Feed the world?
August 11, 2011 11:44 PM   Subscribe

Is there any way to help the people of Somalia? I understand that there is war and resentment of American aid but is there any way that I, as a (relatively) wealthy American, can give money or anything else to help less people die? Maybe a European charity or an anonymous fund? Inspired by this Big Picture.
posted by bendy to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
World Food Programme
posted by spasm at 12:43 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You should be aware that while there may be "resentment of American aid," the majority of the dollars that are pouring into the Horn of Africa (HoA) response are going to be American, whether they come through American organizations, international NGOs, or governmental organizations (UNHCR, Unicef, WFP, WHO, etc.).

Two of the biggest organizations that have been working in Somalia long before this crisis came to more global attention are WFP (mentioned above) and World Vision (disclaimer: I work for the latter). We had co-located offices in southern Somalia until Al Shabab took over both of our compounds and forced out both organizations as well as a handful of smaller ones at the time. There are still some small organizations trying to respond within southern Somalia, but all are very hit and miss and none are technically "approved" of by Al Shabab to be operating there. My organization and WFP are actively seeking to reopen relief programs in southern Somalia but how this progresses remains to be seen.

Sadly, for the last few years, funding for organizations promoting relief and/or development in Somalia had all but dried up. This created a vicious cycle where organizations were forced to cut back on staff, and the communications and grant / funding requests began to decrease in frequency and quality, even as this disaster was pending. Now, funding arms of organizations are asking why we are so late in responding, and the staff on the ground are understandably a bit taken aback in that the disaster is no surprise to them, there just wasn't any money to do anything to prepare for it until things got Very Bad.

I have a number of friends in Dadaab working with CWS - one of the biggest contractors to UNHCR for processing of refugees, and they are telling me that although thousands continue to pour in, the cases they are currently processing are in some cases 15-20 years old (the cases, not the refugees). That's how far international support is lagging behind the need, in one sense.

In any case, here are some organizations you could look into, beyond those already linked above:

World Vision
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Mercy Corps
Save The Children
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:39 AM on August 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far and please keep them coming. I was also very moved by the FPP a couple weeks ago about the American girl who moved to Africa and adopted 19 kids. I read all of her archives in an afternoon and though her aims are mainly religious I was affected by the stories she told of poverty and families who had nothing. Even though the stories she tells are wrapped in bible stories, there are still a whole lot of people suffering.
posted by bendy at 1:47 AM on August 12, 2011

...but maybe the OP is asking for the most effective use of his money. So that $0.36 of each dollar he gives doesn't go to marketing, administrative costs, etc, and actually goes to putting calories into people.

Anybody got any figures or stats for any organization they are willing to vouch for?

I've got a figure for you: its called "reality." Let's say you absolutely want the maximum % of your donor dollar to reach a beneficiary in the field. You know what the most effective way to do this would be? Avoid any organization at all: the simple fact that they have a logo or a website or a board of directors or a janitor implies the fact that they have at least some administrative costs, no matter how good they are at getting the donor dollar to the beneficiary. So, instead - put that dollar bill in an envelope and mail it to Mogadishu. But you already spent most of that dollar on postage, and an envelope. Whoops.

I am sorry I can't be more civil about this issue, but it comes up every time there is a question about giving on AskMe - even when that isn't at all what the OP asked. I've written about it for Myanmmar, for Haiti, for Congo, for Bangladesh, and now for Somalia.

It IS a good question to ask, and organizations should be held accountable, and those who are accountable should get the best funding, I'm not arguing any of these points. People should research the organizations they give to and understand how the field programs are implemented and what percentage of their dollar goes where. What I'm saying is that they should also realize that it is not possible for any organization to operate free of things like administration, finance, marketing, etc.. This excuse is used all too frequently by too many with too much to just not give.

Agreeing as well in thanks to the OP for a good question - good on you for wanting to help.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:54 AM on August 12, 2011 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: allkindsoftime: is there something that I, as an individual can do to avoid the organizatons? What if I rallied a bunch of people and did some fundraising and came up with $20K or $50K? Could I take that to a person or buy a pallet of supplies or what?
posted by bendy at 2:00 AM on August 12, 2011

Whoops - I forgot:

International Rescue Committee

They're also in Dadaab and usually near the front lines of these type of disasters, and I've always had respect for their work. One note on Dadaab: its a place in Kenya, where the majority of the relief response is currently focused because its the safest and most logistically efficient place that the refugees can be aided. The scale of the work taking place there simply couldn't safely happen in Somalia. Dadaab is now estimated to have between 400 to 500,000 refugees, which if it were a city would make it the 3rd largest city in Kenya.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:02 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ah, I went back and read your answer about Bangladesh. It seems that while organizations aren't 100% efficient, they may be the most efficient way of distributing aid?
posted by bendy at 2:07 AM on August 12, 2011

Best answer: is there something that I, as an individual can do to avoid the organizatons? What if I rallied a bunch of people and did some fundraising and came up with $20K or $50K? Could I take that to a person or buy a pallet of supplies or what?

The point I was trying to make is that you *could* theoretically avoid the organizations but this is incredibly difficult, and most likely you will fail or succeed only marginally. Let's take your example of $20K worth of supplies on pallets - I work in global supply chain management with my organization so this is one I can speak to some detail in.

First, you're there in Anytown USA with your $20K you've raised - let's just assume for the minute you didn't spend anything on fundraising - no marketing materials or donuts for the door-to-door walkers or anything like that, purely word of mouth. Now, you need to procure $20K of supplies. Let's also assume that you know exactly what is needed in Dadaab right now because I'm going to tell you: Plumpy'nut nutritional supplements and tarpaulins for shelters (there's of course much more needed but let's keep it simple). You just averted the cost of having boots on the ground with educated eyes who could tell you what's needed.

Now, you get to my area of expertise, the start of the supply chain - where are you going to procure the supplies? Let's say you go directly to the global manufacturers, rather than retailers - cut out middle men and added costs. If you can even get a supply agent to talk to you for your minuscule $20K, I can pretty much guarantee you that you won't get a bulk discount that a large organization ordering $2M worth of supplies is going to get, so you pay wholesale price with no discount.

Now, your 10 pallets are sitting in 2 warehouses from 2 different suppliers. But we forgot to save money for shipment, so we're going to have to cut 2 of those pallets out of the purchase orders to be able to pay the transport. Again - economies of scale mean that you're going to pay Brussles Airline top cargo transport dollar to Nairobi for your 8 pallets. Pretty much all of the money you saved reducing to 8 pallets.

But you're a private organization that doesn't qualify for Value Added Tax exemption that the government of Kenya is imposing on imported goods. That's roughly 18% of the value of the cargo. We're learning lessons now so instead of cutting 1 pallet, let's cut 2 more to pay the taxes, and for the guy you're going to need to pay to manage the in-country customs logistics as well as overland transport to Dadaab. Down to 6 pallets.

Now, you've got 6 pallets of plumpynut and tarps in Dadaab and I salute you - you've done a good thing. Problem is, you don't have anyone who can distribute them in a regulated manner, making sure they don't end up on a secondary market, don't go to people who already have their distribution, etc.. You have 2 choices: you can either hire away an experienced field staff who could help you with this (taking you down to 5 or 4 pallets even), or - you could give it to one of the organizations you were trying to avoid in the first place, and they could distribute this.

You won't have any communications or reporting mechanisms along the line if there's a problem with your shipment. And even if there isn't, what happens when it gets there and its the wrong thing, something not needed? You have no reverse supply chain to return it to suppliers while simultaneously moving in what is needed.

Now, take WVI - we have Global Pre-positioned Resource Network warehouses where we stock relief supplies in preparation for events like this. They are filled with donated and low-cost product that we have sourced with global suppliers at rock-bottom rates, procuring millions of mosquito nets or medical kits or what have you at a time. We're shipping to Dadaab via our warehouse in Dubai and other international procurement activities already underway. Goods are starting to arrive in country, and I have colleagues just this morning that I was discussing our strategy for working with the Ministry of Finance for securing an blanket-MOU for tax exemption for relief supplies so that we don't have to process it for individual orders (as we do for development supplies), and speed up the goods-to-field. We're working on negotiated contracts with the best providers of in country logistic services for port processing and road transport (and in some cases, air). We've had staff in northeast Kenya for decades - people who speak the languages, are trained in food distribution, monitoring and evaluation, camp management, etc..

If you give your money to an organization, a *big* percentage of your $20K is going to go to all those things and more that I mentioned in the previous paragraph - none of them come free. But I can pretty much guarantee you one of the big, reputable relief agencies is going to be able to distribute more of your pallets than you would on your own.

/end lunch break, I've gotta get back to work but I'll try to check in on this again EOD.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:25 AM on August 12, 2011 [193 favorites]

Best answer: There's a bit of a local controversy in my area right now about some boxes of goods intended for fire victims that ended up in the dump. It sounds like a terrible, wasteful tragedy, but what most people don't know is that when this major fire happened, people all over the country got together, put their old clothes and microwaves in trucks, and had them sent to the fire area (an isolated place) with NO PLAN for what was to happen next.

So the people who had just lost their town ended up being deluged with something like 50 semi-trucks worth of people's basement scraps, with nowhere to store it (where are you going to put a couch when your house is gone?), no one to sort, clean and keep it (Salvation Army got overrun within hours), and no way to distribute it (400 families need several beds each - who gets the 4 stained Queen beds that just arrived? Never mind that the quality of the items was, shall we say, variable. The donations have become a second disaster for the town.

Money is the ONLY thing to give, and it will be most effective given to an organization who already has their own people (volunteers and paid), networks, supply chains, space, offices, etc. And if they need a couple of bucks of your money to pay for the staffer who is organizing all this and keeping the books up-to-date, that is a small price to pay.

I am a staff at a large disaster-relief organization, so I am a biased on this score. The truth is, though, that if you want smart, experienced, educated, capable people managing your donations - for some of them that will have to be their full-time job. Volunteers can do a lot, but volunteer changeover in a major disaster recovery is fast (how many weeks of your job could you give up to go help others? For most of us that maxes out at a week). For stability and organizational continuity, there is no way to get away from administrative costs, nor should there be. Think of the administrative fees as investing in the community capacity to respond and recover.

People have suggested some great charities in the thread. Research them to see which has the values and strategies that align most with you.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:15 AM on August 12, 2011 [28 favorites]

Givewell.org is a charity evaluation site that has a pretty thorough process for approving charities. They did a blog post on the famine in Somalia.

Their FAQ is also very extensive, going into their methodology, and even addressing the overhead costs brought up on an earlier answer.
posted by FJT at 8:17 AM on August 12, 2011

Best answer: Getting food to Somalia is not easy, due to local wars and politics. I know you want your money to feed people, but there's nothing wrong with organizations having staff, offices, health insurance, pensions, training, etc. It takes a lot of expertise and effort to get relief work done effectively. If you were able to get a truck to Africa with food on board, and got to Somalia, your odds of being hijacked and harmed would be non-trivial. So, pick a reasonable organization, and give as generously as you can.
posted by theora55 at 10:56 AM on August 12, 2011

Best answer: A good friend of mine works for an aid agency in Mogadishu and has been there since last fall. When I asked her which international organizations she recommends, especially ones that are able to operate in south central Somalia, she told me: ICRC (Red Cross), UNICEF, World Food Programme, MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Norwegian Refugee Council, and Islamic Relief.

From what I understand, there have been some recent changes with al Shabaab and their allowal of aid agencies in the areas they control. Which is why UNICEF and ICRC in particular have been able to reach some Somalis in need in those areas in the past month.

My friend also pointed out that I could donate directly to some Somali NGOs, such as DBG, SAACID, Bani'Adam, and WASDA.
posted by lullaby at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the answers and charity suggestions. Special thanks to allkindsoftime for the information about logistics and arcticwoman for the perspective on useful vs. useless.
posted by bendy at 11:15 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late to the party, but I really like the website charitynavigator.org. They rate charities and show where the money goes.
posted by petiteviolette at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2011

(GiveWell previously on Metafilter)

Oh. Wow. Sorry about the link. Did NOT know that at all.

Thanks for the Metafilter link.
posted by FJT at 4:41 PM on August 22, 2011

« Older Ugly Divorce   |   Best. First. Day. Ever. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.