Let’s say hypothetically that you live in the North America, Europe, or Australia. You believe in the importance of spreading appropriate technology, but you don’t have the ability/opportunity/courage to get on a plane and move to another continent. When you ask yourself how you can best get involved or help, you look like this guy:

That’s ok. That’s a natural reaction. And so you search online for some of the mainstream charities out there, randomly pick one, and give a donation. Maybe you listened to Bono for advice.

But before you do that, I ask you to stop for a moment and consider this approach. Is this really the best way for you to get involved and support sustainable technology and development in Africa? Is your donation really having a positive impact?

Depending on the charity you chose, probably not. Maybe your donation will help provide a secondary school with a computer, which looks great in the charity’s reports but is completely impractical because the school lacks electricity or technical expertise or maybe even the desire to have computers. You can’t really track your donation, so you’ll never know.

Don’t get discouraged – there are definitely other options out there for you.

First of all, it is significantly more useful for you to contribute either your time and skills or your money rather than your used goods. Nobody wants your old high heels – especially not disaster victims in Peru.

The easiest and perhaps most useful way for you to contribute is to make a donation or invest in an organization that is “doing it right.” As most of you know by now, I have major issues with aid and organizations that give things away for free. But there are many fantastic organizations (mostly businesses) out there that can use your support.

I profiled a few of them this weekRent-to-Own, Global Cycle Solutions, Kilimo Salama, Hestian Innovation, and Zambikes. (This is by all means not an all-encompassing list but rather just a few of my favorites, many of which I have a personal connection to. I will continue to add to this list as time goes on.) Organizations like these rely on outside investment to help them kick them off in the early years. If they are really “doing it right,” then they won’t need your money anymore after the first couple years because they’ll be making a profit. If the organization is still completely dependent on donations 5 to 10 years later, then they’re probably doing something wrong…

So my advice is to find someone with a start-up idea that you support (check out my Doing It Right checklist for thoughts on distinguishing between projects that are doing it right and doing it wrong), and invest in them. I prefer to give money to people rather than large, faceless organizations, and these are the people that definitely will appreciate your support the most.

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