Embrace Your Inner Companion: Georgia Tech Professor envisions a model of global philanthropy based on humility
It’s a well-established fact that most startups fail, which is one of the reasons venture capitalists are betting so much, hoping that a home run will justify many strikeouts.
According to Georgia Tech Professor Kirk Bowman, global philanthropy emanating from the we often looks a bit too much like this, leaving the international landscape littered with failed development projects that rob communities of their power.
Financial and personal incentives align to push well-meaning Americans, especially idealistic college students, to create new initiatives that will strengthen their own egos, sometimes at the expense of locals who are already working to effect change in their own communities. Dr Bowman said.
“It’s the tax system, it’s the way we travel, it’s family and church, all the different organizations that give you a little dopamine and make you feel good about yourself.”
“Volunteerism” fuels an entire industry built on the desire of “well-meaning Westerners” to change the world, he argues, to the point that commercial “orphanages” steal children to let travelers hold them, and workers repair them. in the evening the construction work that the mission trip participants completed during the day.
Dr Bowman and Jon Wilcox, former banker and co-founder of their non-profit association Get up and take care, believe that rather than more philanthropic startups, the world needs funders who function like community banks, unsung heroes who support strong and successful businesses based on their character and relationships.
The co-authors describe their approach in the new book Reinventing global philanthropy: the development model of the community bank, a recently published book listing their experience of testing the model in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Too often, Dr Bowman said, Americans present what he calls “The Philanthropist’s Burden,” a play about the Rudyard kipling poem “The burden of the white man”. Many would dismiss racism in the colonialism that the poem defends, “but if you look at the way we do global philanthropy, it’s really just a better version of the same system.
Americans’ default mode is that ideas, leadership and credit should go to the person of the “Global North”, the rich countries from which the donations come, he said in an interview with Global Atlanta as part of “Authors Amplified”, a series of lecture-books, sponsored by the Atlanta Center for World Studies.
“We really believe that this whole model has to be reversed, where the ‘superhero’ has to be that person in the Global South – leadership, ideas, innovation. Because the kids in these neighborhoods need role models, and they don’t need to be like Jon and me; they have to look like people who look like them, ”said Dr. Bowman.
Dr Bowman got his ideas through missteps in places like Fiji, where he helped design healthcare delivery projects that were excellent in theory but in practice “failed miserably” because they lacked local knowledge and commitment.
Good intentions are not enough, he says. Projects also have to be relentless when it comes to efficiency, which he learned from Mr Wilcox, who had no experience in global development but knew from his banking career that it was much harder to launch something. again than pouring financial fuel on an existing business.
While this is obvious to him, Dr Bowman said that Americans’ biggest obstacles to partnering with locals come from the mistaken idea, based on exceptional concepts, that there is not enough productive projects for everyone. In fact, he found, they tend not to look.
Dr Bowman persuaded Mr Wilcox to fund an exploratory project in Rio to find local NGOs working to benefit their communities, and then provide seed money to support new projects.
With just a few emails and LinkedIn posts, they discovered the Miratus Badminton Association in the Chacrinha Rio favela, where Sebastião Oliveira uses samba dance to teach children the footwork that helps them move around the field – and keeps them out of the crossfire of Brazil’s internal war on drugs. Mr. Oliveira built his four-court complex for 17 years with his bare hands and now owns a thriving institution that has sent competitors to the Olympics and Pan Am Games.
They thought Mr. Oliveira was a “unicorn”, but soon found themselves overwhelmed with potential projects, Redes de Maré tutoring service for college entrance exam Crescer and Viver circus troupe at Our de Morro, a community theater group for young people, and Jongo da Serrinha, one that uses drumming and dancing for social impact – all of the projects described in the book.
For those who are really looking, finding impactful organizations can be as easy as asking a classmate from this country, contacting reporters, or running social media polls.
“These connections happen very, very quickly,” said Dr. Bowman. “You shouldn’t think it’s really that hard. It’s really just opening your eyes and seeing what’s going on on the ground, because there are some really innovative and impressive local organizations, not only in the niche we looked at, but also in women’s issues and the environment – all over the South, “he said.
Rise Up & Care, the entity created by Dr Bowman and Mr Wilcox, has also turned the traditional application process upside down in order to relieve these groups of the cumbersome bureaucratic process of applying for funding and performing impact assessments, which distracts them from their main assets. .
Rise Up & Care works backwards, finding practices that have already proven their worth, such as involving young people in activities like sports or music, which combine skills, rewards and community, and then supporting projects in these areas. The request is one page, and the impact assessment is simply confirming that they said what they were going to do – much like a community banker checking to see if a loan has been repaid.
Mr Wilcox, who joined Dr Bowman for the forum at the Constellations community offices in Global Atlanta, continually repeated the mantra “No startups” as the key to philanthropic success.
“Find existing superheroes. It’s shocking how many there are – your impact only increases, and as someone who loves to donate and help people, you want to get your money’s worth, ”he said. .
Dr Bowman agreed that at the end of the day, the approach outlined in their 177-page book is about humility – letting the local partner shine while the donor stays happy in the shadows.
“If we do something really simple, which is to take our Superman cloak off and embrace our inner sidekick, and think about how we can support local leaders, then that sort of resolves itself.”
Trailer for “Bad and the Birdieman”, a Rise Up & Care film about the Miratus Badminton Association:
Learn more or purchase the new book, Reimagining Global Philanthropy, here.
Get up and take care has produced five documentary films, including “Bad and the Birdieman,” which traces the origins of the Miratus Badminton Association.
Mr. Bowman also worked with Georgia Tech students and Brazilian street artist Cazé on a children’s book, “The Birdieman of Rio de Janeiro”, which is the first installment of the Scout’s Superhero Search series where the young protagonist travels the world looking for ordinary people who change their communities.