I thought I'd share my response to this post by Vinoth Ramachandra in Sri Lanka.
You raise good points but, like Carol, I've been wondering what I - a rich westerner - can do with them. Here are two thoughts:
1. Handled appropriately, child sponsorship itself can be an excellent way to educate donors. I'm currently reading a Psychology for a Better World by Niki Hare (available as a free download from the author's page here). The book looks at what psychological research can tell us about how to go about effecting social change. One point she makes is that people are more likely to respond generously to the plight of one person in need than to the plight of many people in need. Child sponsorship makes use of that psychological trait by giving a potential donor a single person to respond to.
Once the potential donor has responded in that way, the agency providing sponsored children is in a position to further educate them about development needs and where they can help. However, without the 'hook' of sponsorship, the agency would have been unlikely to be able to provide such education: child sponsorship gives them the entree into the life of the donor and can provide an educational opportunity.
I don't know about other Western countries, but the two main Christian agencies in New Zealand that provide child sponsorship (TEAR Fund and World Vision) both give donors the opportunity to support many other development and emergency relief projects and actively educate donors about them. For myself, as a young adult at a music festival I was moved to sponsor a child through one of these agencies. Over time, I came to understand more about development and have supported a variety of other projects instead.
2. The advantages of directly supporting indigenous development initiatives are obvious but, in practise, it's very difficult to do. I agree with Carol that it's difficult to find such initiatives - I suspect that the majority would, indeed, be impossible to find as it's not trivial for people with little access to resources to have a web presence.
However, in two cases I have come across indigenous initiatives that I have been keen to support. In the case of one (BEN Namibia - which provides bicycle ambulances etc. in Namibia) this wasn't too difficult: through their website I was able to make a credit card donation and could have set up monthly donations etc. just as I could for a New Zealand charity. In the other case (Al Nayzak - an organisation which provides extension education to gifted kids in Palestine) I needed to make an international bank transfer directly to their account. I was unable to do this at first as my NZ bank appeared to have no links to their Palestinian bank and, in the end, I had to transfer money into their Israeli account from which I gathered they would - with difficulty - be able to transfer the money to Palestine.
My ability to support both of these indigenous charities depended on them:
- having a web presence
- being able to communicate with me in English
- having access to the international banking system
This doesn't seem ideal!
I suspect that a better way for people such as myself to support indigenous initiatives is for NGOs in our own countries to take up a brokerage role. They can identify reputable charities overseas, bring them to our attention and then handle for us the communication and money transfer aspects. In New Zealand, TEAR Fund has taken on this role, and it sounds from Carol like TEAR Australia and Christian Aid do something similar.
Thanks again for your thought-provoking post.