Non-profits in the Third World


We naturally expect non-profit organizations and the people who work in them to be above the desire for monetary or political gain, but even at home in developed economies, scandals hit from time to time. A quick reality check is in order before you look at non-profits in developing economies. There aren’t many Mother Theresas in the world, so don’t hold everyone in the non-profit sector to her standard! When you evaluate a Third World NGO, you should look at their accomplishments and the services that they offer. Don’t concern yourself with the finances of the organization. If you are too preoccupied by the possibility that someone is getting a disproportionate share of an organizations funds, you’ll make yourself miserable. I've heard many complaints from volunteers about organizations that are doing great work. This usually happens when somehow they see the accounts and notice payroll inequalities or unusual "benefits." Or sometimes, it's just the fact that the director drives a car in a country where most people don't even have plumbing. Of course, if you can find a completely altruistic organization, go for it! But temper your expectations.

Another issue that comes up from time to time is pressure to donate money to a project. In Uganda, I was told by the director of an orphanage that all Americans have household workers, and that for us, $500 was nothing. Hmmm. Many countries have well-developed cultures of dependency. Years of foreign aid and donations from well-meaning visitors have led many organizations to expect all foreign volunteers and visitors to support them. It is difficult to deal with, and once the door is opened, it's very difficult to close. If you come bearing donations, instead of gratitude, you may find yourself overwhelmed by constant requests. If you wish to avoid this, it is far better to give donations as you leave, or after you have gone. If you find that you have become the target of constant requests, you'll just need to develop thick skin. Remember - you cannot possibly solve all the problems of the world, or even of a given village.

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