The Economic Crisis and Volunteering: Who are we really helping?

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It’s pretty obvious that the economic crisis has got me thinking a lot these days – this is my fourth post on the topic in as many days. I wish I could claim I had a solution, but all I have are reflections.

While everyone is genuinely concerned about the state of the world and many are committing to various volunteering opportunities, most aren’t really thinking deeply about what they are getting involved in beyond the fact that they are helping. It’s a great sentiment, really it is. But is it enough to counter everything that is wrong in our global society?

I have a group of friends actively volunteering for an international organisation that helps the ‘children in the world’ (not the one that first comes to mind and probably not the second one either). These friends, faced with the emerging dark reality of the last couple of weeks, have redoubled their volunteering efforts.

While I applaud them and encourage them in any way that I can (it’s been an expensive couple of weeks, in more ways than one), I have also taken advantage of our friendship to challenge them to think a little more deeply about what they are doing. I have to admit that it was also a selfish questioning, since I was hoping to gain some insight myself.

In any case, we ended up challenging the efficacy of volunteer work in general but using their as a ‘case study’. While it might sound cruel, it was a great exercise for us – and I hope that it will help you, too.

  1. The first question I started the whole thing off with was: for every dollar raised, how much of it actually goes to the ‘children of the world’ they want to help? After all, there are various administrative fees plus there is, quite unfortunately, always a little bit (if not a lot) of corruption going on at all levels of administration.
  2. The discussion was a little lukewarm until someone hit us with a question none of us, even he, hadn’t expected, which was: when you add up the time spent organising these events to raise awareness and gather funds, does the value of the money raised also decrease? Someone even suggested that it might be more worth it to just give the money straight up without any major, complicated fund raisers. I myself was a little rankled by that. Someone raised another question: how could you put a price on raising awareness?
  3. Then came the million dollar question: do activities like raising awareness, collecting money and sending it off really help solve the problem? Because if it did, what with all the awareness that has be raised in the last couple of decades, shouldn’t have these problems been solved by now?

    So how can we increase the efficiency of our volunteer work? One way would be by participating in activities that not only raise awareness, but that also help to change the very fabric of society, i.e. the way that we function. The only way to do that would be by changing each and every individual inhabiting society. There is 7 billion of us. Time to get cracking.

    Another thing would be to let go of big, ego-boosting, ‘glamorous’ volunteer work and turn to lower key, more individual and higher quality work. For example, the simple act of tutoring children in underprivileged neighbourhoods in your city is a lot more efficient in empowering that child to become a thoughtful teenager who will be an active participant in positive community life. One hundred percent of the time, effort and money you put into this will reap fruits.

    But if you present the above two options for middle and upper class teenagers and youth, which one do you think they will choose: the hyped-up, international, cool work, or the less glamorous, really hard but very real work of tutoring children?

    Yeah. Sad but true.

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    1 thought on “The Economic Crisis and Volunteering: Who are we really helping?

    1. I think we need a multipronged approach. At this point, it is urgent to raise some money to help the needy around the world so they can survive. By feeding them and by educating them. Education is an important element.

      Second, now we have to go to the root of the problem. We also have to change ourselves and the world around us. I mean, what is the use of just giving money and food. the root problem is still there. The world has to change, people have to change. We have to leave our egocentric lives and think outside ourselves, of others.

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