"Charitable giving may have created an incentive for governments to pursue budget cuts in every area, then replacing paid librarians with volunteers or relying on charities during major disasters. 'Although it is the world’s largest private philanthropic organisation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, founded in 2000, spends just over $3bn (£2.25bn) a year on development assistance,' reports Kate Hodal for the Guardian, adding this is "one-tenth of the US aid budget and almost one-fiftieth of the global aid budget, which stands at $143bn."
Charitable giving and work is wonderful, but no one should forget that individuals set the agenda. They have reasons and, with limited funds, they select the recipients. This is opposed to governments which presumably have a responsibility to the public at large. Theoretically in democracies, the public selects representatives who set agendas and priorities.
Charitable work, often experimental, can teach governments about best practices. Yet for this very reason, the thousands of charities operating in any country often have contradictory goals and diverse approaches. As Gates notes, charity can provide only patchwork relief. Complete coverage of a nation or the globe by charities in tackling major needs - whether health care, education, or poverty alleviation - is impossible. Limited funds and uneven goals lacking in comprehensive coverage have transformed charity into a lottery - where nations and donors can tout a few good schools, hospitals, libraries, homes or more while many more must go without.
Yet the challenges of illiteracy, disease or marginalization, as noted in Fear of Beauty, can quickly cross borders and can hurt us all.
Both Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit focus on the many contradictions of charitable giving and NGO work in Afghanistan, specifically with family planning and poverty. A woman who leads the world's largest foundation, taking control after the death of her son, targets program planning to figure out why he was murdered. Staff members of the foundation are intent on nurturing their own careers while supporting a mission in Afghanistan that includes family planning - reducing the fertility rate from about nine children per woman in 2000 when the Taliban were in control to five. Values clash, and Afghan providers who are recipients of international aid - torn between the demands of rural village leaders and international donors - are resented, prompting them to commit fraud. Amid the flow of so much money, it becomes dangerous for anyone to argue that charities reinforce inequality or suggest that the public must set priorities after thorough review with taxation as the best funding mechanism.
Emphasizing government funding over charitable giving does not let individuals off the hook. In a connected world, we must lend a hand to others in need. And efficiency is required with limited resources and more communities in need.
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