For far too long, Westerners have simply accepted the status quo of foreign aid, building ever-larger systems and programs for global charity even as they’re proven to squander resources and disempower the very communities they intend to assist.
As films like Poverty, Inc. and the PovertyCure aptly demonstrate, when it comes to charity, we need a profound shift in our heads, hands, and hearts — “from aid to enterprise, from poverty alleviation to wealth creation, from paternalism to partnerships, from handouts to investments.”
Such a shift certainly demands a fuller appreciation for the power and potential of business and entrepreneurship. But in correcting that imbalance, let’s not forget that the same principles of partnership and personal exchange ought to also extend back to the charity itself. Even as we turn our focus to creating the conditions for longer-term flourishing and prosperity, how might we reform the ways in which we continue to meet severe and immediate needs as they arise?
For Gret Glyer, a young entrepreneur and humanitarian, such questions led him to develop DonorSee, a new app that seeks to bypass the bureaucratic bloat of Big Aid and bring efficiency, transparency, and accountability to global generosity.
“There are Peace Corps workers, aid workers, and missionaries living in every corner of the globe,” Glyer explains in the video below. “All of them live around vulnerable people who could use some help in meeting their basic needs. We’ve designed our app to make it easier than ever before to fund-raise for these needs.”
Through the app, workers and volunteers in any country can quickly post a need (e.g. mosquito nets, a surgery, a school) and upload a picture with a dollar amount, similar to crowdfunding. Donors browse and choose from posted needs and then get notifications and updates as funds are raised and the need is fulfilled. Rather than entrusting funds to layers of detached middle men and bureaucrats, donors can see and interact more directly with the actual people they hope to serve.
Glyer explains the approach and technology below (or watch the basic summary video here):
Glyer founded the company after doing extensive humanitarian work in Malawi and Haiti. Through his work, he continued to be frustrated by the ineffective use of foreign aid, which would often go to massive infrastructure projects or government priorities instead of meeting the more direct individual needs.
Kevin Williamson recently profiled Glyer, and explains the backstory as follows:
Glyer can be pretty pointed on the subject of Big Aid. “They should be embarrassed of how ineffective they are, by how much they spend on infrastructure instead of projects,” he says. He tells of arriving in Haitian disaster areas well ahead of the Red Cross and other splendidly funded agencies. “I booked a ticket and took my phone and my app,” he says. After living on $600 a month in Malawi, Glyer paid $7,000 out of pocket – “my life’s savings, basically” — to develop a prototype version of DonorSee. The project is a for-profit enterprise, taking a small cut of the money that passes through in much the same way as GoFundMe and other crowdfunding services. The promise of profits allowed him to access venture-capital funding, which in turn allowed him to roll out DonorSee in 40 countries about four months ago.
…Sometimes, big projects and big infrastructure are needed. Glyer began his fund-raising career by gathering money to build houses at $800 a pop and has worked on big institution-building, notably a girls’ school in Malawi. But big institutions often become their own reason for existing: Buildings and employees and such create jobs, not only for front-line workers but for managers, senior managers, executives, human-resources officers, lawyers, public-relations and marketing personnel, and more.
The technology has already been banned by Peace Corps workers, due to the various rules and requirements their workers and volunteers are obligated to follow. not only that, but they have threatened to fire any employee who uses it. Similar roadblocks and obstacles exist with many of the other aid organizations, further demonstrating how Glyer’s technology is offering a healthy challenge to the system.
DonorSee is meeting real human needs and creating new efficiencies and mechanisms for generosity, bringing innovative ideas we should all welcome. But it is also setting a great example for other organizations and institutions — not to mention consumers and givers — in the way it prioritizes diligence, accountability, and stewardship in the task of charity that actually uplifts.
Photo: Unsplash, Public Domain (modified)