CONSTANCE

Semi-philanthropist living in Austin, traveling whenever I can.

This is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. Just this video spawned a scholarship fund and a foundation to support creativity and entrepreneurship in kids. Love. 

Happy birthday to my boss and world-changer John Paul Dejoria. 

Happy birthday to my boss and world-changer John Paul Dejoria. 

Wednesday: Give a little.

Last week I kind of skipped Give a Little. I think the unspoken message was you know what, I’m a teeny bit sick of giving. It’s hard to pretend that giving gets me jazzed every day of the week. I’m going through a phase right now in which I’ve gotten so big picture I can’t even tell what I care about anymore or which organizations are effective. And what does effective even mean?! Within philanthropy, it’s called donor fatigue. 

Sometimes it’s important to take stock of what you feel called to do and where your talents meet a need. Rethink. Regroup. I can’t stress enough that personal relationships with the poor or oppressed or truly the only thing that remain at the end of a time like this or at the end of, well, the end. Organizations will lose your trust. Nonprofit leaders will disappoint you. It’s not that relationships are a mean to the end, but they are the end. They’re the goal. So I know it’s not give a little — relationships aren’t easy or small — but the beginning of one is a small place to start.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

I have no concrete idea how Christianity will wrestle free of its current crisis, of its distractions and temptations, and above all its enmeshment with the things of this world. But I do know it won’t happen by even more furious denunciations of others, by focusing on politics rather than prayer, by concerning ourselves with the sex lives and heretical thoughts of others rather than with the constant struggle to liberate ourselves from what keeps us from God.

—Andrew Sullivan in his Newsweek piece on Christianity today

Without realizing it, all the books I read last month were very different approaches to the poor. 

Friendship at the Margins- My friends in Bangkok were with Word Made Flesh, the organization that co-author Chris Heuertz created, and they restored my faith in missions organizations. Chris writes about the importance of relationships and hospitality and about living alongside the poor in a way that is subtly revolutionary. 

Poor Economics- Economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee founded a poverty research lab (J-PAL) at MIT and they know a lot — like, a lot — about the poor. The thing is, so much of what they know and prescribe in the developing world is counter-intuitive and at times frustratingly so. For instance, they’ve found that one way to keep kids vaccinated is not educating parents, but essentially bribing them through food, to keep their kids vaccinated. Their methods might not be what are expected, but they work. 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers- Author Katherine Boo spent 3 years researching and hanging out in a slum in Mumbai to write this beautiful non-fiction narrative. She’s interested in why people are poor and what keeps them poor. Her sentences are amazing.

What I love about these books is that they delve into the lives, choices and emotions the poor without reducing them to projects, prescriptions or caricature. They are complex people living in an even more complex, broken system that we all in some way are a part of. Through relationships, policy and story, we can invite them into our lives and perhaps even earn the right to be invited into theirs. 

Tiny Spark

My new favorite podcast is Tiny Spark — a Chronicle of Philanthropy podcast about the business of doing good. The difficult thing about being a funder is that you have to take the emotion out of giving - Yes, I understand that you give kittens to poor people and that it’s adorable, but who cares? 

In a smaller but equally meaningful sense, we all give back to charities that make us feel good. I think it’s important if you’re a philanthropist or a casual giver or even volunteer to ask questions and try to comprehend the business models for charities and their impact. The more in-depth your questions are - cultural (is this a Western notion of helping?), social (am I disrupting existing social structures?) and even practical (is this helping anyone or simply making me feel good?) - the more effective your giving will be.  The podcasts I listened to this morning dealt with international adoption (which some people unfortunately think of as an unqualified good) and a prison anti-recidivism program. Good stuff.