Skip to content

THE INDUSTRY OF AID: Charity or Business?

Giving to a charity feels good. If you were raised in America or the UK, you’re likely very comfortable and familiar with giving to various causes. It’s part of the fabric of modern developed society.

We know there is a need for charity work, especially in developing regions like Africa. We need emergency food, access to clean water, health care and better education, for sure. There is a time and a place for aid work, and I’m glad society gives so freely to support that work.

However, over the past few decades, aid organizations have gotten a little too comfortable. When I walk down the street in any East African capital, I see rows and rows of aid organizations, many of which have been there running the same programs for as many as 15 -20 years.

Donors are comfortable donating to them and the agencies are comfortable doing what they do. But is this really in line with what Africa wants and needs? Is this sustainable? If you ask any African on the street if they want more business or more charity, they will all tell you business. If you don’t believe that, I would challenge you to ask around, and truly listen.

People don’t feel comfortable fostering and supporting business development. It’s too involved. There’s a lot more evaluation and commitment needed, and most people just aren’t up for that level of involvement.

Could you imagine if America had more money coming in through aid than through business? Then why is it so easy to think that’s the way it should be for Africa? Why don’t we just focus on creating great products and great businesses in Africa?

Donors and aid agencies typically spend more time trying to keep their organizations running than they do fostering long term solutions (that are a lot more difficult to raise funds for).

Would you support an African entrepreneur that wants to start a micro enterprise like sewing or jewelry making? How about an African businesswoman that wants to start a restaurant? How about a fashion label that is creating jobs and a better image for Africa? How about a new cinema or coffee shop?

At what point in the above questioning did you completely lose interest? Why?

It’s easy to justify giving money to an organization that will help with a micro business, but it’s a lot more difficult to compel people to invest in real businesses that will ultimately serve Africa much more robustly for the long haul.

At some point, the developed world is going to have to let go of its financial dependence on the industry of aid and start fostering real businesses so Africa can rise up on her own.


  1. Theresa on November 5, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    Jared- You insight and effective communication on these matters never fail to impress me. I couldn’t agree with you more. Yesterday, I was in using my shopping bags and the clerk gushed about how I was “helping save the whales.” (I am not kidding.) She went on to say that if every person used just *one* reusable bags, 10,000 whales would be saved. HUH? I asked, “How did they quantify that?” WalMart had shown the employees training videos on this evidently. And the irony didn’t escape me as I surveyed the acreage of crap they peddle. (Don’t get me wrong…I am a capitalist at heart and I do appreciate the lower cost of groceries there.)

    BUT…that sort of flimsy reasoning…left me realizing once again, how people don’t think about these things. Even WalMart was using the most effective marketing weapons in order to convince their employees to spread their corporate propaganda…appeal to their emotions. Who wants those adorable whales to die?

    Vague promises, emotional appeal…hang on to your wallets and investigate.

    Rock on in what your doing…sending love to you and your beautiful bride… Theresa

  2. Sutton Parks on November 5, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    I love a quote by Rich DeVos, cofounder of Amway, “If you want to help somebody, give them a job”. Another motto I like is, “We’re not asking for a hand out, just a hand”. I’ve needed a hand a number of times in my life, and I’ve also needed opportunities and mentoring which has helped me become more self-sufficient. Thanks for posting views I can’t find elsewhere.

  3. Dan Miller on November 6, 2011 at 6:07 PM

    Jared – great post. I recently ran across a Buddhist concept called “Idiot Compassion.” The term stopped me in my tracks – and resonated as something worth exploring.

    Here’s the brief definition: Idiot compassion is a great expression, which was actually coined by Trungpa Rinpoche. It refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Basically, you’re not giving them what they need. You’re trying to get away from your feeling of I can’t bear to see them suffering. In other words, you’re doing it for yourself. You’re not really doing it for them.

    I think that’s a term we can see in action over and over again.

  4. Jared Angaza on November 7, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    Wow, this is an excellent example of what I’m talking about, and so often dealing with. Unfortunately, I think “idiot compassion” is more of the norm that we’d like to admit. I wrote an essay many years ago about the dynamics of why people “give” or “help”. This concept encapsulates a lot of what I said there.

    People so often give or help due to their feelings of guilt, obligation or desire to fix things. While I do believe that those dynamics can lead a person to more effective and sustainable reasons for and methodologies for giving, they certainly aren’t ideal. And these dynamics so often lead to project that just exacerbate the problem for those being served, which is completely dichotomous.

    If people are giving just to appeal to their own needs, they are more likely to exacerbate the problem. If they truly want to help, they’re going to have to be a lot more invested in understanding the needs and desires of people they are trying to serve, and a lot less concerned with the false indicators of “success” that they’re currently governed by.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll To Top