Have you read this blog? It’s called Good Intentions Are Not Enough, and it is EXCELLENT.

If you have ever done international aid work, if you’ve ever been to another country to try to help people, this blog is a must-read. Even if you haven’t done that, but you’ve donated to causes in other countries, you’ll find something useful in this blog. It’s all about donor education!

For example, have you ever seen coat, shoe, or clothing drives to help people in other countries? What’s wrong with this? Well, have you ever thought about how giving away our ratty old stuff, even if it’s still useable, is not good for people, doesn’t make them feel good about themselves? What about the industries in this country? The people who make shoes, coats, clothing? Have you ever stopped to wonder what you are doing to their business when you give away these things for free? Does demand for their products plummet? Basic economics means that soon these people will need help too, because you’re putting them out of a job.

So in 2010 when Tom’s Shoes was coming out, and people were complaining that it did more harm than good, some people listened. For example, me. I wrote a blog post called

“Dear Western Donors, For God’s Sake Please Just Stop”

And a blog post called High Impact Philanthropy is Insulting!

With my own story as “white savior” going to Indonesia and thinking I knew EXACTLY HOW TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS WITHOUT EVER GOING THERE.

Oh Man. And Good Intentions Blogger Sandra talks about this, in her 1 Million Jasons post.

She writes, “When whichever Jason I’m teaching finally gets it, he/she almost always says some version of “I just wanted to help” – “it seemed like a good idea”- “I didn’t understand” – “I had good intentions”. The end goal with each Jason was for them to understand that Good Intentions are Not Enough.”

There’s international aid work that goes on, but the UN doesn’t monitor it. The aid work is pretty much dependent on whatever donors want to do, and if that means bringing tons of clothing, shoes, or something else to a country that already has those things, then that’s what they’ll do. So if you really want to help Zimbabwe, or the DRC, or Brazil, or any number of poor countries, do business with them.

Yes. Help them be economically self sustaining, and you will help the society more than if you just give them things they already have, and drive down prices to zero. Then you’re putting people out of business instead of stabilizing a society. When you give a man some shoes… you just create another hand-out. But when you give a man money to create a shoe business, then THAT can change a country! Or something. Look at Kiva. Look at other aid organizations like Grameen Bank, places that make microloans to individuals and groups of people who want to have a bigger farm, or people who want to start little shops on the side of the road, things like that.

Bottom line? You may have a lot of leftover clothes. Do not for one minute assume that you know ANYTHING about what people need in another country, unless you have talked with many of them personally and asked them, “What would it take to solve this problem, in your opinion?” They often will have a much better sense of what they need than you ever could.

What do you think? Do you do due diligence as a donor? Have you ever been guilty of thinking you knew what a certain group of people needed, before ever talking with them?