An open letter to people with good intentions

The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. This is the Bridge of Hell at the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Flickr, Justin Vidamo

Dear People with Good Intentions,

Brendan Rigby

Brendan Rigby

Hello! My name is Brendan Rigby and I, like you, have a sense of social justice, compassion and kindness. I’m motivated by the inequality and poverty I see in the world. I’m moved to do something. To do something inherently good. I know where you are coming from, and I empathize with your sense of powerlessness and sense of injustice in the world.

But that is where our similarities end. I’m a member of a community that, when coming across a charity like yours, either:

  1. Snort in disbelief
  2. Laugh
  3. Cry
  4. All of the above

Why? It is a valid and appropriate question. We are privileged to a certain insider knowledge; a discourse of expertise. We are global development professionals and aid workers. We have an accumulation of human capital that money can buy that is also rooted in work experience, higher education and professional development. We can write LogFrames, articulate a human rights-based approach, rattle off a seemingly innumerable amount of acronyms and manage the shit out of programs. We are the elite of the development community. But, we are a professional community of practice.

We look down on you. We snort at Little Dresses for Africa and your concept of taking people’s used pillowcases and turning them into dresses for African children. We laugh at Soles For Souls and your one-to-one homonym shoe model. We cried at Knickers 4 Africa, which seems to be thankfully defunct. We all of the above at Free The Girls, who promise, “WHEN YOU DONATE A BRA, YOU GIVE A FORMER SLAVE A JOB”. We have a hashtag for it – #SWEDOW – Stuff We Don’t Want. We made a flowchart to help you navigate whether you should sell, donate or trash your items.

We are snarky, rude and frankly, fed up. We throw our hands up in the air and wave them around like we really care but are too tired to try and re-dress the ongoing need to give Stuff We Don’t Want to poor people. I believe it is time to:

5. Engage

Clearly, going on the attack and speaking into the echo chamber as we are want to do is ineffective. If our criticisms do reach your eyes and ears, you probably get defensive. If you do want to engage, we probably turn our noses up and dismiss you as another do-gooder.

We need to talk. Call it a Truth and Reconciliation Tribunal, a Meet & Greet, a Townhall Meeting. We need to have an open dialogue about the practice of development, for which we are all involved. We need to discuss and share our ideas for a practice that is truly empowering, compassionate, participatory, rights-based and community-driven and owned.

Date and place: TBC

Sincerely,

Brendan Rigby, Managing Director and Co-founder, WhyDev

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