If you give money, give money to people.

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Funding is often reserved for specific projects. Projects that deliver clean water to communities. Projects that treat tuberculosis. Projects that build schools.

But are these projects actually what the community wants? Sometimes, yes. Most times, no. All times, they are what the funders want. Funders who may live half a world a way. Funders who may have an idealized view of the problems. Funders who think they know the solutions.

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People on the ground are the ones who do know the problems, and who do know what may actually help. These could be locals, or they could be foreigners with strong local contacts. Either way, funds with a project restriction do not allow these people to act on their own instincts. They do not allow for adaption to a changing environment. They result, in my experience, in many failed projects over which the community did not take ownership.

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What if there was no restrictions funding for people? For their ideas, and for their values? What if there were funds that put trust in an individual to carry out his/her projects and he/she sees fit? This funding exists, but it is rare. I have been fortunate enough to find some of it, and to have some of it find me.

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So if you want to fund something, fund a person. Or identify a project that is tied to a specific person or community. Don’t give to nameless, broad charities or to ambiguous pools of money. Give to someone you know and trust, who will turn your donation into a direct impact. And let them do the work in identifying the project.

If you give money, give money to people.

(Photo 1: Maktau, Kenya, October 2009. Photo 2: Maktau, Kenya, October 2009. Photo 3: Ziway, Ethiopia, January 2009. Photo 4: Nairobi, Kenya, April 2009.)