Another unsettling thing I’ve learned while blogging – the definition of poverty p0rn

If you want to stretch your brain farther than you thought possible, start blogging.

You can stop laughing now. As a cautious, restrained, introverted CPA, it is usually a half-inch journey to travel the entire distance of my comfort zone.

Starting my own business stretched that zone. Blogging shredded it.

One of the opened frontiers for me was looking at fundraising and international aid in a completely new way. A while back I saw some materials from one of the international aid NGOs. With my new vision I could see the manipulative story and oddities in the video. Evoking pity was the goal throughout.

Having already been stretched, I was able to see things differently. Like noticing every helping face in a brochure was white. Like realizing every needy face was brown or black. Further reflection revealed the only happy black face was next to a newly painted hut (which was probably provided by an aid organization and the cause of the smile).

I now know the name for that:


Gaining a new perspective hurts

Two new perspectives that hurt my brain and heart….

In the last two years I’ve learned of the occasional harm caused by some of the things we do while trying to help others. See my posts on unintended consequences.

I know this new way of seeing outcomes is sinking deep into my brain by looking at my immediate sadness upon reading two articles at Africa is a Country a few weeks ago. After letting the articles sit for a while, it is time to discuss them. First, swimsuits…



How many people die from reusable grocery bags?

5.5 per year in the county of San Francisco.

Plus a large increase in the number of ER visits.

That is the statistical conclusion from the Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness study by Professors Klick and Wright. You can download the study for yourself at the link in the previous sentence.

(Why is this post here instead of one of my other blogs since it is a bit off-topic from the focus here? Two reasons. First, my unintended consequence discussion is on this blog. Second, this illustrates the concept of unintended consequence which has huge implications for the missions community.)

In his article The Disgusting Consequence of Plastic-Bag Bans, Ramesh Ponnuru summarizes the study as follows: (more…)

Unintended consequences: After watching all the damage caused by development aid, Kenyan economist says “please just stop.”

James Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network. He is an economist from Kenya.

In 2005, he gave an interview to Spiegel, which was titled “For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!”

A bit of research revealed this long list of articles he has written.  There is far more detail in those articles than in the one interview. I will summarize a few of the ideas in the interview. Over time, I’ll try to read more of the articles he has written and comment on them.

Development aid damages the local economy


2 more unintended consequences

One of the big ironies in life is called unintended consequences – You try to do something good or helpful to fix a problem and there is some completely unexpected problem caused by the good & helpful thing.

Two examples from today’s reading. First, making forest fires worse. Second, getting sick from reusable grocery bags. My previous examples were from the international aid world.


A short explanation of why feel good aid might make things worse

In The Broken “Buy-One, Give-One” Model: 3 Ways to Save Toms Shoes author Cheryl Davenport provides a concise description of the underlying problem with the TOMS model.

There’s a huge number of articles out there describing the conceptual issues.  Ms. Davenport has a great recap:

First, the Toms buy-one-give-one model does not actually solve a social problem. Rather, the charitable act of donating a free pair of shoes serves as little more than a short-term fix in a system in need of long-term, multi-faceted economic development, health, sanitation, and education solutions.


Lots of things in life are really, really complicated. Sort of like a rain forest.

Some things are exquisitely complicated.  Making changes, fixing problems, or making improvements to such things is really difficult.

Unintended consequences result when you do something simple in a complex system.

Came across a superb illustration of the challenge of dealing with complexity. In his post The Health Care Disaster and the Miseries of Blue, Walter Russell Mead compares the US healthcare system to a jungle ecosystem.


Really bad ideas for international aid – more unintended consequences

7 worst international aid ideas are Richard Supart’s nominations for the lousiest ways to help people.

Sending a ton of t-shirts or other clothing items to help the poor, naked, helpless people over there seems like a good idea.  Feels good, simple, great pictures, and easy-telling story.

Unfortunately, it is actually quite destructive.  T-shirts are at the top of Mr. Supart’s bad idea list:

1. One million t-shirts for Africa

Why is that hurtful?


How to emasculate a man and walk away feeling warm and fuzzy – unintended consequences, part 3

In Toxic Charity – How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and How to Reverse It), Robert Lupton describes the harmful unintended consequences of the way we usually do charity.

In 1981, he moved into the neighborhood where he was serving.  On Christmas Eve, he was visiting the home of some new friends.

Mom, dad, and the kids were anxiously awaiting visitors.  There was one strand of lights on the small artificial tree in the corner.  The nicely dressed people from the suburbs arrived with armfuls of nice presents wrapped so pretty.

In the midst of the unwrapping, the father slipped out of the house.  Later one of the kids asked where he was.  Mom said he had to go to the store.


How to create inflation when kindness was intended – unintended consequences 2

A peculiar irony of charity is sometimes you get the unintended consequence of creating problems when you are trying to help someone.

I have several things to say on point. Currently I’m reading Toxic Charity: How the Church Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It, by Robert D. Lupton.  Very sobering – $11 on Kindle.

Before I talk about Mr. Lupton’s book (and I’ll have *lots* to say), I wanted to share an experience I had a long time ago.

While working at another CPA firm, I had the incredible, delightful opportunity to do several audits on the overseas operations of a large international NPO.  Their name doesn’t matter, because they are not part of the story.  I have tremendous respect for them and the work they are doing. If you have known me a while, then you know who I am talking about.


Unintended consequences – – how much harm can doing good cause?

What in the world is Swedow?

In writing about GIK and deworming meds, I’ve learned some fancy words, like Albendazole, Mebendazole and Swedow.  I’ve also started reading discussions in places I usually don’t go.

For example, Good Intentions are not enough is a great blog written by Saundra Schimmelpfennig.  She has lots of posts about the complexities of doing foreign aid well.

While visiting that site, I read a guest post by Juanita Rilling:  Compassion on Sale

She has a sobering discussion of the unintended waste of sending drinking water as part of humanitarian relief. (more…)

It’s better to teach someone to someone to fish, but if you’re just going to give someone fish, at least you shouldn’t poison the village lake

The Apparent Project Blog explains the serous unintended consequence of giving help in Haiti while ignoring the economic context in their post Peanut Butter and Shelley.

Those of us in the West desperately need to understand the culture, economy, and local situation when we want to move cross-culturally. We can provide wonderful blessings but can cause harm without intending to.

I’ve discussed this in other posts: Does humanitarian aid actually help and how do we know? along with Cross-cultural partnerships.

Back to the situation in Haiti.

Some churches in the US are trying to help the hungry in Haiti by shipping huge quantities of peanut butter. Sounds like a great way to help since it is a superb source of protein – as good as pork for nourishment.

What do you think happens to the local economy if peanut butter and pork are major products? It can seriously disrupt the economy.