

    This certainly sheds light on the problem of misplaced ‘aid’ from an informed source.
    However, let’s remember that most people, even some of those cited in the article here have their hearts in the right place- not everyone is privy to the current economic climate of these far flung places.  Most people are sending their T Shirt donation, if you will, believing they are putting something of some immediate value on the backs of those who really have nothing.  We all know this is a band-aid solution, but sometimes it’s the best we can do as individuals-to take part in a bigger campaign.  

    Good article- really shows how things meant to do right can really go wrong. 

  • Rachel

    And how many jobs did Africa gain by this article? The problem people, such as yourself, is you love to point out the flaws of things that are genuinely “good” at heart, and do nothing but criticize it after a 9-5 job and a glass of wine. I’m sorry you don’t feel like you have the “proper means” to change the world while someone with actual compassion and courage did.  And yes, you may be right. A pair of shoes to a child in Africa may not change the poverty level, but it’s proof that they aren’t forgotten by something even you sir, take for granted.  Write an article examining the REAL corruption in the world, and better yet, try and CHANGE it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

      Right, Rachel. Some very poorly thought out aid models DO in fact contribute to the REAL corruption in the world. Also well-meaning charity/handouts can actually be detrimental, depending on how it is used and structured. We must weigh the negative impact on local economies/infrastructures against the handout itself (in TOMS case, shoes). Yes, children having shoes can be a very good thing. How we structure a program in order for them to get these shoes is critical, as we are researching and understanding in the TOMS case. Dr. Cornel West stated something along the lines of “We must not mistake charity for justice” in a guest lecture he gave at the University of Washington. I always loved this. May we be angered by injustice so much so that we fight for true social justice for the world’s poor and marginalized. Pointing out flaws in program models and working on doing things differently is opening up an important dialogue- one we can gain insight from and hopefully bring about CHANGE. Imagine that!

  • Markymark

    Right so we should stop pretending that we actually care what becomes of Africa and leave it to its own devices. Honestly my life isn’t 0.001% better if some African kid gets a pair of shoes or a job so it isn’t my problem. I do not apologize for my success and anyone who thinks so in the First World can go waste 10 years of their life in the peace corps. 

    Also I am in favor of US foreign aid for the exact reasons you mentioned. It is a useful tool to keep Third World countries in line and ensure they don’t go down the Iranian path.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

      This is actually one of the worst comments I’ve read on this thread.  Neoliberalism at it’s finest.

    • John Rudolph Beaton

      Let me try to address each of your points:

      We aren’t pretending.
      It’s not about you or your life. It’s about being selfless.
      I’m glad you are successful. 
      The Peace Corps is not a waste of time.
      It’s not up to the US to keep other countries “in line.”


    • kevin mukash

      wow.. now there’s an honest man. keep them poor and they remain in line. you consider yourself successful because you are able to buy your lady the biggest diamond around that probably cost someone a limb. you have the nicest gold watch made of the mineral that some dead south african managed to pull out of a mine shaft before it collapsed over his head leaving his family unprovided for. mind you, had he made it out of that shaft, he would have received compensation to the tune of a few cents for his day’s work. the components inside your 80 inch TV came from some third world country populated with unsuccessful citizens that now have to live in refugee camps because someone decided to trade guns for nickel and zinc and tin and…(i could continue). you have no reason to give a crap because you drove in your big car to your big office and sat on your fat ass all day to make your success. Africa doesn’t need aid!! you want to help? stop meddling in what doesn’t concern you. but you don’t want to help, and you already know this, because real help will only afford those you rob every day for your success some leverage. keep them in line! ..”here, have some shoes. oh. now that your feet are cozy, could you point me to your iron deposit? its not like you will be needing what lies there anytime soon. also, here, take this gun and go get that guy that has been your neighbor all your life. i don’t like the way he is looking at your new shoes.” hey guy, do everyone a favor and F*** off!!

  • Samsonsnead

    Some of these ideas are true but slightly ridiculous and downplay the service that somone is striving to do.  Dont look a gift horse in the mouth!  If I am poor and need a pair of shoes I am happy to have a free pair of shoes;  I do not  worry about the damage to my local tactile and clothing production and critisice the person giving me the free shoes for damaging my economic infrastructure.  If you want to right an article bad mouthing somone why not start with terrorist, instead of those who, yes,  may be trying to turn a profit (as if thats a crime) and helping somone in effect (even if the help is not effective to your standards).  Your here are efforst are misfocused. 

  • Tim

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned, but the Toms shoes idea was designed to allow kids to get to school – their schools were making the kids stay home because they didn’t have shoes. Give a child an education…

  • Nakar Dukin

    I have visited Fifty’s Pages and its really like what you said, and I feel so disappointed about it. He only made 500,000+ atm and I dont think this is a good way to “help the Poors” when someone is doing Viral marketing behind this. 

    All the ideas are very logical, specially the first one, it really hits my head hard. 

  • http://www.WanderingEducators.com/ WanderingEducators

     This is pure genius. Because all of the misguided attempts to “help” do NOT. If we, as a global society, actually THINK things through, look at cultural contexts, and want to help, we’d make a huge difference. Bravo, Richard.

  • Hopenowministries


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002256724524 Anthony Michael McGeath


  • bferonia

    Interesting to read these problem solving ideas. 

    My opinion is that  aid = to help when asked to assist. Most one can do is ask “can I help you” and “how can I help you”. That is what we do in our personal social groups as well and that aplies everywhere in the world. Making a solution based on what you see and conclude and not on what you ask and discuss will always go wrong. Also when you ask ten people how can I help you and they say a pair of shoes would be very welcome you may not assume that this applies to 1000 people than as well.Let’s take a very common example of being a good person and helping an old lady cross the street:-1-You can ask her can I help you cross the street and she can say yes please and you cross the street together in her pace. You chat a bit and you ask her at the other side if she is fine and able to continue alone from here. She says yes and you both move on in your own direction.-2-You can see an old lady about to cross the street and think oh yes I am a good person I have to help her cross the street, take her arm and cross the street with her. Leave her on the other side of the street wishing her a nice day and moving on. Ever thought of the fact that this old lady was maybe not able to continue anymore after you left her on the other side of the street because your pase exhausted her? Did you help or did you create a problem?I worked in Ethiopia and Uganda with very capable people and I felt uneasy at times thinking why am I here? Why do certain parts of the world think they know better and why do they want to solve other peoples (maybe not even existing) problems? It is fashionable to look at the bigger picture but frankly I do not think there is a bigger picture, there is interaction between individual people. Let’s make that the new fasion.”Can I help you and how can I help you?” Help that person in the way that works for this person and start helping another person with the same basic questions again. No multiplying, no bigger picture.Let me sign of with a quote of the Dalai Lama: If you are not able to help a person the best you can do is not to do harm to them”.   

    • HAHAHA

      Thank you. Well said!

  • Jholmesandrew

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve been saying this about TOMS for years. Sure, it’s a clever idea, and they’ve built a successful brand on supplying 3rd world nations & hipster kids with shoes made out of cardboard for quite some time, sadly i think it falls short from providing any real “aid”.

  • SomeoneWhoCares

    Brilliant and horribly true…

  • Jane

    This has been importantly enlightening and relate-able, especially from a consumer standpoint. The implications in these articles encourages consumers  to research their products which only generates further awareness. I think it’s absolutely essential to be aware of what you are contributing to when purchasing goods. However, I am skeptical towards your stance on country-to-country bilateral aid as it has been proven to be a preferred method of aid, opposed to the conventional “Western” multilateral approach (which holds much more detrimental stipulations than government-to-government conditions).  Furthermore, because it is from one government to another, terms are often negotiated due to the direct politicization of the aid agreement. It often advances a  more micro approach rather than macro (one-size fits all aid model), meaning closer needs are met through bilateral aid (even if it is tied) opposed to other venues which could potentially degrade their economy altogether (conditionalities imposed by IMF or WB that are incompatible with economies that are not industrialized).  
    There is of course a cultural aspect that would also deter the efficiency for which we in the ‘West’ would perceive as the best way to deliver aid. As one country (let’s say China for example) interprets aid in a different way than the West, outcomes of their aid transactions would be determined differently. China follows a different definition of development. In their aid models (let’s say with Angola), development refers to the bolstering of Angola’s infrastructure and excludes social convention aspects of poverty reduction as they don’t regard it as relevant to their original goal and too much of a domestic political issue. China’s model is purely economics focused with strong non-interference policies, which is what many countries are turning towards in opposition to the ‘neo-liberalist era’ of nuanced Imperialism. The politics of aid are endless, but the fact is, Bilateral donors offer much more positive outcomes (even if aid is tied) than multilateral aid regimes do.Bilateral donors are simply providing alternative avenues for receiving aid, which also represents a resistance movement towards ‘Western’ models that have proven to be inefficient and often regressive. In this sense, Bilateral donors are VERY important for the movement towards a better, more accountable direction of aid. Although it may be a flawed model in our ‘Western’ eyes, the suppression of it would be accepting status quo. 

  • Henry

    If you can raise awareness of poverty conditions, then you can raise awareness of how people fail to make the most meaningful impact. The paradigm has been for the US to GIVE, but maybe it’s time we realize it shouldn’t end there, and that we should GIVE AND GROW. 

    You might want to call it neocolonialism (I won’t even get into the politics). What’s wrong with that? The good relationship will benefit the US as well if that matters to you. 

  • DougO

    The problem with contributors like Richard is that they’re not necessarily wrong, but they are not actually contributing anything to the topics they address and quite frankly just are not as smart as they think they are. So they take facts that are reasonable and end up at conclusions that are not.
    “While donating a pair of shoes helps shoelessness, it does not help poverty”, I really do get the sense that Richard feels he has arrived at a stark and complex economic discovery but it is quite obvious and completing irrelevant.  The same argument would be that creating women’s shelters helps abused women, but it does not help stop domestic violence.   
    So thanks to Richard we have now learned that poverty causes shoelessnes (thanks Richard!) now that my eyes are opened let us take this a step farther.  Poverty also causes poor access to healthcare, poor sanitation and living conditions, and high population densities.  These symptoms of poverty combine to create the conditions that allow for the global epidemic of hookworm infection, the current rate of which is estimated at ¾ of a billion people (already infected) from the poorest regions of the world. Guess what the most effect prevention from hookworm infection is, shoes!
    My point is people need to focus on solutions and positive impacts and not try to sound smart poking holes in everyone else’s ideas, if the author wants to establish shoe manufacturing facilities in sub-Saharan Africa that would be ideal, but he is not doing that is he.
    So in the end he is right Toms does nothing to solve poverty it just gives people shoes.  I invite Richard to forgo his shoes and take a walk in one of the many places in the world were the prevalence rate of hookworm infection is over 60% (including KwaZulu-Natal of his own country).  Probably not gonna happen (even though he could afford the medical treatment if he was infected).
    I eagerly await Richard’s next blog where he reveals his amazing plan to end world poverty rendering the Toms shoes Buy one give one model so silly.   

  • Toast

    I travelled through Mozambique for a month and spoke to many locals and guides during my journey. I was told that the US and other developed nations refuse to support or send aid to Mozambique as they are a communist country, which causes me to question the validity of your example about the US sending Harley Davidson’s there. I agree with all the points you made in this article; however, I don’t believe this example to be true.

  • Anonymous

    Richard Stupart as a “writer” it would be highly recommended that you cite your sources for the information you have found through your research.

  • http://twitter.com/shadowhand Woody Gilk

    Add KONY2012 to this list.

  • breaded cat

    is the author really making any point that 50cent is extorting people to click a fucking button? i mean my god, since when does one click of a mouse really put anyone in any sort of position to be considered ‘extorted?’  how about all the aids and cancer fundraisers, people have to walk and run miles and miles just to get them to donate, and this requires a click of a button? jesus, let me create 1 million facebook accounts and click 1 million fucking buttons and feed a million people.  thats not bad, thats good if you ask me.  SOPA should start by deleting this article. if they dont, anonymous should edit it by taking off 90% of whats written and promote these methods of helping people. what a loser who wrote this.

  • KTM

    And if people think only USAID is political, they are crazy and just bashing America.  I have worked for USAID, DfiD, EU and WB…and they all are political and used as foreign policy tools.  DfID is just as embedded with the mil as USAID is – at least in Afghanistan.  What country doesn’t use their development/aid agency for political means?  USAID, DfID, etc were never intended to be NGOs and you can’t compare them to NGOs.  

    Just another case of anti America rhetoric.

  • Tchoutoye

    One of my “favourites” was televangelist Pat Robertson’s outright fraudulent Operation Blessing. Money raised through the 700 Club for aid in Zaire (nowadays DR Congo) was diverted for the exploitation of Robertson’s private diamond mines in the country.

  • Guest

    you might want to do some fact checking on #6. I distinctly remember hearing this story back in 1998, except then it was Iraqi children in desert storm. The point remains the same, but the US military did learn its lesson on that one, at least.

  • joe anon 1

    get rid of other countries (primarily euro amer) interfering in internal affairs, eg, stealing resources, installing puppets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelseynielsen Kelsey Nielsen

    Looks like I was ahead of the game with the Invisible Children critique a few weeks ago, nobody chimed in then, now it’s #trending… Not only is social injustice cool but so is the critique of it this week. 

  • Nate Knapp

    This is why I keep the wealth to myself.

  • clara siagian

    and don’t forget this one: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/au

  • brian

    the food parcel /cluster bomb was no screw up…it was deliberate…its called terrorism

  • Gilldobz

    Brilliant article highlighting some of the bigger bad ideas. Sadly there are thousands of smaller ideas that are equally harmful, exploitative, paternalistic and just plain demeaning. Unfortunately altruism is often something that comes with unintended barbs.

  • Jeremy

    Though I agree with the sentiment of misguided efforts being described in the article, I find some exception to #4. Though we’d all like to see these wealthy celebrities put forward more of their money simply with altruistic intent, I don’t find as much fault in redirecting marketing dollars to do something good. The assumption you make is that these dollars can and should be spent for charitable purposes, but I see it as perhaps creative marketing with a more useful and mutually beneficial result. Yes, if they fall short of their requirements it is unfortunate to see those meals not get fulfilled. A better, perhaps more scaled campaign might be better suited to not require an “all or nothing” result. I’m not opposed to getting awareness increased and putting corporate money to good use alongside their marketing efforts.

  • cdstern

    “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.” -Dale Carnegie At least your article is educational.

  • http://www.facebook.com/biren.madhvi Biren Shah

    thanks, that there is a richard stupart to counter the ‘superheros’ like jason, TOMS, 50 cents et al…
    there is hope for us humans.thanks richard for writing this.

  • Csemambosempebwa

    All this happens because some one out there thinks the poor are fools who need some one to think for them and that they need saving!  People like Robert Chambers who wrote Putting the first last and whose reality counts, put it down ages ago that it is important to consult the people.  That is why development agencies use participatory methods like PRA, PLA, RRA,RLA etc, to get to the real problem with the support of the people.  I am surprised that in this time and age, there are people who still give out hand outs, top down and without having studied what is on the ground!!

  • http://twitter.com/NurseMarta Marta Santos

    Very well put!

  • John


    While I wholeheartedly agree with #’s 5 and 6 in your list, I can’t comment on,#s 1, 3, and 7, I disagree with #4 and think # 2 requires more investigation.

    #2 – TOMS 
    It would seem that shoes are very distinct from t-shirts.  Does having shoes improve the ability of all in the community to produce more, thus creating significant economic benefit?  I understand your negative economic arguments, but with shoes, I would think those benefits would be offset significantly.

    #4 – 50 Cent
    Your assumptions here are eronious, especially with respect to the second assumption.  Facebook “likes” are marketing gold, generating awareness and revenue.  Thus, if 50 Cent’s endorsement created 10,000 likes, then he’s only reaching 10,000 consumers, and generating less revenue.  But if he reaches 1M consumers, he generates more revenue.  This revenue then becomes part of the budget.  Absent the 1M Facebook likes, the company wouldn’t be as able to afford the 2M meals.

    More marketing = more revenue = more meals…does not = extortion.

  • Kari Miller

    It’s amazing what goes on in the name of charity.

  • John Gara’ng Karanja

    really unfair

  • Colleen Mckeown

    When ideas don’t pan out…

  • Rechelle Schaub Bringard

    This is true:

    • Sarah Leach

      Oh geez, number six is the worst. I saw a cool post on pinterest for making shoes out of recycled materials and thought it would be so cool if TOMS instead taught people to make and sell shoes.

  • Adam Shaddy

    The one good thing all these things have done, is brought attention to a need. If 50 cent just donated 2 million meals, he might be on TMZ, or have a few headlines online. By getting people to “like” his facebook page, he helps spread the word all over facebook, which in turn could reach well over a million people, very quickly.

    I agree that some of these ideas are not very bright, but at least these people are trying, instead of writing columns online about someone else’s failed attempts to help…

    • Rafaella Dockins

      I agree 100%….I dont even know how someone can write an article about “failed attempts” when its for a good cause……Thats nuts.

    • Rafaella Dockins

      Gosh the more I read this article the more irritated I get…. first of all….I would love to know what the heck this writer has attempted….Second, the saddest thing about this is (which I’ve mentioned before), this writer probably needed something to write about so he exaggerated everything and made it sound like this so us the readers would read it. Which worked. So good for him. But this is the reason why America is freakin naive, because we’re reading all this fake exaggerated bull-ish.

    • Kimberly Ferland

      Sadly, not fake or exaggerated. People really are this inept at trying to “help” people. Unless someone is invited or in consultation with the ones they are trying to help they should not try to help because it could be more harmful. The machine gun preacher is probably the worst, and again, not fake or exaggerated.

    • Matt Wilkie

      As someone who, like the aid givers above, or the commenters here, tries to have good motivations, I’d much rather know if I’m harming rather than helping, even if I have the right heart. Why would I want to spend my time/resources/etc. in a way that is hurting? Articles like this are great, helping to push all to work smarter, using our heads along with our hearts. It reminds me of the story of the monkey and the fish: http://www.afriprov.org/index.php/african-stories-by-season/14-animal-stories/67-how-the-monkeys-saved-the-fish.html

    • Carlo Alcos

      Adam, it would be one thing if he created a page strictly about donating food and asked people to Like it, thus raising awareness. But this was to Like his energy drink. That makes the exercise a promotional tool…so what’s the real motivation here? Rafaella, just because someone has good intentions (even if these really were out of good intentions, some of which are quite questionable) it doesn’t automatically make it a positive thing. You need to by hyper aware of the effect you’re having and be self-critical, always asking the right questions. Good intentions aren’t enough.

    • Nickie Ia Nixon

      Lots of people try to help others by doing small things and not hurting others. The writer of the article has contributed greatly – he’s wrote about which campaigns are rubbish and what not to waste your time on!
      All of these examples are done by people who want better reputations or publicity or want to feel warm and fluffy or whatever – they haven’t even researched what people actually need!

      Also, why does a celeb need to raise awareness of poverty. Everybody (pretty much) knows about poverty. It’s the rich idiots of the world that cause it. 50 cent could feed poor people without making people like his energy drink

    • Darlene C. Matthews

      Once i treid to explain i had malnutrition but some foods would put me inthe ER due to Anaphylactic Shock or Migraine. Food banks didn’t care to help . One place even said if you are hungry enough you’ll eat it. I’ll help you my way so I can say I did it, even if it harms or kills you is NOT Charitable. It’s a symptom of a Mh disorder.

    • Dan Schmelzer

      I disagree 1000%. Reaching people does not mean helping people! In fact these attempts to help create 1. Dependency 2. Temporary assistance that does not change things in the long term. 3. Discourages initiative. Helping others is not bad of course, but it makes a whale of a difference how you help. Those of you who express your opinion agreeing with those who think any assistance is at least an attempt do not understand the principles of real development or have never been in a development circumstance long enough to know that misdirected aid can actually do more harm than good.

    • Nora Lester Murad

      I live in Palestine, which is one of the biggest per capital aid recipients in the world, and I can tell you–and document–waste and distortion in aid that would make your head spin. It’s a scandal that people MUST start paying attention to, because “aid” is causing harm! I spoke about this on Aljazeera just last week http://www.noralestermurad.com/2013/02/16/what-internationals-should-do-for-palestinians-is-aljazeera-appearance/ and I write about it on my blog. You can also take a look at the work of Dalia Association (www.dalia.ps), which was established to reduce dependence on international aid.

    • Sofia Haile

      Just because someone is trying to help, doesn’t mean that they are helping. If I think that you’re choking to death when your really having a stroke no amount of heimlich maneuver will save you. The problem with these”failed attempts to help” isn’t only that they don’t help but that they actually hurt. This attitude is the equivalent of accidentally giving a sick person poison instead of medicine, because you were to lazy to read the label, and then standing back and justifying yourself by pointing out that you were trying to “help.”

    • Sofia Haile

      Just because someone is trying to help, doesn’t mean that they are helping. If I think that you’re choking to death when your really having a stroke no amount of heimlich maneuver will save you. The problem with these”failed attempts to help” isn’t only that they don’t help but that they actually hurt. This attitude is the equivalent of accidentally giving a sick person poison instead of medicine, because you were to lazy to read the label, and then standing back and justifying yourself by pointing out that you were trying to “help.”

    • Sofia Haile

      Just because someone is trying to help, doesn’t mean that they are helping. If I think that you’re choking to death when your really having a stroke no amount of heimlich maneuver will save you. The problem with these”failed attempts to help” isn’t only that they don’t help but that they actually hurt. This attitude is the equivalent of accidentally giving a sick person poison instead of medicine, because you were to lazy to read the label, and then standing back and justifying yourself by pointing out that you were trying to “help.”

  • Rohann van Rensburg

    I think I disagree with the writer’s take on the “Machine Gun Preacher”. My understanding is that he isn’t trying to solve a political problem in Sudan, he’s simply trying to save the lives of children who would otherwise potentially be abused, enslaved or even murdered, which he seems to have done rather effectively. Quite easy to judge this one sitting on the Western side of the cultural fence.
    I did read some of the posts below and if the accusations of him dealing arms and collaborating with an organization that used children as soldiers is true, then obviously I disagree with that. However, it’s difficult to determine truth based on reports in a place Sudan, though that’s another debate entirely. Based purely on his claims and principles criticized in this article however, I don’t disagree with what he’s doing.

    • John Robinson

      I thought the same thing. I don’t think he believes he’s going to solve the larger problem of the place being a war zone. He just cares about saving as many kids as possible. Maybe it’s not the “ideal” solution but at least some children are being rescued and he is putting his life on the line to protect them. It seems like the writer thinks that until we have everyone agree to meeting and call a ceasefire that we should just sit around

    • John Robinson

      I thought the same thing. I don’t think he believes he’s going to solve the larger problem of the place being a war zone. He just cares about saving as many kids as possible. Maybe it’s not the “ideal” solution but at least some children are being rescued and he is putting his life on the line to protect them. It seems like the writer thinks that until we have everyone agree to meeting and call a ceasefire that we should just sit around

    • John Robinson

      I thought the same thing. I don’t think he believes he’s going to solve the larger problem of the place being a war zone. He just cares about saving as many kids as possible. Maybe it’s not the “ideal” solution but at least some children are being rescued and he is putting his life on the line to protect them. It seems like the writer thinks that until we have everyone agree to meeting and call a ceasefire that we should just sit around

    • Erica Saviano

      The SPLA (military group machine gun guy worked with) has used child soldiers in the past. I have also heard that the soldiers of Sudan’s army are raping and abusing women almost as badly as the LRA. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/mar/27/south-sudan-red-army-comes-age – Nothing wrong with defending children, but to collaborate independently (apart from your own country) as a foreigner with another country’s army???

  • Darlene C. Matthews

    LOL- I just saw some pictures of TOMs donations via another group. It was obvious some of the kids took off their good shoes to don the flat black slippers for the pictures. Yeah, supplying what people don’t need is a waste of precious resources. Finding what people can use most and figuring out how to supply that is harder , but if you want to help and to do more than just a feel good exercise, there is some research and other work involved. Did you know that even in the USA disabled /sick cant get special medical diet help at foodbanks, and many donate things they would not eat?

  • Joeva Rock

    Add Invisible Children– funded by anti-gay groups that work explicitly in the US AND Uganda to criminalize and convert gay folks.

  • Katie Boydston

    Can you send the link to the article you wrote on the aid you’ve lead that is a demonstration of large scale success? I see crticism – some valid most outrageously missing the point – but only pointing to the issue not to the solution.

  • Richard Ruff Reiter

    USAID is a US government agency. How absurd to suggest that it shouldn’t work in the interests of US foreign policy and national interests.

    • Darlene C. Matthews

      YUP – from their page- “….Provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States …” some of the criticisms in this article are valid, some are not. This one seems not to be.

    • Matthew Hall

      One name springs to mind when I read the above criticism: Danny Mitrione, a once proud US foreign policy ‘advocate’, whose tireless work under the office of USAID landed him in the backseat of a car in Montevideo with 2 bullets in his head: LEARN YOUR HISTORY!!

    • Simon Thomson

      And the publicity department for Street King energy drink works for the interests of its company. The article is based on the assumption that treating people’s lives as a lever for self-interest doesn’t count as ‘aid’ and is unacceptable on some level; if you think that doesn’t apply, fair enough – but then virtually none of the examples in the article are relevant, not just those that highlight the hypocrisy of the US government.

  • Jaakko Kuldvere

    Good observations and writing about what to avoid but no solutions. In Banjul, the Gambia capital there is in the beginning of Marina Parade (a street) fence a proverb saying: – go to the people, – live among them, – love and serve them, – start on what they know, – build on what they have.

  • Ka Ren

    I would challenge the one about TOMS being such a terrible idea. If we look at it only in immediate economic terms, yes, TOMS is potentially robbing the donor- locations of industry and income. BUT, in a broader sense, having a pair of shoes can and will positively effect the local economy, because many schools require that students have shoes to enter the facility. With a chance at education, local children and youths will much more likely be able to address local economic difficulties and provide solutions for working local economies. Without the shoes, there is no chance for education….

    • Michael Stimpson

      I guess it would have been cheaper just to get the schools to drop the shoes rule. I have been involved in daft shoe projects too, westerners are obsessed with shoes, it would seem…

    • Michael Stimpson

      I guess it would have been cheaper just to get the schools to drop the shoes rule. I have been involved in daft shoe projects too, westerners are obsessed with shoes, it would seem…

    • Michael Stimpson

      I guess it would have been cheaper just to get the schools to drop the shoes rule. I have been involved in daft shoe projects too, westerners are obsessed with shoes, it would seem…

    • Michael Stimpson

      I guess it would have been cheaper just to get the schools to drop the shoes rule. I have been involved in daft shoe projects too, westerners are obsessed with shoes, it would seem…

    • Ka Ren

      hmm, i thought it was the African schools that were obsessed with shoes…but yes, dropping the shoe rule seems the obvious solution– but then that would be considered interference of another type…

    • Beth Davidson

      Then send flip flops or sandals – that’s what kids wear for the most part. I can’t tell you how many brand new pairs of TOMS I’ve seen for sale on the side walk for $10. Hey – at least that’s contributing to the local economy, right? Keep ‘em coming, TOMS!

    • Stephen Bateman

      If shoes were a limiting factor to the economy, this is true. But that isn’t *necessarily* the case. After seeing Haitian people play 2 hours of football in 100F degree weather with no shoes, I’m not 100% sure that shoes are the most immediate need.

      But for what it’s worth, I bought TOMS. So I’m with you on some level ;)

    • Dave Fascia

      Beth, they probably weren’t real toms. Just to chime in, and good point Ka, I didn’t think of it that way.

    • Dave Fascia

      Beth, they probably weren’t real toms. Just to chime in, and good point Ka, I didn’t think of it that way.

    • Dave Fascia

      Beth, they probably weren’t real toms. Just to chime in, and good point Ka, I didn’t think of it that way.

    • Dave Fascia

      Beth, they probably weren’t real toms. Just to chime in, and good point Ka, I didn’t think of it that way.

    • Jo Parsons

      Beth, flip flops or sandals are not allowed by the majority of African schools.

    • Jennifer MacNeill

      I agree with you. I also wonder how many of these people who think shoes aren’t important for other people would themselves be willing to go without them? Having seen too many people trudge through all kinds of things all over Africa, the Americas & India, with callouses inches thick, I know they’d welcome shoes. It’s so easy for us to be armchair quarterbacks.

    • Jennifer MacNeill

      I agree with you. I also wonder how many of these people who think shoes aren’t important for other people would themselves be willing to go without them? Having seen too many people trudge through all kinds of things all over Africa, the Americas & India, with callouses inches thick, I know they’d welcome shoes. It’s so easy for us to be armchair quarterbacks.

  • Ka Ren

    I would challenge the one about TOMS being such a terrible idea. If we look at it only in immediate economic terms, yes, TOMS is potentially robbing the donor- locations of industry and income. BUT, in a broader sense, having a pair of shoes can and will positively effect the local economy, because many schools require that students have shoes to enter the facility. With a chance at education, local children and youths will much more likely be able to address local economic difficulties and provide solutions for working local economies. Without the shoes, there is no chance for education….

  • Ka Ren

    I would challenge the one about TOMS being such a terrible idea. If we look at it only in immediate economic terms, yes, TOMS is potentially robbing the donor- locations of industry and income. BUT, in a broader sense, having a pair of shoes can and will positively effect the local economy, because many schools require that students have shoes to enter the facility. With a chance at education, local children and youths will much more likely be able to address local economic difficulties and provide solutions for working local economies. Without the shoes, there is no chance for education….

  • Marilyn Reveret

    Great article! Thank you :)

  • Matt Prata

    8th worst international aid idea…. complaining about other people and not offering an alternative? haha just kidding, that was good but I just felt so self-righteous after and I have no idea why cause I didn’t help anything by reading that……..

    • Barbecue Dave

      50 cent is a Saint- sending his 5 hour energies to the african villages what a nice guy

    • Matt Prata

      ye dog, thos kidz ar tird

    • Matt Prata

      ye dog, thos kidz ar tird

  • Peter Pulcinella Parker

    International aid is a complex topic. I personally think that when it is not aimed at building sustainable realities through teaching skills and building infrastructures run by locals it does more damage then good. Helping 50000 kids at random does not make sense, helping to have a better life cannot be an aleatory process dictated by the guilt of the western world. Let’s stop sucking resources and wealth from underdeveloped countries, if they are underdeveloped it is because we don’t allow them to develop. Sending a bag of rice over is clearly not going to fix that, it will just fix your ego.

    • Sewit Abadi

      If I could like this comment a million times, I would. Spot on Peter! If we truly care about the development of these countries, we would start with the MAJOR problem: stop treating their natural ressources like it’s our stuff that somehow got stuck under their land. That’s the real issue here, but no ‘aid’ program has ever addressed it!

    • Eric Barstow

      Good show ;)

    • Lauren Murphy

      Family planning would help to prevent disease and unsustainable family size.

    • Lauren Murphy

      Family planning would help to prevent disease and unsustainable family size.

    • Lauren Murphy

      Family planning would help to prevent disease and unsustainable family size.

    • Bint Alshamsa

      Lauren, I think that the needs in a particular area are best determined by the people in that area. Outsiders have no way of knowing what will benefit them the most.

    • Crystal Valerie Hong

      Truth. Empowerment of local community by providing them with jobs, education, family planning, clean water and sanitary habits will help to transform the people better than dropping off money, food and non necessities that would only put people out of jobs and disrupt any chance of the economy growing.

  • Peter Pulcinella Parker

    International aid is a complex topic. I personally think that when it is not aimed at building sustainable realities through teaching skills and building infrastructures run by locals it does more damage then good. Helping 50000 kids at random does not make sense, helping to have a better life cannot be an aleatory process dictated by the guilt of the western world. Let’s stop sucking resources and wealth from underdeveloped countries, if they are underdeveloped it is because we don’t allow them to develop. Sending a bag of rice over is clearly not going to fix that, it will just fix your ego.

  • Peter Pulcinella Parker

    International aid is a complex topic. I personally think that when it is not aimed at building sustainable realities through teaching skills and building infrastructures run by locals it does more damage then good. Helping 50000 kids at random does not make sense, helping to have a better life cannot be an aleatory process dictated by the guilt of the western world. Let’s stop sucking resources and wealth from underdeveloped countries, if they are underdeveloped it is because we don’t allow them to develop. Sending a bag of rice over is clearly not going to fix that, it will just fix your ego.

  • David O’Hara

    Great article! I lived and worked in Mozambique/Angola in the mid 90’s! Every day and week we came across the madness of aid to the point that I do not believe in it for the most part. “Beware the flowery dresses and the open toe sandals!” was a catch phrase that rings true!

  • Ryan Walsh

    Uh so Matador, what is it you’re doing on the humanitarian front aside from talking shit?

  • Ryan Walsh

    Uh so Matador, what is it you’re doing on the humanitarian front aside from talking shit?

  • Renato Gottlieb

    Bla, bla, bla….
    I have at least 6 worst international aid ideas like:
    1. US in Vietnam;.
    2. US in Afghanistan;.
    3. US in Iraq;.
    4. US in Libia;.
    5. Americans trying to solve the world’s problems;.
    6. Americans living in Africa, India, (thinking they are soooo cool!), taking pictures with poor kids to post on Facebook, showing that they are trying to help and criticizing the system.
    Ideas? Maybe this movie inspire you, guys, with the right thing to do: http://asmallact.com/.
    Or be a volunteer at Red Cross and go to the conflict areas (like Syria) to help people in the field.

  • Justin Logie

    Richard, I’d like to challenge the point about donor restrictions: Firstly, considering that in Africa the track record of governments in passing the aid money onto the intended recipients is rather poor, with most of it ending up in big cars and mansions for those in power, restrictions do need to put in place. Foreign aid must become a business contract with parameters and criteria in order to ensure its success. With regards to your point about the aid money not being a benefit to the local economy due to most of the money going back overseas, think of it this way: Without the aid money in the first place, the medics wouldn’t have been able to purchase the Harley Davidsons. To extend the concept, machinery and material to start businesses can also be purchased from the donor country, which then leads to a better economy.

    I do agree that it is an inefficient way of providing aid, but you must also realise that for the donor government it’s also a way of buoying their own economy. Instead of providing subsidies to the Harley Davidson industry which would either be illegal or would upset other industries, the government can indirectly support the industry by providing funding to a country which will then purchase the Harley Davidsons (or whatever other equipment or machinery).

  • Stephen Bateman

    I’m new to the matador community. This seems pretty great. My one pushback is that we should all criticize by creating. What is an example of aid ideas that worked? Sure it’s always “situational”, but I bet we could learn lessons.

  • Ken Perkins

    I will challenge the article on TOMS. You really need to do better research here Richard! Although the shoes that you and I might purchase in USA are made in China, ALL of the shoes given in Africa, are made in Africa. Ethiopia exactly. Buy locals. And many of these locals are able to get to work at these factories now, only because they were given a pair of shoes at a nearby village. The same thing goes in South America. ALL shoes given in South America are made in Argentina, by locals, to support their financial gain. TOMS will soon have new facilities on the West coasts of Africa & South America to help support more giving to these regions from more local facilities, employed by local workers. Look it up. Heres the first place to start. TOMS site… how did you miss this before you published such remarks? http://www.toms.com/eyewear/corporate-responsibility/

    In your own words…”Shoelessness, such as it is, is a symptom of a much bigger and more complex problem. And while donating a pair of shoes helps shoelessness, it does not help poverty.” You are missing the link here Richard. With these shoes, many are able to walk to a larger, nearby village to get work. Or, work longer hours in their farm to have more goods to sell at market to get out of poverty. And, many children now have shoes and are able to get to school to educate themselves to help avoid future generation from this impoverished cycle.

    There definitely is a larger global issue here, and TOMS may not be perfect, but to attack TOMS, with such inaccuracy and yet such certainty, is very unprofessional and you should fire whomever is doing your research.

  • Ken Perkins

    I will challenge the article on TOMS. You really need to do better research here Richard! Although the shoes that you and I might purchase in USA are made in China, ALL of the shoes given in Africa, are made in Africa. Ethiopia exactly. Buy locals. And many of these locals are able to get to work at these factories now, only because they were given a pair of shoes at a nearby village. The same thing goes in South America. ALL shoes given in South America are made in Argentina, by locals, to support their financial gain. TOMS will soon have new facilities on the West coasts of Africa & South America to help support more giving to these regions from more local facilities, employed by local workers. Look it up. Heres the first place to start. TOMS site… how did you miss this before you published such remarks? http://www.toms.com/eyewear/corporate-responsibility/

    In your own words…”Shoelessness, such as it is, is a symptom of a much bigger and more complex problem. And while donating a pair of shoes helps shoelessness, it does not help poverty.” You are missing the link here Richard. With these shoes, many are able to walk to a larger, nearby village to get work. Or, work longer hours in their farm to have more goods to sell at market to get out of poverty. And, many children now have shoes and are able to get to school to educate themselves to help avoid future generation from this impoverished cycle.

    There definitely is a larger global issue here, and TOMS may not be perfect, but to attack TOMS, with such inaccuracy and yet such certainty, is very unprofessional and you should fire whomever is doing your research.

  • Mihir Tenzin

    the unsaid remains, however that while these are THE WORST ones, there are – less worse, okay and even fantastic ones. While the author seems to be prescient of the possible implications of his title, and conscientious as to the impetus for “AID” itself, perhaps the frame of aid maintains the thematic of “development” – why not add American military aid to israel, egypt and colombia as number 8?

  • Devin Antuan

    When ignorant people get their reckless ideas backed by international aid agencies often used as foreign policy mechanisms… With very real and scary consequences. Yikessss

    • Moy Moreno-Rivera


    • Claire Ellis

      Finally these idiots are exposed by someone.

    • Claire Ellis

      “But TOMS does such good work, it sends SHOES to kids in AFRICA!”

  • Devin Antuan

    When ignorant people get their reckless ideas backed by international aid agencies often used as foreign policy mechanisms… With very real and scary consequences. Yikessss

    • Moy Moreno-Rivera


    • Claire Ellis

      Finally these idiots are exposed by someone.

    • Claire Ellis

      “But TOMS does such good work, it sends SHOES to kids in AFRICA!”

    • Claire Ellis

      “But TOMS does such good work, it sends SHOES to kids in AFRICA!”

    • Adam Banks

      did anyone really expect an ex-crack dealer to give something and not get something in return tut tut

    • Richard Stupart

      But… but… it’s work in Ahfreeeka! How could it not be good? :p

  • Devin Antuan

    When ignorant people get their reckless ideas backed by international aid agencies often used as foreign policy mechanisms… With very real and scary consequences. Yikessss

  • Richard Duran

    Here’s a good international aid idea: nuke Africa.

  • Richard Duran

    Here’s a good international aid idea: nuke Africa.

  • Allen Castle

    How much has your publisher paid to have you write this article on how people have failed at trying to help others? As misguided or “Failed” as their attempts may have been, you are sitting here ridiculing them publicly for what they have done. Maybe you should think about the arrogance of posting how bad people fail at trying to be helpful and maybe do a better job of it yourself.

    • Anindya Basu

      when people do a bad job of helping others they end up doing more harm than good. without taking time to understand the complexities of a society and situation and just throwing money at the problem is never a solution is what this article is trying to say. It’s not arrogant, it’s trying to bring light to the fact that if you’re going to help people you need to take the time to understand the complexities of the issues and spend years developing sustainable growth that helps people in the long term instead of just giving them shirts or shoes once as a publicity stunt or an ego boost. the idea that “at least we’re doing SOMETHING” does a lot more harm than good.

  • David John Whealey

    I think the biggest item was left Off : U.S. foreign aid to buttress security i.e. weapons, Munitions, armies, police. All counterproductive in long run. T shirts and shoes may not be good for local economies but propping up authoritarian regimes with militarism, weapons and training are much worse for societies.

  • David John Whealey

    I think the biggest item was left Off : U.S. foreign aid to buttress security i.e. weapons, Munitions, armies, police. All counterproductive in long run. T shirts and shoes may not be good for local economies but propping up authoritarian regimes with militarism, weapons and training are much worse for societies.

  • Madhu Kopparam

    I’ve seen this in India as well – well meaning European and American charities collect clothes and ship them over to India. Firstly, winter clothes don’t have a place in most of tropical India; secondly, a lot of them gets pushed to shady dealers who then sell them for cash on street sides which in turn are bought by more affluent Indians and used as fashion statements – this is a common enough sight on most city streets. What this means is that the clothes never get to the intended beneficiaries and somebody else benefits from this displaced but ‘localised’ economy.
    A Brussels-based association decided to ‘adopt’ some African villages and as a sign of their largesse, donated plastic pipes for drinking water and sanitation. The pipes were made in Europe, shipped over and then transported to the region by road at great expense. The total amount of money spent on this exercise would have gotten that region three or four times the amount of pipes had they used local manufacturing facilities, which would have in turn benefited more people by direct and indirect employment but this thought never crossed the benefactors’ minds. If there was some issue of the local manufacturers being unable to meet stringent drinking water norms, European ‘experts’, who could have ensured quality-control, could have easily and cheaply been shipped across which would have still resulted in more pipes than was delivered and also would have raised local manufacturing standards by the know-how transfer.
    A very public gesture was made and but this, in the end, was a token gestures at great expense, to fulfil a PR function, but was of little (or not as much as intended) benefit to those who it finally reached…

  • Richard’s article is terrible

    Worst thing for foreign aid…. this article

  • JJ

    interesting article… definitely from another point of view that raise questions and awareness…
    there is an old saying to this ” doing good, to do bad”…
    i agree, not because we have something, means someone somewhere need it…
    out supply should be needed, orels we have a surplus…
    just my thoughts…

  • Chimwemwe

    Another bad donation idea was in Africa, some company donated mosquito nets for free. I am for everyone having a mosquito net because malaria is such a dangerous disease. I have had it many times and it is not something to fool around with. But in this case the village lived on a lake where they got their food from fishing in the lake and river. When they received the nets instead of using them for mosquitoes, they made fishing nets out it and caught EVERY fish that was in the lake and river. This caused them to run out of food and caused devastating effects on their environment. Before they had the mosquito nets they made their own nets and those nets had big enough holes in their nets to allow the smaller fish to swim through and grow, breed and eventually be caught later. With the mosquito nets, no fish were left to grow and feed their families.

    • Boomz4

      I wouldn’t lay the blame for that one at the donor’s feet.

  • Yep

    Poor thinking.
    Poorly written.

    • LH

      Just like this comment.

      • african

        Nice one LH!! take a hike Yep!! learn how to compose longer sentences!!

  • Daniela

    I disagree about #3.

    I don’t really care for the priest or his story (much less of his past).

    So my comments below are directed not toward the specific individual but the context of similar actions by anyone.

    There was no attempt in solving the crisis. In a conflict there are at least two groups. The leaders of those groups are the ones who hold diplomatic power which you profess.

    He wasn’t attempting diplomacy because that is not his role. Often people who take the position which he took (may they be foreigners or indigenous people), it isn’t out of a desire to solve the conflict. Usually it’s an effort to address a specific issue.

    The fact of the matter is, he saved children. Children that were abducted NOT as active participants in a conflict; armed, etc. But children taken as prisoners.

    Also, I would add to your last point, that USAID also makes you sign declarations of political alliance in certain regions.

  • Josh

    article is interesting. It certainly is very important for people and
    companies to evaluate their choices before they act in charitable
    pursuits. I find some of the sentiment of
    the article a bit challenging though. Just like in corporate
    entrepreneurship, a successful business leader may try dozens of
    unsuccessful ideas, and make an enormous amount of mistakes prior to
    finding a good idea and executing on it properly. Social
    entrepreneurship is not that different. I found myself undergoing this
    exact scenario where I was trying to execute a development project and
    was presented with an infinite number of variables to consider
    (environmental impact, social impact, cost etc). The more I considered
    all the variables, and they were endless, the more time passed and no
    project was yet underway. In the end I decided that I would consider
    some variables, and believing that my heart was in the right place, as
    this article was subtitled, I would begin to execute on the project and
    learn from the mistakes along the way and not be subject to analysis
    paralysis. I find articles like this can unfortunately have the effect
    to scare away good people with positive intentions from feeling like
    they have a role in making the world a better place because they haven’t
    factored in all possible consequences.

    • Monday

      Josh, I think the article is attempting to critique the same thinking and methods that you seem to be using. Let’s face it- the corporate attitude has turned most of the developed world into corporatist states that pretend to be efficient but miss the mark (except when it comes to profits-on that they perform exceptionally well). Overall, the most effective and powerful corporations/corporate states have proven to be a force for: anti-democracy, colonialism, environmental degradation without any accountability, and hierarchies. The fact that you’re so comfortable using corporate language in the context of aid suggests that, at least to some extent, you may be coming into this with a colonial mindset (which is exactly what the article is critiquing!). So for starters, let’s just get the corporate model out of the way as the default model for assistance.

      The article makes reference to colonialism. Recall that part of what made colonialism possible was the idea that the (racist) white Europeans had a duty to show black Africans the “light of Christianity”. We all know how that one turned out. Similarly, today, the war in Afghanistan is branded as an attempt to save Afghan women from the tyranny of their men, completely ignoring that Afghans (which includes women and their children) are being displaced, bombed, and tortured. People were as much manipulated by the imperial ventures then as they are now.

      If I can give a third example, the recent “KONY” campaign that went viral, only to very quickly crash and burn, because it was Ugandans themselves who pointed out that they didn’t need any help. The reasons are complex and difficult to explain, but to summarize why, consider:
      1-Whites have a history of colonialism in Uganda
      2-Western countries continue to support unpopular regimes across the globe, providing military support to dictators that would promote free-market capitalism
      3-The above two have always been marketed as an attempt to help the citizenry and promote democracy, when they’ve only served Western interest
      Perhaps the most difficult point for whites and Westerners to understand is the following, and it is as important as the others:
      4-There’s an inherent vanity in Westerners assuming that coloured people
      in other countries are helpless victims that can only be saved with the
      help of Westerners, not unlike the same vanity associated with colonialism.
      5-Western citizens were as convinced during colonial times that their governments were genuinely doing good as are “activists” that want to do something to help the global south. They got it wrong 200 years ago. Way wrong. Might it be possible that we’re getting it wrong today in the same way?

      But skin colour shouldn’t matter? But of course it does! To put it in another way, imagine a man bursting into a women’s conference yelling out that he has the next best idea to end violence against women. Insulting enough to the experience of the women in the room?

      So instead of Westerners and especially White Westerners thinking that they’ve had an epiphany each time they come up with a good idea, they need to seriously stand in true solidarity with the people of the global south. Reach out and ask us what it is that we need. And when we tell you, don’t let your white privilege get in the way and ignore (I don’t know whether you are white or not, I am saying this generally to everyone). Listen and stand with us, not in front of us. If I, for example, asked you for something very simple such as reconsidering what patriotism means to you, and asked you to consider stop waving your country’s flag on its national holiday, would you? If you have a “support the troops” ribbon on the back of your car, and I asked you to consider taking it down, would you?

  • stephen g.

    And colonialism was NOT about ‘helping others,’ this is one of the most misled articles. America is beyond spoiled rotten and hopeless. So stupid!

  • Karin Friedemann

    Many good points but Save Darfur is an evil organization funded by pro-Israel racist lobbyists, they trained terrorists to send to Sudan, created a kidnapping economy (by paying ransoms for fake slaves they used as fundraiser), and organize Black Americans to promote anti-Palestinian racism to support Israeli apartheid and genocide against the local population of the Holy Land. Sick sick stuff. Why is matador praising them???

  • Sarah

    I guess you’ve never been abducted before, or you’d have a different opinion of #3.

    -Saved by a hero with an AK

  • Dypt

    White man’s burden.

    • Monday

      That’s politically incorrect, Dypt, don’t you know? It’s now R2P- Responsibility to Protect.

      • Dypt

        …Referring to the book “The White Man’s Burden – Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good” by William Easterly.

        • Monday

          I haven’t read the book, but I am familiar with the concept, and I totally agree with you that the colonialist mentality applies 100% here.

          The point I was making is that White Man’s Burden isn’t at all a thing of the past. It has been re-incarnated as R2P-one of the rationales used to justify the invasion and occupation of places such as Afghanistan. Different (though very similar) name; same bullshit.

  • Carolyn

    Having spent 3 years (2006-2009) in South Africa as a US Peace Corps Volunteer, this article hits close to home. I trained and mentored out-of-school and unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 35 in Community Development Practice. 37 out of them are working in their communities with the national certifcates that they earned.
    I almost took a bunch of t-shirts with me to South Africa :-)) but changed my mind.l

  • oheart

    Fantastic article!

    I will just this example for those who think this is all theory.
    During the civil war in Afghanistan, WFP flooded Afghanistan with grain —donations and even as a form of payment for community workers— resulting in a dramatic drop in grain price to the point that it wasn’t any unprofitable and the problem was that grain was almost the only option for majority of farmers because of the drought, and a lot of them started growing poppies to afford imported rice and other foodstuff.

    Good intentions indeed, but helped with promotion of poppies.

    • Monday

      You had me until you said “good intentions indeed”. There are actually far more sinister agendas driving American foreign policy in Afghanistan.

  • Ben

    Stop vilifying TOMS.
    It’s not a big deal. It was a brilliant marketing model, but its impact has to be looked at realistically. Are they changing lives? Obviously not. Most people in the world have access to some kind of cheap footwear. And if not, they’ll continue to get by on what they don’t have. And all this talk of destroying local economies is overblown. The amount of donated shoes isn’t substantial enough to have a negative enough impact to fuss over. Those local shoe makers will continue making their faux-leather loafers and selling them to local community members. At least TOMS is providing a bit of income for a sweatshop worker over in China. I think a lot of white middle upper class people got upset when the illusion of making a difference in the world by swiping a credit card was broken. It is what it is. There are much bigger problems in the world of development than TOMS shoes. Check out the hundreds of millions USAID wastes every year as a starter.

    And having heard stories about the indifference of the local
    benefactors of such shoe drops (who receive a lower quality shoe than in the
    States anyway) I think it’s best to put our mental energies toward discussing
    issues of greater importance. As someone
    mentioned below: work, food, medical care, stronger public institutions. These are the real concerns.

  • SlaveryToday

    The entire point is to help (assist). Why are so many assumptions implied here that learning from our mistakes to do this more effectively suggests quitting, taking our ball and going home?

    The same illogical behavior that causes businesses to fail will cause humanitarian efforts to fail, but the stakes may be significantly higher. A local, speaking to a US aid worker on the ground enthusiastically persuing a well-intentioned effort doomed to failure offered the observation: “You American don’t think, you react.” The real test is can WE learn to accept help in learning to achieve results instead of virtuous self-gratification.

    Being “positive” must not become the goal, it is a tool. “Awareness” is becoming a swear word in many NGO circles because it was thought that raising it would lead to practical “engagement” and in most cases it does not. There are lots of aware people doing absolutely nothing but armchair critiques.

    Talk is cheap. Human lives are not. Take the salient (to you) points that can help you become more productively engaged. If you find none, move on and quit whining about the bluntness. It’s a blunt world. Someone else may become a more efficient change agent because of the honesty of the article.

  • Chinese Proverb

    “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

  • Third World Baby

    I totally agree with this article. It’s actually quite funny how these rich people think that by donating things actually help us third world people. No, it doesn’t. We don’t need shoes, or t-shirts, or any materials if we are hungry. We need LIVELIHOODS to support our families not just today but till the end of time. I think we would be more happier if they could generate jobs (and perhaps provide free education) in our countries.

  • PutaMadre

    George Carlin would agree on this article.

  • Na_na99

    This isn’t about ASSISTING anyone, but keeping them on the bottom to have someone beneath them. All of this stuff to give to 3rd world nations (of course, with the added benefit of free advertisement for themselves) yet none of these countries are willing to have a factory there to EMPLOY people. So the next time you think of sending a million t-shirts, why don’t you consider how much more the people will be helped if you have a factory there where they make the t-shirts?

  • John

    Step one – consultation!! Do you know who’s missing in this discussion? The f***ing people you want to help!

  • http://getcontrolofyourlife.org/ Get Control Of Your Life

    Great article. I recommend a book called, “When Helping Hurts” People do have good hearts, but fail to do their homework. It’s like the monkey who thought he was rescuing the fish but putting it on dry ground; of course the fish died. Toms is a nice idea, but the shoes are of such poor quality, who would want them? The Red Campaign makes people feel good, but does little good. If you want to be involved in helping the world, spend some time studying the problems and solutions that have worked.

  • Ivo Dam

    I might be wrong, but if you give them free shoes or shirts, the people that are manufacturing those things will have to start doing something else, for example – produce food or work toward irrigation, build houses. That way there will be more food (or whatever) produced, which will drop the prices. So people who receive the donations will spend less of their funds on food. Also people will now be free from expenses for shoes and shirts. Hence the standard of living will rise.
    Another thing – the 50 cent case. It’s not as much as extortion as is a publicity campaign. Consider it this way: we will give the money we appointed for advertisement if the facebook campaign proves successful. So basically they say “why spend money on advertisement and the people who work in it, when we can give them to someone who needs them more”. I don’t even want to start talking about the advertisement industry and how much money are spend on something that exists only to leech of any business that you can think of. So the whole idea is morally ambiguous to say at best, it’s not with as pure motives they would like us to believe it is, but regardless, there will be donations and will still help people.

    About the 5. Donor fund restrictions – it is basically giving money for charity, but part of the money come back to the residents of the country that gives the charity. So even if it is not the motorbike you would like to drive in the desert, it is still a motorbike and it is still something the people of this country in need would not have to put time and effort in.

  • Austin D

    I’m surprised KONY 2012 wasn’t topping the charts.
    Although I don’t believe in Sam Childers mission to rescue abducted children(taking the aggressive front), I do believe that these people need education and safety, he’s done good. There are so many shoddy charities around, no one is wiling to put themselves in harms way.
    Education above all.

    • Tami

      Agreed. I’m disappointed that Sam Childers even made this list since he IS present in Africa (3 nations actually), doing really good things for orphans affected by the aids epidemic, as well as the children he has rescued from militias. But I have a feeling Richard only watched the movie and made this snap judgment anyway.
      Wondering how much “research” was really done on this article, even though I do I agree that bandaid solutions and self-promotion is not the way to combat poverty.

    • http://www.wheretheroadgoes.com Richard

      I think there would be good grounds for including KONY2012, but they came – ironically – after this article was written.

  • R Kelly Johnson

    Richard, sorry I’m a little behind in my reading, obviously! Great article, I couldn’t agree more. My family and I live and work in Kenya, and have seen all this and more (ie don’t get me started on the UN and USAID!!). I would like to suggest a trade for the #3 spot. I’ll keep Sam Childers, and throw in “Churches and Individuals sending cash directly to African nationals that they’ve met on Facebook”.

  • james

    What a crazy world we live in. Somebody tries to send t-shirts/ shoes to Africa and gets blasted for it. If you have been to some of the poorer African countries, people need t-shirts and shoes. In Malawi they don’t make those items. In Zimbabwe they don’t have hiking shoes. If they can get them for free, then awesome.

    • Monday

      That’s a very natural reaction for (mostly white,) liberal “activists” that grew up in a very sheltered environment. Since the European attempt to bring the “Light of Christianity” to Black Africans to the war in Afghanistan, (mostly white) liberals have always felt it’s their duty to tell coloured people what’s good for us. The best way that (mostly white) liberals can help us is to stay the fuck out of our countries, stop supporting dictators that we don’t want, and trying to shove free market policies down our throats. Your vote for the democrats will never bring that change. But of course, you sleep better at night thinking you’re not a conservative. But alas, we will continue getting T-shirts. If we’re lucky, we’ll get tents while your (mostly white-led) liberal corporatists continue to create the very conditions that led you to conclude we need T-shirts (and if we’re lucky, tents).

    • african

      james, no African goes hiking!! who is going to explore nature on an empty stomach. this is what someone talked about earlier, you may want to help but your ideas on what may be helpful are completely inaccurate. life as you know it as an average inhabitant of the developed world is not even comparable to the situation of your average african. its like comparing the planet pluto to the sun. sure they are both perceptibly round, but they are not even the same object. think way outside your box.

  • Lilia Villa

    The KONY2012 campaign thing should be on this list!

    • John Rudolph Beaton

      Lilia –

      The Kony2012 campaign and the group behind it actually accomplished a lot for those who still follow the LRA conflict. Massive reductions in killings and an increase in peaceful defections to name a couple.

      • http://www.wheretheroadgoes.com Richard

        Actually no. The LRA leaving Northern Uganda predates any of the KONY2012 hi-jinks.

        • John Rudolph Beaton

          Actually, yes.

          As a journalist, you should do a bit more research before you answer just in case the person commenting happens to be an expert on the topic at hand. I’ve worked on and analyzed the LRA conflict for the past three years.

          The massive reductions in killings and increase in peaceful defections have happened in the past year in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The data proves this. This rise in defections is credited to various defection messaging and increased military pressure. Invisible Children is far-and-away the most involved and invested NGO in defection messaging and defectors have actually walked out of the bush carrying Invisible Children fliers.

          You are free to mock Kony2012 as much as you like, but results are what matter and Invisible Children continues to produce those in spades. Of course, the Kony2012 campaign warrants some criticism but to off-handedly dismiss the entire organization behind it is short-sighted. Don’t let preexisting biases block reality.

          • http://www.wheretheroadgoes.com Richard

            You might want to point out (if we are all about declaring biases) that you work for the LRA Crisis Tracker. And by extension, Invisible Children.

            I would never go so far as to say that there hasn’t been a single case that could be attributed to the work IC has done, but you are willfully ignoring that the LRA’s departure from Northern Uganda (and the subsequent normalising of the situation) just after the peace talks failed cannot be substantially contributed to IC’s work, however circumstantially.

            It’s also the case that while video work like KONY2012 is great at demonising Kony and the LRA, it has very little to say indeed on the forced camps the Ugandan government created in response to the LRA. Nor on how the government should itself be answering for a very large proportion of the deaths that occurred in Northern Uganda at the time. For an organisation dedicated to bringing justice to the region, those silences are damning.

            Sure, IC may do other good work (and concerns about the validity of its data aside, LRA Crisis Tracker is a really interesting idea), but KONY2012 was a pretty abysmal reduction of a complicated political and security situation into white saviour tropes that have been more than adequately pilloried on this site and elsewhere.

          • John Rudolph Beaton

            Richard, I was never talking about the LRA’s departure from N. Uganda. The data that shows an increase in defections and decrease is killing is all post-Uganda/post-Juba peace talks LRA. As in the LRA continued to massacre and abduct people on prodigious levels in the DRC and CAR and then those numbers dropped due to the reasons I previously listed. The data from when the LRA were in Uganda is not even in the picture. In a nutshell: the LRA’s capacity to commit acts of violence has drastically been reduced since 2010.

            IC has actually made videos about the IDP camps and it is a fallacy to say that because IC is not focused on other human rights abuses that that they are somehow delegitimized. IC has always been about the LRA, because if you want to solve a problem you have to focus on it. There are many terrible things happening in the world and they require focus to be resolved. IC has never defended the Musevine regime or their atrocious human rights record. Should I apologize that IC cannot be everywhere solving every problem?

            Perhaps I can’t say this without bias, but there are no real questions about the validity of the LRA Crisis Tracker data. I believe one academic has written a critique of it, but despite my sharing our full dataset with him, he chose to portray the CT dataset as LRA only, despite the fact that our dataset catalogs abuses by all groups that we get reports on, not just LRA. And while you and others are more than welcome to offer feedback on how myself or IC could improve the Crisis Tracker, the fact that it is used by all major players in the counter-LRA fight and that local NGO’s use our reports to know which routes are safe is enough validation for me know that not only is the Crisis Tracker an incredibly useful tool, but it also the most complete database on the LRA in existence (as far as I know. If you know of more extensive, please let me know so I can contact them.)

            I encourage you to look into the work that IC is doing throughout the region as opposed to still critiquing a video that was released a year and a half ago. You may be impressed.

  • Marl

    Not sure if this has already been mentioned but I would also add Charities that bought and delivered out-of-date medicines a few year ago, around the time of the Bosnian War. Win-win all round donors got a big fat tax deduction and positive promotion and pharma companies got paid for stiff that had to dump anyhow….

  • jack

    “women/children/villages/gorillas” umm, excuse me?

  • Malcolm Urlich

    50 cents has no sense though thinks in dollars, shame on you fifty!

    • african

      stop hating on 50 cent. don’t you know he is just a business man? everything he does is aimed at putting more money in his pocket. thats why he is richer than you and I. look at the pic. he is too big for his shirt!! haha. its symbolic. he is bigger than everyone around and thats why you need to like his page. while you line up for his meal, he already ate and now you can have what is left over while he looks good for the cameraman. maybe he should go to sudan and pose with the 7 foot tall giants that reside there. he will look tough only for as long as they do not know he is a millionaire. once they know he is worth something, they will have him on the floor with someone’s foot on his cheek. we don’t eat left overs they will say. time to really show some generosity and sign over all you are worth. one may exploit another’s desperation until finally the curiosity that is inherently instinctual kicks in and it becomes time to find the source of the trickles that keep hope alive without actually alleviating the despair.

  • malcolm urlich

    shame on you 50 cent(s) who has no sense only dollars to serve his own interests, at least someone is out there snapping these opportunistic media celebrities/personalities out & exposing them for what they really are!

  • JH

    Great article.

  • e

    The best thing you can do to aid a country is travel and stay there for a while!

  • Toni

    Have any of you people ever lived or even visited a 3rd world country? I have lived in Haiti for over 30 years and have met the TOMS people who are opening a factory here in Port au Prince this year, 2013. They have been working with local artisans for over a year who decorate the fabric to make many of their shoes. Take your 1st world ideas about how things should be and come live here to see how things really are. You will understand that to be given shoes when you don’t even have one pair is a gift from heaven. It’s just too easy to criticize when you apparently don’t know what you are talking about. Giving one million shoes world wide means perhaps a few hundred thousand will be distributed in Haiti where over 6-8 million people live way way below the poverty level.
    Get real. The TOMS people are least doing something to alleviate some of the poverty here by employing locals and opening a factory, what are you doing?

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  • kemi

    thank you sir, so much respect for this write up.

  • JT King

    Read ” When Helping Hurts”alleviating poverty without hurting the poor. Awesome book!

  • Anisa Ghadrshenas


    I don’t disagree with the majority of the points you raise in this article, but I’m not sure these are the 7 most egregious offenders. There are a lot of well-intentioned enterprises that start out on one path, and course correct, multiple times, to deliver impact. This happens in both the developed and developing world, in aid, in social enterprise, in humanitarian work, in the the private sector. There is a long standing conflict in approach between those who believe you should precisely plan, anticipate, and rigorously design aid to be delivered only when we know “exactly how it should be done”, while another approach utilizes the best available combindation of skill-sets, best practices and resources to tackle and solve real problems, with an understanding that to go forward with urgency, you might make mistakes – but if you don’t act, all the non-mistakes won’t happen either. So if the choice is to act and make mistakes, or to move slowly and make less mistakes, I don’t think there is a clear answer – people’s lives are all equally valuable, but so are the intentions of those who aim to serve others. So really, these 7 groups may be identified as making mistakes, but who knows what they might be capable of doing down the line. Certainly adding more consciousness about a subject many people don’t even think about day to day.

    One last point on USAID – I can understand frustrations expressed on how they sometimes operate – however, it is entirely unfair to lump them in this category, as they very clearly state that their primary mandate is to support US Foreign Policy objectives in countries around the world. Aid is not their first mission, it’s politics, so like it or not, they’re honest about the fact that the work isn’t entirely selfless.

  • Boomz4

    I agree with you on that one. So long as the end result is more good than harm, I take no issue with mutually beneficial marketing-donor schemes.

  • Alejandra Barahona

    I loved to read this perspective and loved your bold honesty. Not many people have the courage to address this issues…In a way it´s a bit arrogant to think we know what other people need and in a lot of cases, like you mentioned, aid makes things worse. In order to help, extensive research has to be made and the people getting the aid should be able to have a saying on how they are being helped which never happens. Western world don´t understand that one of the biggest reasons of poverty is all the western rules and impositions, aid being one of them.

  • Annette Sleeping-Bear

    Really, everyone can talk all they like about what someone else needs or wants, but when you look at the hard facts, the starving in Africa have been starving for well over 100 years that I know of (they were starving in my Grandmothers young years)… so NOTHING has worked yet! Yes you need to enable people rather than making them dependent on aid, yes you need to teach people how to grow crops etc, but you also need to stop the governments and other military regimes from destroying everything. Even with that said, the people themselves need to take a stand and say enough is enough, you cannot fight someone else’s battles.

    • ctmany

      Get the got-damn vulture funds out of Africa.

  • seppo

    I live in a country where TOMS is very active. There are a couple kinds of shoes you can buy… nice leather handmade artisan shoes (very expensive), chinese plastic shoes (very very cheap) and used Western shoes (very cheap). It’s not like TOMS is giving shoes into a vacuum. If they’re competing with anyone (and even in a really small country, the amount of shoes they give is going to be a drop in the bucket) it’s the guys selling the cheap chinese plastic. Also, I don’t know how they decide who to give them to, but unless they’re very clever about it the free shoes are being resold anyhow, so more or less the same guys will benefit in more or less the same way. This happens with ALL international aid items.

  • Leia

    With the exception of people who are hungry, what if what we call “poor” is just living simply? When I went to Costa Rica a few years ago, I got to go to an island that few Americans go to. We were told that the people there would be poor. Having little material possessions. When I got there, I saw farmers and fishermen. No one was hungry, but few had electricity. But they didn’t mind – this is how they had lived for a long time. I also saw people who laughed easily, extended hospitality and who were not materialistic. We had been instructed to bring toys and clothing to give away. But no one there was naked and the kids played with sticks, rocks, built forts in the woods and games like tag. I actually felt like we were insulting them by assuming they needed the things we brought to be truly happy.

    Someone recently told me, that with the exception of hunger and clean water, we should judge what we call “poverty” by the standard of “how does this person live compared to his immediate community?” instead of “how does he live compared to me back in America?”. I am still processing how I feel about this, but after my Costa Rica trip, I wonder if this might be a better way to look at aid.

    My mother grew up “poor” in a remote part of Hawaii, but she always says that she never knew she was poor because everyone in her part of Hawaii lived the same way. She has memories of fishing and climbing coconut trees and not wearing shoes to school or anywhere until she was about 12 and feeling like she had a great life, even though money was always tight. She lived they way everyone around her lived, so her poverty was her “normal”. It wasn’t until she went to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu and heard how people talked about her section of Hawaii and saw how others grew up that she found out that she had been considered “poor”.

  • Sophia

    I don’t agree with the Toms one. Sorry. I work for an NGO in BOtswana (look it up) and our kids receive the Toms shoes and a lot of them can’t afford their own shoes. They have tattered torn shoes. One of the girls walks 2 hours to school, without the proper footwear it’s excruciating. Toms is doing a good thing. IT’s easy to judge relief efforts when you’re not on the ground seeing what people are actually going through.

  • Taha

    International aid, in almost all situations, is not a result of genuinely altruistic desires but rather a tool for extending foreign policy objectives, for states. No one, not least those life-less entities called states, have any desire to give up their resources and and wealth in order to benefit others without getting anything in return. Individuals can and do help; states don’t.

  • crbc

    Dear Richard Stupart…. what are you doing currently for Africa?

  • Thomas Remme

    One way to help is to STOP FUCKING THEM UP IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    Sorry for the CAPS, but this should be bloody obvious. The trickle of help received is nothing compared to the torrents and streams of resources being exploited and drained – taken out from that same poor country.

  • Peachman82

    #4 The machine gun preacher- I would rather know that I went in and saved lives and never done anything about it! Sometimes you must do things that you might not like to do, but thankfully someone has courage to go rescue peoples lives

  • Carmen

    Very interesting article! However I disagree partially with your analysis of #7… I don’t think it’s correct to compare the neutrality of USAID and MSF. MSF is a private organization but USAID is a government agency; how could it not be affected by that government’s priorities? The extent of USAID’s use as a foreign policy tool should be compared to other government aid agencies such as DFID, AusAID, etc. Are there any donor governments who successfully separate their foreign policy priorities and their foreign aid distribution?

  • mr derp

    What the fu<k did I just read? Has the author even been to Africa? You have no idea how much these people need 1st world leftovers. Yes you are right throw your old shirts in the bin instead of giving them to people who only own 1 possibly 2 shirts if they are lucky. It does stimulate local economy because unlike us they still use a bartering system not based soley from paper or plastic currency. And if you argue on logistics then look in your own wardrobe and figure out how you helped stimulate the hurtful waste of time and resources used to get this seasons or this decades fashion. Get a plane ticket and travel africa.. enjoy your reality check.

  • Henry Ayoola

    This is nice and all, wanting to help people in need. But in my opinion there is one and only one surefire way to elevate Africa from the stupor of poverty it is currently in. And that is to get rid of the current political leaders and install people who actually give a damn about their people. Until that happens, the economic situation of most Africans will never change, regardless of how much you donate or any schemes anyone devises.

  • Shawnskey

    Another bad idea is dumping tons of food on a hurting country. It destroys local agriculture, often is a food they do not eat, so it wastes, or it becomes a target for local militias to control to extend dominance over their neighbors- obedience for food. It creates dependence as native sources of food dry up for imported free food. Seldom is long term infrastructure/sustainable agriculture built up. Another is dumping fertilizers and tractors for intensive western style agriculture that destroys the local soils and causes desertification and worse problems.

  • manofpower69

    If fiftys idea is bad then what is toms ? by one of our shoes we will send one to some poor kid?

  • Rice

    The world is a zero sum game. Countries in Africa are simply the victims of it. Countries like Congo and Kenya are blessed with so much natural resources, yet they remain the poorest countries in the world. Why? Because all the wealth are legally, legitimately and systematically transferred via economic means to the developed countries. Their own people are simply slaves to the mining corporations, foreign businesses, and even their own government. Without them in this poor state there will be no USA, Europe, Australia or Singapore.

  • B

    Your point on the 50 cent Facebook likes ignores the fact that Facebook likes can have a monetary value ascribed to them. Those meals aren’t just sitting in a warehouse somewhere having been budgeted for. They are effectively being paid for by the value that the likes add to Fifty’s brand because he is now allowed to access those potential customers in a way he wasn’t before. Those “likers” are effectively donating space on their Facebook wall in exchange for the meals to people in Africa.

  • TeacherPete

    I grew up in Poland in the 80’s and 90’s. I loved getting nice clothes from Sweden when they were donated to our church. I think people are just getting ridiculous. This is another article criticizing with no actual solutions. Its so easy to criticize everything these days. There is no single solution to anything. But when people try to donate things then what is the problem??? Ok so the shirt seller looses money by not being able to sell as many shirts or shoes…. but lets see, now the person who would have to spend money on shoes or shirt can afford more food cause they don’t have to pay for their next shirt. When I went to Africa I build soccer nets at the local school from fish nets I bought at the local market. Sure there might have been something else I could have spent the money but I decided to do that one thing and it was great. The local soccer team would play there. The kids would stay after school and play. Stop thinking so much and just do something, and stop criticizing everyone else for trying to do something as well.

  • Jackie

    TOMS actually provides lots of jobs making shoes in Haiti now.

  • International Bedouin

    hi is this Saad? take care, SS

  • Alisha

    So, how do you help the impoverished parts of the world?

  • CatoYounger

    Here’s an idea, just quit the “aid”. Most of these countries need stable, relatively honest governments more than they need anything else (something we all need). People need good faith partnerships, like targeted micro loans, not “aid” dumped on them. After all, the same economics that hold true for dumping free t-shirts hold true for dumping food. Who can be a farmer when millions of pounds of free food are being dumped at the local port? Who can be farmer in Zwimbabwe when the murderous government takes your land? Until there is law and order, there can’t be wide-scale progress. And when your own government is looting you, its easy to despair. I have incredible admiration for so many people who create businesses, live their lives, and take care of their families amid incredible challenges.