I recently shared these thoughts with Dubbo Weekender and thought you’d appreciate them here too:
How Changing Ways To Give Charity Achieves Better Outcomes
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
A gorgeous sunny August day at Dubbo Farmers Markets in 2015 was host to a significant meeting of strangers, who became friends and partners in changing lives in developing nations. I’d been in Singapore in July, and over lunch with a colleague he told me about his cousins Annie & Charlie Teo growing up in Australia. “You may know of Charlie” he said. “He’s a Neurosurgeon. Annie also lives in Sydney. She’d like to meet you when she visits Dubbo in a few weeks.”
Annie and her husband Ralf Schroers met me at the farmers markets during their weekend in Dubbo, and told me about their vision to eliminate world poverty, by not simply “feeding a man a fish, but teaching him how to fish”.
They also told me how I could help them by speaking at their fundraising dinner. I wasn’t available for their September event, but gave a couple of books for their auction, and saved the date for the next dinner… (and started inviting friends)
I was so inspired to discover that Ralf and Annie have personally given over 2000 (interest free) loans in some of the worlds most impoverished places, empowering people to build a sustainable business. They also support them with business training, and the success of the program is evident with a repayment rate of over 98 per cent.
Fast forward to last week when I was on my way to Sydney to speak at the MicroLend Charity dinner. I was sitting next to a man who travels extensively to mining sites in Australia, Africa and PNG, and our conversation covered everything from gourmet cheese to playing ball with kids who have nothing but a pair of shorts and a big smile.
I’d been thinking about natural disasters – Australia’s floods, fires and droughts, and the frequency of natural disasters in the Philippines, where I visited twice last year. Writing a few notes about this, the Burrumbuttock Hay Runners came to mind, and I saw a powerful example of how “everyday people” make an extraordinary difference in difficult times, by bringing others together to help.
When we look at the headlines, we’re surrounded by disasters and cries for help, donations, and time. It can become overwhelming… and we discover there’s such a thing as “donor fatigue”.
This is what’s incredible about MicroLend Australia; people are empowered to become entrepreneurs, to change their world, not to sit around hoping for another handout from a charity that provides food and clothing (although they can be awesome too, especially in times of sudden loss).
These entrepreneurs can become the ones in their community that can provide support when their region, or their country is in trouble.
There will always be natural disasters, but where entrepreneurs are empowered, there will always be solutions.
Successful business owners and leaders are solution-focused. How can we solve our customers problems, they ask themselves. How can we solve problems in our community?
A microbusiness selling a food product in a developing nation may not have the marketing budget or modern conveniences of an Aussie producer, but their business can change the lives of the immediate and extended family, and they can become change-agents in their community.
Annie and Ralf’s daughter Jade pointed out to her parents several years ago that donations from well meaning westerners can actually be damaging to the local trades. If we clothe the village, what happens to the local tailor?
What if we support those local change-makers to increase their capacity, and build a sustainable business that builds the local economy?
It’s such a gift to be able to learn from others who have traveled and seen the world in a different way, so that we can be more purposeful in the way we serve others. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from these difference-makers.
Not only was I invited to speak at the dinner about my 2014 experiences in Cambodia on a study tour of social enterprises and training centres, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr Charlie Teo, about brain surgery in western and developing nations, and his insights on foreign aid.
It was an insightful, moving and hilarious interview, and a definite highlight of the year already.
Cheering you on,