Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Thanks to all for the positive feedback and support of these posts on social media. We are so proud of our students, faculty and all who contribute to the work of the Malawi Children’s Mission Partnership (MCM).

This week offers a glimpse into the essence of the MCM and what it is Binghamton University student volunteers, faculty and others, accomplish through their dedicated efforts to improve the quality of life for the children of Malawi who have been orphaned.

Is it just us or do those happy smiles reflect success?

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“The MCM’s goal is for children to see themselves as loved, valued and thriving.”

Seven girls will be attending school in Malawi for one year, thanks to the fundraising savvy of an extraordinary 10-year old!

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MCM recently thanked Joely for raising over $700 for the Young Women’s Initiative at the farmer’s market this summer.

An ambitious, in-progress career goal for this MCM student.

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We can see why Wisdom’s bright future requires shades! He’s studying journalism, working toward his goal of becoming a radio announcer.

A rare and unusual show of technology (in Malawi).

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A generous donation of iMacs from the Riverdale School offers a big technology step forward for the staff and students of the MCM.

Effervescent fun, courtesy Team Binghamton University!

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“Bubbles. The universal language of fun! A small part of the joy brought by the Binghamton University team.” #binghamtonuniversity

Moments from Malawi will be back next Thursday, we look forward to seeing you then!

Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Featuring Eboniqua Smith, MSW ’18

Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Partnership
May-June 2017

Eboniqua Smith Bronx, NY, MSW 2018

“Experiencing economic poverty does not equate to unhappiness.”

Part 1:  Cautious anticipation and the bolstering effect of a journal

As the time quickly approaches to travel 7,762  miles away from family and close friends, I am at a loss for words. When I initially heard about the service learning trip I was head-over-heels, I knew it was an experience I wanted.

Now that I have completed all the requirements, packed my bags, starting planning and laid the foundation for the projects–I feel stuck. My family and friends continuously ask me “if I’m excited” and I reply with a soft and simple “yea.”

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I think it has a lot to do with nerves. Embarking on a journey I’ve never been on before, flying for over 15 hours to my destination, new food, new people, the unknown – I’m  on autopilot. I keep thinking once I get to the airport, I’ll shake it off and re-light my fire of excitement, but for now, I guess I’m ready.

My ho12191168_893388424043743_2309800312640665944_opes for arrival in Malawi is to take it day-by-day and to fully absorb everything I’m hearing, seeing and feeling.

I also took the advice of my peers, those who embarked on this journey last year, and invested in a journal. I want to be able to track and take notes of my journey and experiences as they happen. This, I know, will be a good resource for my own growth and the change I will experience when I get back to New York.

I also can’t wait to run around and play with the kids. The videos and pictures of them from the past trip were something that made me submit my application and I can’t wait to make my own memories.

Part 2: A feeling of home, the kid connection and the unimportance of things

This first week has been nothing less than heartwarming. I must say my excitement stems from a feeling of finally being “home.” Taking a trip to the motherland was a dream that has now turned into reality. Oddly enough I don’t feel out of place–driving around Malawi makes me feel at home. I feel as if I belong here and I’m already sure that this will not be the last trip I make to the country.

After landing in the Malawian airport and driving to Annie’s Lodge, I couldn’t wait to call my Mom and tell her how similar it is to being on the island of St. Croix, where my family is from. Attending church here and trying the local food helped me immediately identify parallels between the Malawian culture and the culture of my Caribbean family.

After traveling over a dirt road to the MCM community and finally meeting the children, I have to say I was surprised by their immediate connection with us. I felt even more at home with them at my side. They were not afraid to take a hand and play a game, but honestly kids are kids no matter the location.

There were moments that took me aback during visits to the village. I believed I had a vast amount of knowledge concerning the struggles these families endure. However, as we well know, hearing about something is not the same as actually seeing it.

Touring the homes of some of the kids, and hearing guardians share their experiences, stories, dreams and hopes for the children, warmed my heart. Each time a guardian shared something, the wheels in my head were turning, trying to figure out how I might be able to help these families after I leave. Their work ethic, sense of community and care for each membe10750329_744290485620205_652511957943088434_or touched my heart.

My main concern so far is the confused perception of these families’ situations with the absence of happiness. I cannot and will not cease to express that these families are strong, resilient and HAPPY. Experiencing economic poverty does not equate to unhappiness.

My concern is more for their well-being. For example, the challenge of obtaining water. It is unbelievable how much they have to go through to get this necessity of life. One of the projects I would like to concern myself with when I return home is raising money to provide water bore holes for each village community that is home to children from the MCM academy. It may not be a project that will reap an immediate outcome, but it will happen.

Part 3: Girls demonstrate the value of “teaching a man to fish”

The services that MCM offers the families and children of the villages exceeded my expectations. I am amazed at the work being done to serve 150 students. One of the things that impresses me the most is that, even with limited staff and resources, they still manage to do so much.

The project that I came to MCM prepared for was to work with the Young Women’s Initiative. As we prepared projects and ideas to share, nothing felt effective because I didn’t know the girls I was going to meet; I didn’t know their attitudes, their work ethic or what they like to do. I was thinking of the girls I met in New York and how making sanitary pads, one of the proposed projects, would not have appealed to them. But it was a brilliant idea and we decided to proceed with it in Malawi.

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As the time came closer for us to show the MCM girls the steps to make the pads, I became nervous.

To my surprise the girls were motivated to complete this project. They never complained, never gave up and the week-long project was completed successfully.

The girls exceeded my expectations and their work ethic surpasses that of most people I know. They were also very grateful to not just be given something, but to learn such an important skill.

MCM’s Ken shared his thoughts on “handouts,” saying that he finds it important for the children to learn skills, to have the ability to create things themselves and also to pass those skills on to peers and future generations. The community seemed to share that view.

We met with the village chiefs, who expressed their gratitude about the skills being learned by people in the villages. The chiefs also expressed their want for the young men to be included in similar learning.  At the mention of this, my wheels started turning as to what ideas I can contribute to help the boys find a project, so they can learn valuable skills and potentially make money for their communities and themselves.

I love and appreciate all the possibilities for entrepreneurship that MCM allows. This organization will continue to have a place in my heart, as will the people of MCM, the driving force behind such a phenomenal mission to change lives. The children of the three villages are lucky, in my opinion, to have such a strong community raising them. My time here illustrated to me the well-known saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Part 4: Gratitude 

I remember when I initially told family and friends I had applied to a service-abroad project, that their reaction was one of excitement. Everyone couldn’t wait to hear about how I helped “those orphaned kids on the other side of the world.” Even I couldn’t wait for what adventure might unfold. During the two-and-a-half weeks of our trip, my mind raced to process and interpret everything that I saw, smelled, touched and heard.

The most mind boggling part for me, as I previously shared, is that everything felt so familiar, that I felt so at home. The only thing different was the language, although the language barrier did not interfere with the love and care I quickly developed for the people and the country of Malawi.

On my immediate return to New York, I began sharing stories of my Malawian experience. Many of my family and friends were shocked, unaware of how westernized Malawi is, especially referring to how much English they spoke.

Many people were also amazed that the children at MCM didn’t look “starving.” (The images of starving orphaned African children was what many people unfortunately knew about Africa.) One thing I always share about the people I met in Malawi is how extremely hard working they are. Everyone I met was inquisitive and ready to learn.

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As I write this, I’m still trying to understand fully the ways this experience will stay with me forever. Of course I’ve met a great deal of people that I may never forget, thanks to special photographs and videos, but what can I take away and apply to my professional life?

The answer currently is that this Malawian experience has added onto my drive to help people excel in life. It has also pushed me to take advantage of everything that I am afforded. I am fortunate to be in a position where my parents still  work countless hours to afford necessities, but they can acquire them.

I interacted with people in Malawi who have few material things, but a lot of heart and drive. If the opportunity to further themselves or their community presented itself, I’m positive they will take advantage of it.

As a person living in America, I see opportunity and feel obliged to take advantage of it. Whether it be an opportunity to help myself excel or to help others, an opportunity presented should not be passed up.

I don’t want to take anything for granted, because even my ability to walk to the supermarket is an opportunity that children and families living in a rural Malawian village don’t have. As I continue to process my thoughts, reactions and reflections from this trip, I will remind myself to not take my situation for granted.

~Eboniqua

Moments from Malawi: Reflections from student volunteers

Featuring Shannon Rudy, MSW ’18

Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Partnership
May-June 2017

Shannon Rudy, Syracuse, MSW 2018

“They have taught me more than I ever feel I could begin to teach them about the human connection and what it means to be a good person in the face of adversity.  I cannot wait to learn more!”

Part 1:  Elation, anxiety and what to pack 

Yesterday, I stood at the foot of my bed for what seemed like forever, staring at the open luggage with my personal belongings neatly packed away. I went through my list about a dozen times, making absolutely sure that I had everything I could need. Frustrated, I dumped the luggage and repacked everything again. How can I possibly be ready for this kind of opportunity?

It’s hard to coherently put my feelings about studying abroad in Malawi into a blog. I’m elated, nervous, anxious, while at the same time I’m not really feeling anything at all because it hasn’t really sunk in yet. I don’t think it will until I’m on that 14-hour flight across the Atlantic. On another note, I got sick this week, so I haven’t exactly had the chance to get too excited about anything. I hope this throat thing goes away by the time I get on the plane.

All these worries and trivial things to get anxious about make me laugh as I type this. I’m going to Africa! My worries about what clothes I’ve packed and what snacks I’ll bring or what I’ll do on the plane will be null and void. It doesn’t matter there. What matters is the work that will be put into empowering the lives of teachers, grandparents and the kiddos in Malawi. I’m so excited to meet them all, and I’m hoping they’ll like me.

Life will be so different for the next three weeks. I keep forging scenarios in my head of what it might be like, feel like, taste like, but I know there’s no possible way to know. This unknown is what makes me most nervous. Will I succeed in what I’m trying to do? Will the people benefit from our work? Will it last on both them and myself? How can I carry this experience with me for the rest of my life? How will I change? These are just a few of the hundreds of questions bouncing around my head, and I hope to answer a fraction of them by the time the wheels drop back onto the U.S pavement.

This will change my life forever, and I am so ready.

Part 2:  A case of the cankles, the beauty of Africa and “oh my gosh, the kids!”

I have been in Blantyre, Malawi for a week already, and there is so much to reflect on that I hardly know where to start and how to finish. Being in Africa has surpassed all expectations and has quieted the initial anxieties I felt before the journey here. The flight itself was excruciatingly long, but the swollen ankles and tired crankiness of myself and my cohort made the arrival worth it.

The drive to our lodgings gave me my first look at Africa, and how beautiful and vast it is. The mountains in the distance and little shops on the side of the streets welcomed me temporarily home as people waved back at me and my eagerness. If random strangers waved at locals in the States, the general feelings would be confusion, disinterest or probably annoyance. Every person I smiled or waved at here greeted me with a genuine smile and wave in return. I was honestly surprised!

We were all welcomed by the exceedingly friendly staff at Annie’s Lodge, with Ms. Pauline quickly trying to teach us Chichewa. “Wawa!”, “Mulibwanje?”, “Dzinalakondani?”. Hello! How are you? What’s your name? She is still a VERY patient teacher. We were brought to our rooms, completed with mosquito nets over the beds to protect from the bugs and mosquitoes.

The next day we met our drivers, who have continued to be incredibly patient, protective and wonderful to us  slightly-boisterous Americans. Charles, Japhet and Peter have become part of our little family, and their knowledge of Blantyre and the culture has helped deepen our own understanding and learning experience. They never seem to tire of all our questions!

The first few days in Malawi were so emotionally demanding and overwhelming. The first ride to MCM was physically rough and none of us were prepared for the experience. I wasn’t prepared for many things, especially the way the staff and students at MCM made me feel.

Phoebe (pictured below) was the first to meet us, and I think she looked as nervous as I felt, only probably worse considering there were 20 pairs of eager eyes boring into her! Phoebe must be the most gracious, kind woman I’ve ever met. The love for her work, community, and kids at MCM clearly shows, and I can only hope to retain a fraction of that passion for my own pursuits in life.

Prof Youjung Lee and Phoebe Kufeyani, MCM Social Work Director
Phoebe Kufeyani, MCM Social Work Director (right), shown here with Prof Youjung Lee (left)

After touring the facilities, we got to walk in on the classrooms and get our first glimpse of the students and teachers. The rooms, while small, were inviting and emanated a positive learning environment. The teachers were very welcoming as well and were excited to have us and introduce us to the kids.

Oh my goodness, the kids! I was not prepared at all for how instantly loving, trusting and excited they all were to meet us! They made posters and songs in welcome and blessings, yet I was the one who truly felt blessed. I was very surprised that small clusters of kids seemed to “choose” each of us, and the same groups have stuck with me ever since! They held my hand, took an abundance of pictures and videos with me, attempted to teach me Chichewa, and played any and every game they could with me.

I never felt so important to a person before, and I was so humbled and happy to meet them and learn from them. However, it was also very exhausting. They are definitely an energetic bunch! The physical exhaustion was closely aligned with mental and emotional exhaustion as well, partly from the jet lag and partially from the mere experience of it all.

The first couple days were village visits, and seeing where the kids lived was kind of bittersweet to me. On one hand, seeing the poverty and struggles of daily survival with their families and community broke my heart, I felt anguish for them. Yet interacting with them at the school and seeing how much love and kindness they have for others completely floored me. They have taught me more than I ever feel I could begin to teach them about the human connection and what it means to be a good person in the face of adversity. I cannot wait to learn more!

Part 3: Sex, beauty and the life-changing impact of kindness

Working with the Young Women’s Initiative, I realized that I had begun the work under the impression that young women in Malawi would be so much more culturally different than young women in the U.S. However, I found this to be untrue as I got to know the girls more. While some topics about womanhood and sexual education are considered taboo in this culture, I understand the reasoning behind that and the significance it holds on the girls attending MCM. For example, since MCM is a faith-based organization, abstinence is the primary focus in regard to sex education.

I struggled with this, especially since it is my personal belief that safe sex and preventive measures against pregnancy and STIs are crucial to young women’s education. Therefore, the service learning group working with the initiative could not teach these preventive tactics or discuss them in depth.

To promote safe sex in the culture emanates the idea of promiscuity. If a young woman attending MCM becomes pregnant, she is to leave the school. While I understand the reasoning behind this, I also find it frustrating to be unable to provide the knowledge and resources in possibly preventing that pregnancy to begin with.

Sex education and woman’s health are still relatively recent and controversial topics to openly have in the U.S. Even my own education consisted of scare tactics among the students, showing pictures of the worst diseases and encouraging abstinence. However, I feel that it is important and empowering to learn about our bodies and functions early in life, regardless of discomfort.

Despite inability to heavily focus on sex and health, I feel that the Young Women’s Initiative was a very inspiring group to work with. Chikondi was the group facilitator, and she was a wonderful asset to my own learning and experiences. She was very knowledgeable about what the girls were going through, and helped my group determine what topics we could and should not discuss.

One day we had a discussion on self-esteem and what that meant for all of us. While many of the girls said true beauty consisted of kindness, treating others well and being strong, they did not see themselves as beautiful based on physical features. This saddened me, but it sounded just like any girl their age ranging from 11-19.

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“I am smart, I am beautiful, I am worthy.”

We had the girls take out a piece of paper, write their name at the top, and write one thing they loved about themselves. They then had to pass it to the person next to them so they could write what they loved about that person.

This was repeated multiple times until the papers were filled with positivity and what the women liked about each other. This moment was so empowering and I could see the joy it brought the girls to see themselves as others did: beautiful.

We had the girls repeat a mantra to say to themselves every morning; “I am smart, I am beautiful, I am worthy.” Each repetition of the verse grew louder and more confident, and I could feel nothing but pride in the love they had for each other and the gaining love for themselves.

Part 4: Lessons in termination, non-assumption and cultural competency

A week ago today I said goodbye to the staff at MCM and the kids I worked with. It was such an emotionally hard and exhausting day, and I could  feel the sadness of my classmates as they also said their goodbyes. That day was hardest for me when the car was pulling away, and I could see one of the little girls I was closest with crying and trying to hide it.

It broke my heart because she didn’t shed a single tear the entire day or even act bothered by my pending departure. This in itself taught me not to make assumptions about what people may be feeling or how/when they express those feelings. It was a lesson I will carry with me throughout my career, and a moment I will never forget. I wish I could have comforted her.

Termination became a focused theme throughout our time in Malawi, but I don’t think it became a realistic process until we were already gone. Professionals discuss the importance of terminating with clients from the beginning of work and service, in order for it to be less painful for both workers and clients at the end.

For me personally, I realized that I had put termination on the back burner of my mind because I was so consumed with the present work I was trying to do. I was thrown into a whirlwind of emotions, practices, relationships, culture change and experiences that I didn’t have time in the short 3-week period to truly think about and prepare for what happens at the end. I was engrossed in my busy schedule, debriefing, then sleep.

How could I possibly prepare to say goodbye to the people I’d grown to love? It helped to write and receive letters from those I grew close to and I think it also helped that the students we served were used to groups coming and going throughout the year. However, this fact didn’t make it hurt any less for me.  I think these hard lessons about termination will help me later in my professional development.

This experience was so unique in regard to client/worker relationship building, because the relationships grew instantly and intensely in such short span of time. I think that is what made it difficult for me in the end to part ways. This will not always be the case throughout my career, but now I know how important it is to take that time aside to work through the end with my clients.

It’s difficult to concisely describe all the ways in which I know this service learning experience has helped shape my personal and professional development. All nine social work competencies were practiced while in Malawi, something I could not even say happened in my last field placement for a whole year.

18891640_1316728695043045_491104959336792479_oI learned the utmost importance of cultural competency and sensitivity to different belief systems, as well as beginning to understand where I stand as a white American woman with privilege and opportunity.

Hopefully, I will be able to practice in ways that fully encompass all that I have learned, and how to use my privilege in ways that empower instead of oppress.

This learning opportunity was incredible in so many ways, and I can only hope to share a fraction of the experiences, emotions and work with others to inspire people to do the same.

“We say goodbye, goodbye, but not forever.”

~Shannon

Watch for more Moments from Malawi, sharing the first-hand experiences of Binghamton University student volunteers in the Malawi Children’s Mission (MCM) Program.

 

YOU ARE A PHILANTHROPIST

Dear CCPA Friends:

Earlier this year, I shared my reflections about teaching philanthropy. Earlier this month, the students in my course Philanthropy and Civil Society completed their grantmaking. I wanted to share with you the blog post below, written by Brittany Berke, a student in the class, who reflected on what she learned over the course of the semester. The post is a wonderful example of the power of philanthropy and the promise of engaged teaching in preparing students for lives of active citizenship. After all, that’s what teaching at CCPA is all about, right? Happy reading!

David Campbell

YOU ARE A PHILANTHROPIST

“I am a philanthropist”. The first line of the first video we were assigned to watch for this class.  Remember this: four months ago, we entered Room 260 as a group of strangers. We introduced ourselves by name and year and explained why we were taking the class. For some it was a Scholars requirement, for others a PPL course, for others just a way to fill a gen ed. I would like to use this blog post to recognize how far we’ve come and what we’ve truly achieved.

On the first day of class, I explained that I was involved in theatre and hoped to approach philanthropy through that lens. I then proceeded to not do that at all this semester. Instead, I opened my mind to a whole new realm of possibilities. I soaked in everything that every one of you said and know that I’ve become a more informed and fulfilled person for it. I hope that you can all say the same.  We are philanthropists through our growth, improvement, and open-mindedness.

During our class today, as we deliberated how to finally divide our $10,000, I was struck by the power and integrity in the room. Some of the thoughts shared include: “Expansion is critical”, “Can our money have a better direct impact on other organizations?”, “This request has a sense of urgency to it” and “They gave us numbers for a reason”. These are questions and ideas we would not and could not have articulated back in January. This class has provided us with a new set of vocabulary and skills that most people our age don’t have, and that many people probably never will have. We are philanthropists through our understanding.

Some of us have expressed disappointment with our finalists; others have argued that we couldn’t have gone wrong in our decision-making. Many highly impressive and very deserving nonprofits applied for our grant, so did picking the “right” three really matter? I wholeheartedly answer yes to this question. Picking mattered, less because of our outcome, and more because of the remarkable process we struggled through together. We are philanthropists through our experience.

Once our decision was made, one class member mused “Maybe the heart won over the head for me a little bit” and many of us nodded in agreement. Will the heart always overpower the head, and if so did we waste our time debating between emotion and reason for so many weeks? I don’t think so. Heart alone would not have supported our process. Our hearts gave us passion. Our heads gave us values, criteria, and insight into the difference we could make with $10,000. Our reoccurring debate of Heart vs. Head perfectly sums up this class experience: we all came in with a lot of heart, but the heads we cultivated this semester led us to our final outcome. We are philanthropists through our hearts, heads, and the balance found between them.

Whether we gave money to your favorite organization or not, we should all be proud of what we have accomplished this semester. We have transformed from 25 strangers to 25 collaborative, understanding, and enlightened students. Please take a moment to consider how much you have changed personally and academically since our first day together in January. I would love to hear if any of you have specific memories from class that have defined this process for you, or rather that have helped this process to define you. Congratulations to everyone and thank you for this experience! We can now each say with pride and honesty “I am a philanthropist”.

Brittany Berke

How to Give Away $187,000 to Westchester County Nonprofits

This post is by Anita Borkenstein, a 1986 graduate of Binghamton University. Anita is one of the founders of Westchester Impact 100, a giving circle in which member members pursue their philanthropy by pooling resources. Earlier this semester she shared her experience as a philanthropist with students in Professor David Campbell’s course “Philanthropy and Civil Society.” She wrote this post to reflect on her experience as a philanthropist and the surprising challenges we face when deciding how to give away money!

How to Give Away $187,000 to Westchester County Nonprofits

A Good Problem to Have!

I could not believe how well membership recruitment went this year. We convinced 187 women to join (or rejoin) Impact100 Westchester! Membership is $1,000 per person. We pool ALL the money together to make transformational grants to local charities.

Once membership recruitment closes we announce the grant amounts to the NFP community. Last year, our inaugural cycle, we had 132 members; we gave one Project Grant of $100,000 and three Operating Grants of $10,660. All finalists received an award. Our challenge this year, how to distribute $187,000 into Project and Operating Grants? If we implemented last year’s strategy, too much money would be awarded in operating grants when transformational grants are our focus.

What to do? Should we continue to give one Project Grant of $100,000 or make two for a lesser amount? Do we need to stick with our signature award of $100,000 for branding purposes? How much of an Operating Grant should we award to the three finalists; those funds are disbursed with no strings attached.

On a cold day in December, the Executive Board convened in my kitchen to debate the issue and discuss our options. We talked about it all the time during the membership drive, but now it was decision time. Donna came up with the perfect solution, let the members decide!

First we put several options to a vote by the Board of Directors. 18 women had three options to choose from. Then we put the Board’s favorite two options to a membership vote. 145 women out of 187 voted. They decided 60/40 to give two transformational Project Grants of $85,000 each and two Operating Grants of $8,500 each to the finalists. We are DOUBLING THE IMPACT in 2015!

Debating Effective Philanthropy

This spring, for the sixth straight year, Binghamton students will grapple with how to give money away. It’s a great problem to have, but as students tell me every year, it’s not as easy as it looks. In the undergraduate class, I teach, Philanthropy and Civil Society, students have $10,000 to donate to local organizations, provided to them by the Learning by Giving Foundation. Public administration graduate students, too, will be doing philanthropy, using money they raise through the annual “Party with a Purpose.” It’s all part of the University’s Philanthropy Incubator, which emphasizes the central role that giving time and money plays in community life, and preparing students for lives of active citizenship.

In deciding how to give the money away the students’ debates center around one primary question “what is effective philanthropy?” It is a great time to be engaged in this work, because so many people have been debating what it means to do philanthropy well. Stanford Social Innovation Review provides a regular source of articles, blog posts and podcasts; charity rating services, such as Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance provide criteria for evaluating giving opportunities (and blog about these issues as well); and the Center for Effective Philanthropy raises questions about what it takes for donors (foundations, in most cases) to do their job well.

In addition, the ethicist Peter Singer and the charity rating organization Give Well have developed a philosophy they call “effective altruism,” which encourages giving based on rigorous evaluation and other quantifiable measures of effectiveness.   Lastly, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has regularly used his column to get us to think about philanthropy, has published a new book (with Sheryl WuDunn) on this topic, A Path Appears, (PBS debuted a new series this week based on the book). I like the book and am using it in my class this semester. It provides a valuable overview of many big themes in contemporary philanthropy. I credit Kristof, too, for introducing me to one last source of information about philanthropy, another book I use in my class The Power of Half, which tells the story of a family’s decision to sell their home and use half the proceeds for international philanthropy.

So, what is effective philanthropy? Is there a single answer? I like the sources I listed above because they ask good questions about our philanthropic choices, and they have led me to think about philanthropy differently. All good. Here’s what I worry about, though: The debates about effective philanthropy rarely lead to Binghamton or to Upstate New York, for that matter.

The effective altruism movement recommends that we limit our giving to organizations with rigorously demonstrated results in which the impact of individual donations is quantifiable and assessed as making a difference. For Give Well, at present, that means four organizations…in the world. Kristof & WuDunn take a broader view, and also embrace the importance of giving to organizations that can show meaningful results (which I agree are VERY important). They highlight the work of social entrepreneurs many of whom do great work; in many cases, high-profile organizations led by people with high social capital, extensive social networks and schooled at Ivy League institutions. My concern is that these profiles are not representative of those who are making a difference in our community.

While Give Well’s rigorous standards and Kristof and WuDunn’s book provide valuable ways for us to reflect on our giving choices they rarely include the kind of small, workmanlike organizations that build the Binghamton community (and other small communities around the country). These organizations are led by dedicated, professional staff, and too often in Kristof & WuDunn’s book they are dismissed as well-intended but lacking in professional skills. That critique is over-stated, and MPA programs like ours are helping to add skilled professionals to the local nonprofit sector.

Our local nonprofit organizations are essential elements in building civil society, creating bonds of social capital. They reflect what the economist Lester Salamon calls “individual initiative in the public good.” Without them our community would be considerably poorer. Further, my research (with Professor Kristina Lambright) looks at the challenges small nonprofit organizations face in quantifying the results of their work (see examples here and here). Nearly all human service organizations in the six counties in South Central New York we studied embrace some forms of performance measurement, which means they can tell us something about the results of their work. Performance measurement is imperfect but improving.

The lesson for me is that there is no one perfect donation, no one way to make the right giving decision. For me, effective philanthropy must start with the valuable role nonprofit organizations play in places like Broome County, and be followed by information—information about performance, the experience of the people the organization is trying to help, what we know about community needs and the best ways to address particular social problems.

So, as we start another semester of philanthropy at Binghamton University, I say to our students, have at it. Show us all how you make good giving decisions. And after you graduate, do more and change the world.

David Campbell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
Binghamton University