Non-Governmental Organizations, or NGOs, are often regarded as heroes of the modern world. According to the World Bank, NGOs are “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.” At face value, that sounds pretty good. Supporting NGOs seems like a win-win situation; you, a donor, feel good for giving money to a worthy cause, while the NGOs uses your money to improve someone’s life. Everyone is happy.
Well, everyone except the people that these NGOs are supposed to be helping.
Despite their altruistic fronts, many NGOs aren’t actually providing any help at all. They’re so determined to swoop in and fix things that they make impulsive and thoughtless decisions, without putting any thought into long-term impacts. One common example of this is food dumping, or sending developing countries free or cheap food with the intention of alleviating poverty. At the surface, it seems logical enough: if someone is hungry, you ought to give them food. But the problem is that these people don’t exist in the vacuum of theoretical ethics; giving them food has more impacts that just stopping hunger. For every person an NGO feeds, a customer to the local market is lost. Why should they go out and buy food from a local farmer when they could get it free from an NGO? The longer an NGO provides food, the more damage is inflicted on local markets, and by extension, the country’s economy. Look at Haiti. After the earthquake, many NGOs were eager to send food and supplies to the island. Almost all of these interactions were facilitated by non-Haitians, who made decisions without actually asking Haitians what they needed. In the 1980’s, Haiti was entirely self-sufficient in their main food industry of rice; now, they import almost 80% of their rice and 60% of their overall food. Why? Because it’s cheaper to buy from NGO’s than local farmers. To be fair, NGOs are not entirely to blame for this; US tariffs on rice and botched foreign aid also played a huge roll in creating this mess. But NGOs certainly didn’t help the situation.
Food dumping is not the only offense NGOs are guilty of. They also build useless infrastructure, raise money that never reaches the intended recipient, and rarely every listen to the people they’re claiming to help. For example, the Red Cross, one of the largest and most well-known NGOs in the world, raised nearly half a billion dollars for Haiti—and went on to build a grand total of six homes. Six homes don’t cost half a billion, so where is the rest of the aid money? It certainly isn’t in Haiti. Red Cross isn’t the only NGO who’s done this; many others have raised gigantic sums of money that mysteriously never make it to the country they claimed to be raising money for.
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So next time you come across an NGO asking for donations, do your research first. It is not enough for us to blindly give money to self-proclaimed do-gooders and assume that we are making a difference. Too many people donate thoughtlessly to NGOs to feel good about themselves, and too many people have decided to take advantage of that and profit by infesting countries with useless or harmful “aid.” We need to change the way we go about helping other countries. We need to listen to their people, think before we act, and not let our own need to feel like we did something good get in the way of what really needs to be done. Aid should not be about the giver over the receiver. NGOs have taken advantage of developing countries for far too long; it is time we did something to change that. So be aware, be informed, do your research and stop supporting NGOs who aren’t in it for the right reasons.