Inside Out: 246: Cost-Effective Compassion

05.23.12 | Martha Manikas-Foster

How do I decide where to send my “compassion dollars” to help those in developing countries?

At the end of 2011 I produced a story on the famine in the Horn of Africa. One of the
foundational truths I learned is that, generally speaking, in times of crisis people in developed countries respond by sending monetary aid. I like this. I want to live in a world where people help strangers in need. But long before this particular famine hit northeast Africa there had been the ongoing, often very successful and not very flashy work in the Horn of Africa to develop and plant the right crops to prevent famine. And, it turns out, this ongoing work helped limit the scope of the crisis.

The strongest “take away” for me from that story—on a personal level—was that sometimes the best use of my giving may not be the flashiest. I may not have a photo on my fridge to show for helping to provide clean water or prevent famine, but this kind of giving might be the absolute best use of my dollars from the point of view of the people who receive the benefit.

Let me ask you, “How do you decide where to send your money when you help others in the world?”

Our guest, development economist and author Dr. Bruce Wydick, has spent time considering whether purchasing fair trade coffee has as great of a positive impact on coffee growers as providing clean water has on the people living in villages with contaminated water. He and others he knows have thought about whether providing a farm animal to a family has as great a positive impact on the poor as de-worming school children. Bruce is a professor economics at the University of San Francisco and a visiting professor at the University of California-Berkeley. His cover article for the February 2012 Christianity Today issue caught my attention: “Cost- Effective Compassion: The 10 Most Popular Strategies for Helping the Poor.” (Click here to read the article: the-poor.html

“I think we all need to think more about the people that we’re giving to and less about the feelings that we get from giving,” Bruce says in our recorded conversation. “But I think by understanding the impact that we have on the people to whom we’re giving money, and understanding that that truly has a big impact—whether it’s preventative or whether it’s helping somebody who’s in a critical situation--I think ultimately that will help us to feel better about our giving. But our focus needs to be first on them and not on ourselves.”

Join us (by clicking on an icon above) for a conversation about the needs of the world and how we can help aid organizations provide us with the tools for assessing the impact of our giving. Then let us know what you think by typing a comment below.


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Inside Out airs Wednesdays at 12:20pm EST during the Family Life Noon Report.


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