And if you go in knowing that actually you may not be very much help at all, but you’ll change your perspective, could be a really valuable thing. This is my friend Mark. And five years ago, Mark and I went to Malawi together. And we went knowing that we wouldn’t be particularly useful. We went to learn, we went to listen, we went to understand some of the challenges that local communities were facing, and what they were doing.
The local said, “Well, you’re here, give us a hand!” They asked Mark to fill up some water. And you can see him here at a hand water pump. It took Mark twenty minutes to fill up one 20-liter tub. The ladies spent most of the time laughing. When Mark said, “Fine, you have a go at it!” they filled up a 20-liter water jerry in about a minute and a half.
Mark came away from that saying, “I just — I feel like I’m not really making a difference.” And he was right. But what he took from that experience was that what he could do, was phenomenal, if he used his skills as a banker. He went away and learned Indonesian after that, and he’s just come back from 12 months of working in Timor-Leste, in East Timor, supporting people running micro finance organizations to build better financial control systems. If you take the time to learn the language, if you take the time to think about what you are doing volunteering can be wonderful.
People like Darsy here, have spent years traveling the world, volunteering, learning huge amount, but also contributing to communities. I think that if we take the approach that we need to first listen, recognize that communities themselves know a lot more than we do about their issues, and actually, we can make a huge difference but recognize that we’re partners, not people who know more than others.
And I’d like to finish with a final myth, which is about charity overheads. Most of us, I think, have been mugged by one of those charity stalkers on the street, asked for money, and the immediate question we want to ask is, “How much of it will you spend on administration?” And I’d like to suggest that that’s actually the wrong question to be asking. It’s a little bit like asking an airline, how much money do they spend on safety.
I don’t actually mind how much money a charity spends on their overheads, in the same way. I don’t mind how much EasyJet spends on safety, so long as they get me safely from one airport to the next one. Because at the end of the day, our obsession with asking charities about overheads means that they stop thinking about doing really good work on the ground, they stop thinking about making sure that kids can read and write, and make sure that 95 pence and every pound you give them actually just gets sent to Africa. No time for monitoring, no time for checking, and no time to tell you actually what happened. So next time you stop by one of these charity muggers, what I’d like to suggest is to ask them a different question. Ask them what success looks like.
Ask them what proof you have, to make sure your money is really going to make a difference. And ask them how they know when they’ve failed, and what they’re going to do about it. Because all in all, actually, we can make a huge difference. Because when we ask better questions, we ask questions like, “Can they read and write?” We can start making sure that charities are focusing on what really matters. Which is making sure that people living in poverty themselves have a chance to fight it.
I want to finish with a couple of alternative suggestions to this idea, that are put out around these myths. First, Africa is a continent that’s rich, it’s wealthy, it’s wonderful. Too many Africans are poor because they’ve got bad governments, and because we’ve got governments and systems that allow them to do that. If we’re serious, what we need to do is start telling people about what’s actually happening. Demonstrate that poverty is really getting better around the world, in the vast majority of places and for the vast majority of people.
To demonstrate that, actually, the best way to slow population growth is by making sure that kids can go to school, and making sure that more kids survive. The best way to reduce pressures on population, the best way to reduce pressures on food, is to waste less food ourselves. And the best way to make sure we’re really making a difference — is to say that good intentions aren’t enough, that we can make a huge difference. But only if we stop to ask a few questions first. Only if we stop to ask the question, “Is what I’m doing actually going to help?” “How’s it going to help? Whom am I going to help?” “And do they actually want my help?” Thank you very much.