In my last post, I mentioned our commitment to building the capacity for you to interact directly with those impacted by your donations and support. Just as we’re working to enable direct conversation between our supporters and the community with which we’re partnered in Tanzania, our organization is also committed to providing direct forms of support from our donors to our loan recipients.
In one of Mama Lucy’s recent comments on the blog, she wrote, in response to a question in the blog which asked, “What are the top 3 reasons that you personally support and/or are interested in Epic Change?”
“Their support goes directly to the targeted group/community. This minimizes the chances of misuse of funds; compared to the funds given to the Central Government to be distributed to a certain Ministry then to the targeted group.”
While I am hopeful that corruption is waning in Tanzania and across Africa, recent reports still suggest that graft is a very real problem in the country. As Berkeley professor Edward Miguel writes in his recent article in the Boston Review, “Healthy skepticism about foreign aid’s benefits is particularly appropriate in countries where corruption remains widespread and much of whatever aid does arrive will be squandered.” A few years ago, Der Spiegel published an interview of Kenyan economics expert, James Shikwati, who emphasizes the disastrous impacts that Western aid can have when provided to corrupt governments, saying: “Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted.”
A video I recently ran across by Andrew Mwenda, a provocative Ugandan journalist, underscores their points with his analysis of government spending in his country:
So, unlike many forms of aid which are provided to governments and government-sponsored organizations, and still many other efforts that are primarily led by Westerners without a relevant cultural context, Epic Change is providing loans directly to a grassroots local leader who is working to transform her own community through education. Her results, too, are immediately and completely transparent. Not only does she provide regular photos and blog updates relaying her incredible success, but she even recently sent to us an incredibly thorough catalog of all her receipts.
In addition, as Mwenda’s talk also recommends, Epic Change is not engaged in pureplay charity (in fact, we don’t really ever use that particular word to describe our efforts). Instead we’re investing – providing a loan – to a local woman who is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. Her expected profit (as ours) may not come in the form of cash, but in the form of something far more valuable: the education of hundreds of children who are in her classrooms now, and the thousands more who will follow in their footsteps through the doors of Shepherds Junior School.
Finally, donations are able to go directly to Mama Lucy because we make every attempt to minimize and/or eliminate overhead expenses. So far, we’ve raised over $43,000 and have spent about $1200 on non-loan expenses, including a mandatory $820 for state & IRS tax-related filing fees and a few hundred dollars in small fees incurred from our donation processing services like Paypal and NetworkforGood. $35,000 has been provided in loans, and nearly $7000 remains available for providing future loans. Not $1 has been paid in salaries (as we have no paid employees) or travel (which has been paid entirely out-of-pocket) and, because our graphic and web design was donated or performed by yours truly, we’ve spent less than $50 on marketing. Your donations go, quite literally, directly to provide loans to the school in Tanzania. As our organization scales, we’ll be able to absorb fewer expenses personally and will certainly begin to incur more overhead costs. Hopefully, we’ll even eventually be able to pay staff, but our perpetual goal will remain to minimize costs that are not directly related to successful project outcomes.
Because your donations to Epic Change directly support the school in Tanzania, I hope you’ll consider donating now toward our next loan, which we hope will provide the opportunity for Shepherds Junior to purchase its first school bus, as Mama Lucy has planned. Your donations will help ensure the safety of small children, ages 2-13, who may live miles from the school, but would walk the distance on dangerous roads to obtain the high-quality education offered there.
We’d also love your opinions: How do you feel about Epic Change’s direct-support model of providing loans to entrepreneurial local leaders who are creating social change in their communities, especially in the context of the insights provided by Miguel, Mwenda and Shikwati? How do you feel about their thinking?
Hat tip to my twitterpal @whiteafrican for the links to the Boston Review and Der Spiegel articles.
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