I was talking to a really nice woman today on the phone and our conversation brought something to mind that I would like to share with you. It is something I briefly touched on during a talk I gave in Vienna a few months ago and I’m happy today’s conversation reminded me to post a note to all of you here: Donations. I’m sure that some of you have been approached at some time or another by someone at work or church or maybe your child’s school asking for donations of clothing or other items which would be sent to Africa. Despite the generous gesture; next time say no and offer this bit of advice instead: “Send money and stimulate the local economy instead.”
It isn’t the idea of sending tennis shoes or dolls that bothers me, far from it! But what I think many people are either unaware of or perhaps just don’t give any thought to is that Africa is a continent where most things can be found and almost always cheaper than they can be purchased in the West. Let’s think about this logically shall we? Let’s take a fictional scenario as our example of responsible donating:
Jane wants to help poor children in Rwanda and figures a good way to do so would be to ask the members of her local church to donate used children’s clothing at next Sunday’s service so that she can mail them to a church that they are affiliated with in Kigali, Rwanda. Sounds like a lovely idea doesn’t it? Yes it is; but there is a more socially responsible way of accomplishing the same task:
Instead of paying the shipping (and often bogging the receiver down with import taxes in addition… why not raise some money and send it to someone at the church in Rwanda to ask them to purchase clothing directly. After all, there is a local economy which probably includes women who make their living selling used clothing from market stalls.
By taking this approach, Jane has 1) saved in shipping charges– thus having extra money which could be helping Africans instead of the postal service 2) avoided often heavy import taxes which many African countries levy on imports 3) still provided the children she wanted to assist with clothing to wear and 4) supported the local economy by purchasing the goods from local businesses in Rwanda.
Think about Jane the next time you consider a fundraiser for the poor. Or, the next time you hear someone talking about gathering items for donation to Africa; let them know that you are sure they have the best intentions. But remind them that unless it is a donation of items that really can’t be found in the area they are donating them to… there might be a more responsible way of accomplishing their mission.