Tranform or be complicit

I deeply believe in the work of the nonprofit/social benefit sector. And there are urgent issues of the day that need charity to address them, as change takes time. The idea of change-not-charity really appealed to me many years ago when I heard the phrase. YES, change the way things are so that we have different outcomes.

I was reading a site on philanthropy the other day, and they told a story of people saving babies floating down a river…that is charity. And then someone starts to run up the river–and the helpers beg them to come back to help save babies. But they shout back–I am going up river to see what to do about the babies going into the river to begin with. …that is about making change. Yes well…the river is there…and the babies are getting placed in it. Some are not helpless babies, but children and adults caught in the current. And going upriver to address the issues of how they are getting in the river is a huge improvement with leveraged impact over the band-aid result achieved by pulling people out of the river…but it still accepts–takes for granted–that there is a river.

Huh? Who made up this crazy metaphor?

My point here is that as long as we collectively empower the systems and structures; we aren’t really ending the problem. Micro-finance is not really going to end poverty. Different people might be poor, but it doesn’t end poverty. It might even change the dial on what is poverty…the new poor will live on $5 where last year they lived on $1, but their expenses will be higher, so it will go just as far. [Note: when I started writing about these issues 5 years ago, the stat was a $1 a day…now I see $2 a day…for example]

Farmers trying to deal with erosion could try to reclaim top soil (charity)…or they could try different farming practices that decrease erosion to begin with (change). But I would advocate that they look into the system that makes them farm in ways that are imbalanced with nature. Why do they grow so much corn and soybeans? [Read Biomimicry] What is the market driving the behavior that leads to erosion? [What are the policies governing international exchange and rewarding overabundance of some and wasting the production of others.]

Are you following me yet? The very rules of the game need to shift.

Fiat-currency –which we use pretty much universally, although it goes by different currency names, depends on someone being poor. Someone has to lose. Someone gets to win. The winners get to feel good about taking care of the unfortunate. This is the work of traditional philanthropy. I dream instead of transformative philanthropy where everyone involved leverages their wealth (social connections, knowledge, community strength and resilience etc) to shift systems. In this dream, there are no givers and receivers–only collaborators sharing the responsibility and benefits of improved communities.

What would workable ecosystems that enabled people to flourish be like? If we don’t ban fiat-currency–but instead see it as a stepping stone to our evolution, what is the next step that both includes and transcends this force in our world? Working toward that is transformative. Anything else results in being complicit in the very system that creates and maintains poverty.