Growing up I remember listening to the news and constantly hearing about regions and people that were suffering and impoverished. I remember feeling helpless, thinking that there was nothing I could do from my home in Toronto. I also remember being inspired by reading stories of people helping those in need such as Craig Kielburger and organizations like Free the Children, Right To Play, and Red Cross. And, most importantly, I remember knowing that in the future I wanted to do my part and help others one day. My understanding of ‘helping’ revolved around getting involved with charities, donating money, and potentially going abroad to help build schools or clinics. It wasn’t until I was in university and reading an article questioning how foreign aid really worked, did I really wonder how to help and support countries in a more sustainable way.
I’m not the only one who feels the need to help. Every year, millions of dollars are donated to domestic and foreign organizations to help out the less fortunate in some way.
While handouts can be essential in certain crises that need immediate aid, in most cases, the donation is only a temporary solution and fails to pull people out of poverty in the long run. People in developing countries wouldn’t need foreign aid if a more sustainable solution was in place. A ‘hand up’ to viable employment is a long-term solution that empowers workers as they develop applicable skills, and it allows for self-sufficiency and growth in more ways than one.
“Jobs allow families better access to amenities like safe water and reliable energy, which in turn free up time and money and improve health and education. In a virtuous circle, this leads to a new generation of skilled, educated and inspired young people, equipped to take advantage of new opportunities.” We can see that sustainable employment creates a chain reaction of positive development that can go on to change lives for entire communities, and countries as a whole.
If we take a look at developing countries, we see that more than half of the workers are in jobs that barely keep them out of extreme poverty. The lack of proper employment is a serious problem, affecting individual workers, and the families they support as well. Handouts consist of limited resources that eventually run dry, but if we focus on solutions that allow people to support themselves through sustainable employment, we can change their lives in ways we couldn’t imagine.
A lot of us know of the popular shoe brand TOMS. For a while, the shoes seemed to be on everyone’s feet, as they were casual and comfortable, but also the shoes had a story that millions of people fell in love with. TOMS was founded in 2005 by Blake Mycoskie and made waves with its one-for-one business plan; with every pair bought, children abroad and in need received a pair themselves. The plan was and is effective as the company commits to supplying the same communities throughout their lifetime so they are never without shoes. However, it lacks creating a sustainable opportunity for the communities to help themselves. TOMS has had a lot of success helping those in need, but it has people waiting for the next pair of shoes, and potentially puts local shoemakers out of business. A better solution might be to take the money spent on creating and shipping the product and invest in local initiatives to create sustainable employment opportunities.
One organization that is inspiring and a great example of creating a long-term solution to those in need is 8West. The organization started out with volunteers walking the streets of Los Angeles providing homeless youth with meals, water, hygiene kits, other necessities, and referrals to community resources. These initial actions helped, but they did nothing to effectively get young people out of homelessness. To make a significant impact, the group realized they needed to “disrupt the pathway to chronic homelessness with sustainable solutions”. So, in 2015 they launched a job training program with supportive housing and offered transitional employment opportunities. With a roof over their heads, and the ability to work and make money, thousands of youth have learned to support themselves, and stay off the streets. Eight West saw the power of providing homeless youth with a hand up to help themselves for a lifetime, as opposed to relying on donations that would just get them through one day.
Again, not all donations are bad and we can see that charities are doing what they can help. Monetary and some in-kind donations are useful for situations that need immediate attention, or as stepping stones before transitioning into a long-term initiative. However, what we need to improve, is our focus on investing in and implementing sustainable solutions.
So, next time we want to donate, we should be more aware that our money isn’t going towards initiatives that offer band-aid solutions to a problem. Rather, an organization that is providing tools and long-term opportunities that empower others to lift themselves up and build better lives. When they win, we all win.