Wednesday, May 13, 2009

There has to be a better way.

I have to write this down so that it can stop spinning in my head.

I have been so frustrated lately with the non-profit sector.
Not that the non-profit sector has done anything wrong, at all. On the contrary, almost every job, internship, potential job, volunteer opportunity, travel experience, etc. has been directly involved with a non-profit. I am the type where I can LIVE the vision of an organization if I believe in it. In fact, I truly believe to be good at a job, that is the number one key. I have to believe in what I am working for, all the way down to my bones. That's just how I'm wired.

As are most non-profits. So I have nothing against you, non-profits.

Its just... you're not sustainable.

Let me think through this a little better.

There are three sectors, right?
  • You have companies - the profit sector. You know, banks, grocery stores, small business, big business, tycoons, ma and pa shops - all of that. Their goal is to make a profit. Otherwise they shut down. That's how it rolls. They are driven by the fundamentals of capitalism, of supply and demand... etc. This sector benefits some people greatly, but it also demands things like cheap labor and cheap supplies in order to make more profits. This means that it relies on the fact that some people, somewhere will work for cheap, and that supplies can be procured cheaply, sometimes at the peril of the environment.
  • Then you have the public sector - the government. We give the public sector taxes and authority, and it gives us things like roads, public schools, and stimulus packages. It is directed at the common good. We all benefit from having roads. We all benefit from having our population educated, etc. But public sector, you are inefficient. You are big and bureaucratic and its really hard to change you.
  • And then you have the non-profits. Aka nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or not-for-profits. These guys are around the fill the gaps left by the other sectors. The for profit sector can be ruthless and drives inequality - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. And the public sector just doesn't cut it all of the way either. They are inefficient and bound to political campaigns, special interest and politics in general. So the non-profit sector treats fills in - they provide soup kitchens and education programs and even basic things like access to water in some places. They treat symptoms of poverty, and try to undo the damage done by the other sectors. They often challenge the other sectors to step it up and do their job. But non-profits, you are not sustainable. You have to rely on people to give you money, and sometimes, like right now, the economy doesn't allow people to have a lot of money to give. And you are treating symptoms, not the problem. You are feeding people but not necessarily addressing the reasons why people are hungry.

I love you non-profits, but I hope someday you go away. I hope someday we don't need you any more.

I honestly believe that people want to do good. But it takes time and energy, sometimes, and people are busy and tired. And sometimes poor.

But in the system we live in, we all have to buy things. Like socks, we all need socks. And food. And other things like alarm clocks, light bulbs, shoes, garbage sacks, dental floss, and the other million things we consume every year. What if the companies we bought these things from were responsible? What if they treated their employees as valuable, whole human beings? What if they were benefitting our planet instead of simply extracting from it? What if my sock purchase helped my community, in more ways that just keeping my feet from smelling? What if the sock company was using some of their brilliant sock-making knowledge to find ways to be innovative and make their profits in such a way that was good for me, as a sock buyer, but also good for society? What if my sock purchase meant that a family in Bangladesh ate a nutritious meal tonight, instead of going hungry?


Other smarter people already figured out how to do this.
I want to be like them.
Like Mohummad Yunus.
And David Kuria, who I will be working with this summer.
Some people call what they do the fourth sector.
I like where it is going.
And I want to be a part of it.

The for profit sector can change. They are driven by demand. And I certainly demand things. So really, its up to me. Its up to me to demand that the products I buy are socially responsible. It is up to me to research where my dollars are going, and to look for ways that I can bring creative energy to solving social problems. Not just treating them, but solving them. If you have any good ideas, pass them this way, I'm all fired up.

Ok... ready go.


Kristin said...

Totally my stand, Haley.
K Hartono

Victor said...

Some of your best writing. I have questions, though.

1) Can't non-profits and not-for-profits treat causes? I know many treat symptoms, but that's a generalization as opposed to a definition, right? I know some that fight systemic causes of these symptoms.

[I think we may need to treat both the symptoms and the roots, but I understand that if we treat the root causes, glory hallelujah! One day we won't need to deal with the symptoms]

2) I'm still struggling with the idea that people want to do good. It could be semantics, but sometimes it seems like people don't care (a type of neutral which in a dichotomously moralistic world is bad).