some alternative ideas to donating t-shirts
Most of you have by now heard about the 1 Million Shirts for Africa project, of which several development bloggers became aware yesterday thanks to a Tweet from @jonvwest.
Others have already given commentary on the plan ranging from snarky to insightful (in that order):
- Aid Watch's explanation as to why shipping a million t-shirts to Africa is a bad idea.
- Aid Thoughts parses the site's homepage.
- Tales from the Hood's post that outlines what happened next and why we need to have conversations about aid in an open, transparent fashion.
- Amanda Maculec's excellent thoughts on the logic behind the plan, the nature of good intentions, and the logistical consequences of shipping 1 million t-shirts to Africa.
So, how else could Jason - who, I should note, is really mad at the aid blogging community about this - direct his well-intentioned efforts to help people?
- How about raising funds and awareness for an established organization? One of the stated goals of the project is to help widows establish businesses selling these shirts. Rather than spending the enormous sums it will cost to send $1 million shirts to the continent, why not instead direct those funds to an organization that already provides small business loans to widows or victims of conflict or disease?
- Where to do that? One organization I really like is Heal Africa in the D.R. Congo. They provide small business loans to foster families who are willing to take in orphaned children. The families use those loans to start businesses, which help with the expense of housing, clothing, and feeding an extra child. They then repay the loan and the money is used to help another foster family. This is a sustainable, well-thought-out project that meets a critical need in a culturally-appropriate way.
- There are tons of other programs that undertake similar or related activities. Fundraising for Kiva or a reputable, country-based microfinance institution like Ethiopia's Amhara Credit and Savings Institution is another a great idea. Again, these organizations have long experience with providing loans to small-scale entrepreneurs who want to get a business started.
- Why not help African textile manufacturers? @tmsruge (who is actually from Africa) suggested on Twitter the idea of buying 1 million shirts from African vendors to donate to children in need stateside. This would provide African workers with desparately-needed jobs, income, and stability, in both the manufacturing and the cotton-production sector while meeting a need here as well.
- @AfriNomad suggested using the Hope Phones model, which collects used cell phones, sells them in the US market, and uses the money from those sales to buy new phones in local markets. Those phones go to local health workers in several developing countries. On average, each donated phone lets them buy three phones in the field. This is a great idea, and while I'm not sure it would work directly with t-shirts (there's not a huge demand for used t-shirts in the US market, either), there are creative ways to make t-shirts into other products that are in high demand here in the west. Maybe women in a poor community here in the states could make rugs, coasters, magazine racks, or baskets from old t-shirts, sell them, and use the profits partly to provide themselves with a steady income and partly to support women in Africa. There are tons of possibilities.
- Could you auction off some of the most popular shirts from the I Wear Your Shirt project? Or convince celebrities to wear or sign them before auction? That would be a great way to raise a lot of money quickly, which could then be donated to a reputable charity.
- Check out Saundra's post on questions you should ask before donating goods overseas. This is a helpful tool for evaluating the idea and for thinking about other alternatives.
- Ask people what they need. Look for established charities doing something called "community-based needs assessments," in which they survey people in poor communities about their needs, wants, and hopes for the future. Partner with an organization that is doing these kinds of assessments. Find out what the community needs. In almost fifteen years of studying African communities, I've never heard of a community saying that clothing is its greatest need. Things like access to clean water, better sanitation, easier transportation options to markets and schools, and basic security are far higher priorities. Direct your efforts as a response to needs the intended recipients have directly expressed.
The good thing about this is that it's not that hard to figure out how to make a real, lasting difference in someone else's life. All you have to do is ask.
- Alanna Shaikh weighs in here, with a brilliant deconstruction of the now-infamous video.
- Here's an incredibly thoughtful post from Siena Anstis explaining why this is a monumentally bad idea.
- Aid Watch jumps in with the idea of promoting smart giving.
- TMSRuge has a better idea for using all those t-shirts.
- As does Liberia's African T-Shirt Company.
- Alanna has another wonderful post on the problems with responses to aid critics.
- Christopher Fabian has great observations on the importance of this debate.
- Tales from the Hood on why good intentions don't matter if an idea is bad.
- Saundra has a great roundup (as usual) of related blog posts.
- Stratosphere on the difference between hating and thinking.
- Great thoughts on the importance of communications in development.