The Global Goal

In todays world of fast communication and cheap entertainment, what does it mean to be a global citizen.  While definitions may vary slightly, I think there are a few core components everyone can agree on.  Most of all, global citizens are compassionate.  They understand the interconnectedness of the world and seek to end the suffering of all people.  Global citizens are curious and look to dig deeper into any problem they see.  Yet a global citizen does not spend their entire day on a computer, they get up and experience all they can in the world.  Global citizens want the world to be better.

This desire often manifests itself in the form of humanitarian aid in some of the less fortunate parts of the world.  The aid provided by countless workers because of even more charitable donations has saved millions of lives from disease, starvation and death.  The time spent in these less fortunate countries has resulted in a second colombian exchange of ideas and culture that has without a doubt made an impact on the world.

Yet not all is well in the humanitarian sphere.  The aid system currently has systemic inefficiency that is stifling efforts to alleviate the suffering of mankind.  As I see it, this crisis stems from two major disconnects; between the aid providers and receivers, and between the charitable organizations and those that donate to them.

I think that the first disconnect I touched on, between the receivers and givers, presents the most problems at first glance.  This disconnect leads to inefficient and ineffective care for the recipients and more money spent than necessary for the providers.  Aid workers come marching in ready to give out blankets and food yet rarely go to community leaders and ask, “what do you need?”  They pass out water bottles with their logo on it and build houses while Haiti is devastated by cholera that aid workers brought.  This leads to aid that doesn’t help and does nothing to prepare the local community for the long term.  As Teju Cole writes “A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.” (Cole)  This complete lack of respect is not conducive to long term success and is certainly not conducive to short term efficacy.

 

While slightly breaking from the disconnect theme, there exists another major problem between providers and their recipients.  As Linda Polman writes in her book, Crisis Caravan, aid is often used a political tool and cash cow for local militant groups.  She writes that “In their evaluations, some INGOs estimated that on average militias stole 60% of all aid supplies being distributed, partly for their own use, partly to sell back to civilians in their camps.” (Polman)   It is permitted under the guise of impartiality, the noble notion that suffering knows no political affiliation.  Yet this once lofty value is now used by murders and warlords for their own personal gain and must be stopped.

The other major disconnect is between providers and those that fund them.  Beyond the inefficient use of supplies, there is a systemic corruption and misuse of funds at home.  A mainstreet.com article highlights the 20 most inefficent charities by their administration costs.  These range from 42 to 68% and include some of the biggest names in American care (Emerson).  Misuse of funds is unacceptable and seriously holds back progress.

This issue stems from the growing trend of slacktivism that we see in this country.  People are too easily sucked into the fast and glitzy entertainment of American TV.  They watch a quick video about hungry kids, send off 15$ and change their profile picture, confident that they are saving the world.  These people never think to research the cause of the crisis that they have so graciously donated to, much less the integrity of those they sent the money to.  Some argue that not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to spend that kind of time learning about problems that are an ocean away.  I acknowledge that that can be the case, but I cannot buy into it for most people in the United States.  The internet puts us 5 clicks from almost any information we can imagine, including charitynavigator.org, a non-profit dedicated to monitoring charitable groups.  If we all spent 40 more calories doing our research, the aid system would be in a far better place than it is today.  

The bottom line is that all of this would be solved if we were all global citizens.  Sadly this is not the case, and I don’t even think I can call myself one.  But there’s hope.  Being a global citizen is something you strive for, its a lifestyle or pursuit of a lifestyle that involves compassion, understanding and engagement.  Its a desire to experience the world and a dedication to alleviating the problems of humanity.  It is the moon we must all shoot for, and a title I would love to have.

 

Works Cited

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 June 2013.

Emerson, Greg. “Charities With the Highest Admin Costs.” – MainStreet. N.p., 1 June 2010. Web. 20 June 2013.

Polman, Linda. “The Crisis Caravan.” Macmillan. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2013.

 

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