Have you ever wondered where your money goes after making a donation? In this series of blogs, GPP co-founder Simon Moss explores how you can understand where it goes, why, and how you can help it go further.
Pencils for Africa screamed the advertisement in the local school newsletter. After seeing firsthand the lack of resources at schools in Malawi, a group of students have banded together, and are collecting pencils, pens, textas and the like to send to Africa. Dedicated, they visit each classroom each day, collecting new and used pencils that students, staff and families are able to spare.
In the staff room, they’ve started stacking boxes and boxes of these pencils, and before long, there are several milk crates worth. About a week in, someone asks how they’re going to get the pencils to Africa, which is where I come in.
Getting emails and phone calls about ideas like this are amongst both the best and worst of my job.
Best in that time and again, I’m amazed at the initiative, passion and dedication that people have for helping others. The fire that is sparked by spending time in poor communities is truly inspirational, and it’s a wonder to see people come back motivated beyond belief to make a difference.
And, it’s the worst, as it makes me the bad cop, as I was in this case.
Very politely, I asked some probing questions. How many boxes? How much did they weigh? How much does international freight cost? How much are the pencils worth? How long will they take to get there? And, perhaps the hardest, how much would a similar number of pencils cost to buy in Malawi?
Invariably, the penny drops, and I’m left to console someone whose good intentions got ahead of their common sense. Realising that good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes is an important lesson to learn, but not always an easy one.
In one story that I would have thought apocryphal, but for the photos I’ve seen, a $25,000 piece of medical equipment was lovingly organised, donated and sent to East Timor, only for it to sit in the back garden of the hospital because no one knew what it was or how to use it.
So, my great hope is that we can learn from the mistakes of others, and keep in mind a couple of questions when considering sending goods overseas:
Has the local community in the given country identified it as a need? If not, ask them to think about it before going any further.
- Can it be sourced locally? How much would it cost?
- Can it be maintained and looked after locally? How much would it cost to fix?
- How much would it cost to get and send to the country?
- How long would it take, and what assurances do you have that it won’t go missing or get broken along the way?
Giving equipment can be an amazing resource, better than money can buy, or it can be an expensive and disheartening waste of time. The beauty is, it’s you who makes the decision on what the outcome will be.
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