How to help – choosing projects

Here’s how I picked the projects I beg your generosity for:

Project priority by types

It seems to me that in a first moment, while the chaos created by destruction of infrastructure and loss of life subsides, operations of a great scope will be most necessary. A lot of capital needs to be deployed to reconstruct infrastructure, rescue people, shelter and provide for large numbers of refugees, etc.

Of course individuals will also be needing a lot of services intensive in labour, of the kind NGO’s are best at providing, but even these will have to be provided within the frame of large logistical operations since even volunteers can’t exist in the void and have to be fed, transported around, sheltered, etc.

Also, big institutions whose purpose is to act in precisely this kind of situations will tend to have the means to deploy quickly a large amount of effort. They are well known to us, they might have had their difficulties, even their scandals in the past, but this doesn’t make the alternatives any better. If anything it means the big guys are better watched over.

At the same time, there is a inadequateness between the short attention span of the public and the months required to asses necessities and ways to cover them, without which assistance is reduced to covering the most basic needs.

As things stabilize, however, a sort of trench war situation will appear, one where victims will be quickly forgotten by the whole of us who need to update Facebook, watch “Celebrity Apprentice” and buying an Ipad without having to be reminded of depressing stuff. They will have been sheltered at temporary facilities, out of jobs and schools and they will need the kind of support NGO’s better provide.


The first problem to donate to Japan is that it is a country much more used to giving than to receiving. Being one of the richest countries and the fifth donor of ODA, the country is simply much better geared for giving than for receiving: a myriad NGO’s from all over the world have local chapters where normally a foreigner presides over fundraising activities.

Now, most of these organizations have thrust themselves into action to support with all their local means relief operations. Their loyalty to their longtime patron honours them. And yet, I have some qualms about most of them, which I would summarize as follows:

  1. Lack of adequate structure to deploy operations in Japan (other than fundraising)
  2. In some cases, lack of knowledge of the terrain, needs, administrative structures, etc.
  3. Lack of clear earmarking of funds received for the disaster, which could end up being applied elsewhere.

More than this, we have to take account that Japan is a highly developed country with a very educated population and sophisticate social structures. In such a situation, the added value of a foreign operation can be greatly diminished by redundancies. The NGO will have to put an operative structure in place,which will replicate (presumably in a less efficient way) what other institutions are doing.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am in no way implying that all NGO’s or any of them, for that matter should be shunned or denied funding. I just try to find a most effective way to donate, relative to my goals which are simply reducing the amount of suffering.

In doing this, I try to pay attention to assets operated by the NGO on the ground, continuation of activities (vs. a burst of unconnected actions discontinued after some months) coherence of goals with actions, existence of some degree of synergies in the operations, established record by the NGO, detail of the project funded, among others.

Existing Institutions

The good news is that Japan is a country with very consolidated social structures, which handle public matters in pretty efficient ways. Direct funding of projects started at schools, hospitals, libraries, and other institutions in need, gives a very good chance that every penny will be wisely spent.

The bad news is that there is a language and an administrative barrier to reaching abroad for help with these needs. There is a lot of basic international fund rising and foreign language consulting that could be used by the prefectures, city halls and local associations. I am sure that knowledge will very soon find its way to the parties in need and we will be seeing many more local institutions putting projects forward for international help.

I will keep on investigating this and direct you from this blog to interesting projects when I find them.

Bank fees, operating expenses and other ways to squander

Although I enjoy a nicely designed poster as the man next door and I have a lot of respect for the many proffesionals that are coming up with projects based on the fruit of their work and creativity, I hate to let half my donation in postal fees, printing charges and so on.

One of the biggest sources of squandering in relief operations is inefficient operating structures. When many layers of organizations are inserted between the donor and the beneficiary, when too many small organizations do the job that could be done (or is actually already being done) by a larger institution, chances are that operating expenses will come up very high. Donating directly to projects managed by the beneficiaries is a good way to avoid this trap.

Global giving is a very interesting entity in this respect since it allows to chose projects to donate to directly. Although it charges a commission of 15%, this is probably partly made up for by bundling donations, which makes for smaller fees. It has the advantage of performing a screening of the projects it admits to its page, so you know they are not scams and are well planned.


About Outis

Nobody is cooler than you
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