Friday, March 6, 2015

Q&A with Stephen Samuelian: Does Giving Cause More Harm Than Good?

Stephen Samuelian
The year-end giving season has come and gone, and many of us donated talents and treasures to help those in need. Helping others is an important part of the American character, says Stephen Samuelian. However, an increasing number of aid practitioners and fieldworkers are recognizing that much of these good intentions fuel a toxic form of giving that fails to offer lasting change, notes Stephen Samuelian. In a recent interview, Stephen Samuelian explained how charities may risk creating cycles of dependency and why they should not be measured by good intentions but by restored lives.

Q: Mr. Stephen Samuelian, thank you for joining us.

Stephen Samuelian: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me today.

Q: What’s problematic with charitable giving, in your opinion?

Stephen Samuelian: While charitable giving can make us feel good, donating does not solve a social problem. The charitable act of donating serves as a short-term fix in a system in need of long-term, multi-faceted solutions.

Q: So donating is only a temporary Band Aid?

Stephen Samuelian: It might be the case for many charities. Charitable giving is great if immediate support is needed, for example, after a crisis or natural disaster. This aid offers short term help and is not expected to build something sustainable. The support is no longer needed when individuals have the opportunity to help themselves. What needs to follow is rehabilitation and development.

Q: Is this hard to achieve?

Stephen Samuelian: Yes. While relief is relatively easy to administer, rehabilitation and development require much more time and effort. Dropping off canned goods, painting a house, or writing a check can all be done in a short time. Development takes years and often endures as many steps backward as there are forward.

Q: Let’s talk about foreign aid. Do western donations tend to help or harm third world countries?

Stephen Samuelian: I believe at the end of the day, they do more good than harm. However, they are just not nearly as effective as they could, or should, be.

Q: How can we fix that?

Stephen Samuelian: When you’re in a foreign country, you really have to learn from the locals about what’s best for them. Many groups go in with one project. They build an orphanage. That's great. But for longer-term efforts, you really need to understand the culture first and ask lots of questions.

Q: How can those of us who want to identify charities that are able to help those in need make the transition from relief to rehabilitation and development?

Stephen Samuelian: Seek out charities that empower the poor through hiring and investing and use grants sparingly as incentives that reinforce achievements.

Q: Is this the difference between a quick-fix and a cure?

Stephen Samuelian: Absolutely. If you want to see long term solutions, never do for others what they can do for themselves.

Stephen Samuelian serves as a valuable member of several Boards for charities devoted to making a difference in the lives of women, men and children. Stephen Samuelian is currently a Board Member of Care for Life, an organization that promotes education, health and self-reliance for the people of Mozambique, Africa. Stephen Samuelian has also committed his time and energy to Rising Star Outreach, which helps citizens of India who are affected by leprosy.