Neighbors Here and In the Andes

I’ve always been a big picture thinker, often to the extreme. Give me dreaming and plans of global pie in the sky eco-solutions and I’m happy as a clam. However, even my big picture mind has had to come to terms with the reality of the newly slowing economy. As mentioned in this space repeatedly, many donors are re-imagining how they are giving, and how to adjust to the tightening of belts going on across the country.

Well, today I’m thinking about where the dollars need to go. As much as I worry that economic slow down means the death of big picture philanthropy, the problems of immediate need overwhelms everything else. Just as the ceiling of who can afford to give drops in a bad economy, the people who find themselves on the receiving end are suddenly multiplying… and coming from surprising parts of our society. This as donations to front line establishments like soup kitchens are at or below last year's levels. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly trickle-down depression can send people to the soup kitchen, even those who were well situated a few months ago.

Soup kitchens and other hunger programs are, and continue to be, an amazing and direct alleviation of suffering. Now, more then ever, the people accepting help from those places represent our neighbors and friends in a very real and tangible way. For a lot of people, they also represent a favorite method for giving because of all of those words: direct, tangible, real. Even when you are giving on a small scale, everyone likes to see results from their investments.

When it comes to results, then, I’d like to share another small scale model for giving that is very near and dear to me. The Vidas Mejoradas project is working to improve the quality of life for a village in the Andes, providing clay stoves to families that have always suffered from the air quality brought about by open cook-fires. Drawing on the very best of micro-loan logic, the donations go directly to buying the raw materials for the ovens, money that is injected directly into the town's economy.

More interesting than the cause, for me, is the connection that has grown up between a community in America and a community in Peru: giving is made even more valuable and more connected by things like the establishment of a sister school connection for children of the same age to connect. It’s one of the most powerful ways to establish both a strong community here and a strong connection with a community there, and the results, despite the size of the gifts, are very real and very direct. Maximizing the effect of each dollar can reach outside of traditional measuring benchmarks!

Full disclosure: Nan Rothwell, one of the two artists featured in the article, is my mother, and the NorthBranch school graduates that the article references would be me and my sister.

Alan Smith

Posted at 1:00 AM, Nov 25, 2008 in Health | Microfinance | Peace and Justice | Scaling Philanthropy | Technology | Permalink | Comment