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The Road to Hell

I just recently finished reading "The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity" by Michael Maren. Published in 1997, it exposes some of the harm that developed nations can cause in the Third World even if intentions are good.

Just from my own experience, I must confess I was ignorant to the inner workings of charity and aid organizations. I get approached by a charity representative, I sponsor a child or make a one-time donation. Maybe I get a letter from my sponsored child and have the opportunity to send something in return. End of the story. I don't put a lot of thought into how my money is being used and whether it is being used effectively.

As this book demonstrates, (using Somalia as an example) not many other people were asking tough questions either. Aid money and food were attracted to Somalia in the 1980s but somehow managed to cause more harm than good. The refugees were becoming dependent on the food aid, the local government was getting rich by skimming off the top, and the aid business was booming. Because that's what aid is essentially, a business. The aid organizations refused to look at the effects of aid because if they had they would have put themselves out of business. And no one else was doing it either, there was no accountability. There was no overseeing body that could regulate the way in which aid was distributed.

The book made mention several times about how ridiculously easy it was to set-up an aid organization. So there are a flood of organizations in Third World countries trying to help but not understanding anything about the culture, politics, or economics of the region in which they are working. The money is flowing in from government grants and donations to do something, so they do something, just not necessarily the right thing for the country or the people they are intending to help. And then they are gone, off to the next crisis that garners media attention, where the cycle repeats itself. Meanwhile the aid recipients are (at least in the case of Somalia) worse off than they were before.

We have got to start thinking about ways to help people that are actually effective over the long term. This can be done by making sure there is a plan of action, not just acting because the money has been given and it should look like something is being done. An aid accountability body wouldn't be a bad idea either, to provide the much needed regulation of the aid industry and ensure that NGOs are doing effective work. So next time you go to make a charitable donation, don't. Just kidding, but seriously think about who you're giving it to, what they do with the money and whether it is a good use.

Beginning of Term Retreat, and Our Shared Vision

Hey folks! this post is adapted froma post that went up on myewb this week. However, as the myewb post isn't accessible to people not registered with the chapter, I thought it would be a great opportunity to contribute to the blog!

At this term's Beginning of Term retreat we set out to define a shared vision for our chapter. Fifteen chapter members, including exec and general members, collaborated on defining what impact we aim to have as a chapter. This is what came out of it!

Our shared vision of who we will strive to be, and the impact that will allow us to have:

1. Change Canadian culture from one of apathy to one where the accepted social norm is thinking globally.
2. Change engineering culture such that engineers shift their thinking from immediate impacts, to the long term impacts of their work around the world.
3. We will champion unpopular truths.
4. We will deepen our own connections with overseas volunteers, individuals that they are working for and with, and the impact of our work as an organization in Africa.
5. Everyone in our region will know not just the name "EWB", but what we do and who we are as an organization (our values, our impact, our membership).

So what now? We'll work together as a chapter to live out this vision, and will revisit these five key points in July at our Transition Retreat! In the meantime, feel free to ddiscuss and add to the list of areas our chapter should consider as part of our vision for change.

cheers,
Rob

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