The Means of Charity for “Africa”

I just finished reading November’s number of African Business magazine. Again there were many interesting articles, but one particular named as “Rebranding Africa” got me thinking, what kind of help is really best for “Africa” and who’s to decide? There’s quotes because, as there is no such thing as Europe, there’s not a single Africa either.

The article I am referring here was written by Anver Versi and titled “Rebranding Africa”. In general it was about how the image of Africa is usually depicted as poor, uncivilized, corrupted and filled with hunger and how this image is too often done by Western people [sometimes to even market and thus get charity foundations more money], and how this all can be a preventing factor of foreign investments and business not finding motivation to come to Africa.

There are a couple of ideas in the article I’d like to refer to.

“The noisiest branding comes from outside the continent and it’s dominant image has been created by the charity brands”, says Melissa Davis of Truebranding in the magazine. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that many charity foundations have done awfully lot of good work, but isn’t the help a bit single minded and what are the real long term benefits? Sometimes I actually feel that just throwing few coins is an give-get yourself a good feeling-and forget action. But still I want to point out, that I’m not criticizing people doing so and am not that familiar with its outcome.

What I am stating is that could it be more meaningful for Western and for African people if we finally played together, collaborated with each other, gave them our expertise and learned about their culture of making business and start doing actual business with them? And I mean business that benefited both parties, not just charity nor in the other hand getting cheaper labour – I hope [although doubtfully] the West has learned something about China.

I’m writing this because I have always been a bit skeptical of just donating few coins to the oh so many charity companies that nowadays are stopping me in the streets. One reason is because of an article I once read about how many percentage goes to the pay of the people who work in the foundation and how small amount actually finds its way to the target, and other is that I have always considered this as a too easy way for me.

So what I have slowly grown wanting to do was to get an education, to become good in something, and then give from it in a sustainable manner to those who can use it. This certain project in Tanzania I have previously mentioned here, is finally a way to do that.

And also now I can see where the help is going, but it’s not actually “help” as such. It’s collaboration.

Like the social media era has now showed us, people commit better and get more excited about things when you let them participate and listen to their needs. When people consider something their own, they value it more.

And secondly, I’m not doing a one time deal. Most likely this project may have, and already has, more interesting ideas for the future.

I would advise anyone to consider this more often; Could your skills and knowledge benefit someone instead of the occasional coin? You don’t have to go to a refugee camp to help, there are as many different ways as there are people.

I would like to end to an idea stating: Shouldn’t this already be the time to start making valuable business like with anyone else in the world and forget it is Africa? That is the only way to make us meet at the same level.

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2 thoughts on “The Means of Charity for “Africa”

  1. Really interesting post.

    The question you ask from the business perspective I have been asking from the personal point of view. I am an African descendent (not that distant, considering that my paternal great-grandparents were slaves and possibly their parents cargo in those portuguese slaveships to Brazil). Still, the feeling of “can’t care less” towards Africa in me while in my home country prevailed. In Brazil, in our collective mind, Africa is what we see on BBC. And since BBC also shows a better place above the globe, why bother? This narrowmindness changed when in Finland (You can read some early stuff about my “shock” here: http://leonafinlandia.blogspot.com/2008/03/nem-s-de-terrorismo-fome-e-guerra-vivem.html).

    And with this change of position and perspective, I was placed in a new role: I am not a distant relative of Africa, now I am a “brother” as I am called by some other black dudes in many situations (I have a small text on that. Gonna re-publish it soon). That creates an interesting clash: all I knew about Africa (poor, HIV positive, hungry and not educated continent who runs away from lions) is opposed to what I am learning about Africa (diverse, educated (or not) and healthy (or not) africans who came to finland to improve their lives in a number of ways for a number of reasons). There are economic differences, of course, but in the level of people Africa is like everywhere else in its complexity.

    I reckon that and try to repeat this to me as a mantra. But sometimes the negative view of the Africas and their people (as beggars, or criminals, etc.) still comes to mind. Weird, isn’t it? Especially considering the fact that people who look at me here may think of me as an African and if they heard me saying this stuff they might say: “how come a black dude thinks that of his equals?”

    Yeah, I wonder and think about that all the time when these thoughts come to mind. I guess here our arguments finally meet.

    For collaboration between western and southern/southern and southern individuals to happen there needs to be a similar process of change of mind/attitude and perspective as it is ongoing with me. Like you say, charity programmes are nice and in their ways effective. But they have paradoxally grown to be an excuse for supporting poor Africa/Asia/L. America without actually bothering about it. Many people don’t help individuals, they relieve an idea in their heads about a horrible place that will remain horrible anyway, but at least they feel slightly guilty-free. The same happens within Brazil, for instance. I think charity programs need coins, but they plea for something else: that other people/groups get inspired and join them in doing whatever small thing they are good at and help changing “the world” or “worlds” somehow.

    However, first this repelling feeling many people feel – like I used to (and still have some traces of in my own imaginary sometimes) – have to be admitted, faced and transformed. Social media, in this aspect, can have a magnificent role of bringing people of such different ideas of world together as an “ice breaker”. But it takes more than just exchanging sad, angry and hopeful msgs and expecting world leaders to do something. It’s necessary to act, like you are planning to. Not as a hero, but as a partner. Not to prove one’s genuine empathy and concerns, but to share and learn and improve oneself as a person from the experience. Shouldn’t it be time to meet Africans and talk/listen to them instead of regarding them as the BBC characters of the poor jungle/desert? The same would apply to people’s own neighborhoods, villages …

    Finally, my second mantra is: we all die at some point, right? So why not doing something life-changing with ur own life?

    I am not sure of how hard I will follow these words and believe in what I say, but I feel deep in me that if I don’t do something I will be an extremely incomplete person. It is a struggle to change habits and posture towards the world. It is tough to leave the comfort-zone. But it is also very boring and selfish to have skills and not apply them for social change somehow. Be it in Brazil, Africa, your own neighborhood…anywhere. I really hope I overcome my own prejudices and fearful thoughts and do something. And this connection with other people with similar thoughts, like Ira and you, and Hanna, and Maíra… really makes me feel it is possible to act on what I believe.

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