Those of you, who read our earlier posts or met Glitter Trotter founders personally, know that we started our global journey (yes, we are slowly trotting around the globe) over a decade ago as development sector experts, or social scientists to be precise. And our desire to give others the chances that we’ve been given through our upbringing and education led us to start Glitter Trotter and our Donara and Mary Endowment for Global Arts.
I know many questioned our decision to open our own endowment instead of just donating funds to an established charity or even a large private foundation (I am sure everyone has at least one name in mind). Aside from leaving our legacy to our children -- who we know will continue our mission of discovering, connecting and supporting creative minds around the world – we want our Endowment to be a learning platform, where we can share our big failures and small wins with people, who are on a similar path of giving back to the global community. To be able to learn and share on how to give back, we have to be #InCharge and in control; we have to remain flexible; we have to be able to change direction as we go along. In other words, we have to make our own mistakes and claim our own wins.
Luckily, we are not starting from scratch. Over the past decade, we had the privilege of working with various development stakeholders and learn through our work with them. And one of the big lessons that we’ve learned so far is that just giving money is not enough. In fact, charity focused on money and money alone, creates dependency – and for some people such dependency becomes a life style. Yes, many of us grew up in the world of TV ads assuring us that a donation of $25 or $250 or $2500 would make a massive difference in a life of an individual or a whole village. At the risk of having the proverbial stones thrown at me, I will repeat – money alone is not enough, and there is plenty of research by now to back up my statement with empirical evidence.
Let’s take a step back and re-align, shall we? If there is anything we can all agree on, it is – the success of our children is at the heart of many (not all, agreed!) things we do, achieve and sacrifice. And most of us strive to help our children to grow up, to mature, to find their way – and to become independent. We want them to live their own lives, have their own wins, shed their own tears and sweat, and enjoy their own joys independently from us. And we put a lot of time, thought and effort to see through and celebrate this journey towards independence. Why? Because we know that we will not be there forever, and we want our children to be sustainable beyond our own lifetime. Am I right?
So why then this philosophy, this wisdom fails us when we think of somebody else’s children? Why, when it comes to supporting children from Africa, Asia or center-city Chicago, we mainly think of donating money once, twice, thrice a year? Do we really want these children to be dependent on our money for the rest of their lives? I am sure this is not the case, just as the lack of care and consideration is the not the case either. It seems (and remember, I speak from my own experience as well), we are dealing with three key challenges:
- We want a quick fix to the suffering due to poverty and injustice -- trust me, we’ve been heartbroken more times that we would want to mention when listening to the stories of loss and suffering of our friends, creatives and acquaintances. Suffering of another human being is a powerful stimulus. Unfortunately, quite often it inspires impulse actions, which are not always the most powerful or most effective.
- We trust that professional organizations know better how to use our money because they have years of research and experience in the development sector. And this is absolutely the case – large private foundations and global charities have the research, practice and funds to implement national, regional or even continental interventions and advocate for change with national governments and global regulatory authorities. But we personally believe that massive projects, as powerful as they are, frequently lack the human touch, that 1-2-1 engagement that moves hearts, stimulates minds and fuels creativity. In countries, where poverty, wars or other calamities stand in the way of effective parenting and communal socialization, small-scale engagements between people can be really big and can effectively support large-scale projects.
- We don’t know where to start or not sure what we can offer aside from cash – and there is no shame in admitting to a tiny crisis of confidence. We’ve all been there – not knowing where to start or what to do next, regardless whether is applies to our own life, our work – or in this case, our contribution to making the world a better place.
Let me bore you with just a couple of facts. In a recent study we conducted on the behalf of our partners, just about a half of young financially-vulnerable Africans said their financial situation is the main impediment to their ability to be successful and to achieve their full potential. Many more said they were lacking a “destiny helper” – a mentor, who can guide them through life, including advising on how to approach schooling, entrepreneurship, relationships, and many other aspects of a life journey.
When we learned about this concept of a “destiny helper” from young people, we felt a light-bulb suddenly lighting up in our heads because this is the lens and the framework we can all use, when thinking about our charitable work, our contribution to alleviating poverty and improving lives. Yes, we want to share our “wealth” – there is nothing wrong with that. But we also want to share:
- Ideas – Sometimes being an outsider looking in (as long as the look is that of love not criticism) is not such a bad position because you can bring in a different creative perspective, see the unique elements of a different culture in a new light, and suggest changes/modifications that will turn great into genius. Remember the saying, that genius is not about inventing something new but about inventing a new way of using something that already exists? And discovering this new way of using something often an outsider’s perspective.
- Experience – Everybody needs to make their own mistakes to learn the ropes, everyone needs to “fall forward”. But you can help somebody “fall forward” faster by sharing your own mistakes and the ways you overcame them. Admitting failures is a powerful exercise in encouraging others, helping them avoid common traps, just lessening the burden and assuring your mentees that things will be alright.
- Networks – This is one of the most powerful sharing because our opportunities come from our networks. The bigger the network – the more chances for the right opportunities. Sometimes all it takes is brokering a connection between two creatives, or two visionaries, or two startup entrepreneurs, to give life to a new successful project. All our lives, we build our networks, mostly for our own business, social or personal purposes. Sharing them with others increases the value of our networks exponentially – to them and to us.
- Time – Well, we always say, “time is money” or “time is the only thing we own”, and most of us are “time poor.” Thus, giving another human being your time to share ideas/experience/networks or just share a moment of happiness or sorrow becomes so much more valuable. From our experience, most people, who struggle with money, also struggle from neglect and isolation – they are always on the run to earn their daily income, always in competition with others for limited opportunities. Yes, spending time with people, sharing the good and bad of the day, building a sense of belonging and a sense of a community are no less important than spending time inventing the next great thing.
So, these are our lessons so far – sharing ideas, experience, networks and time is as valuable as sharing money. Did we forget anything? Write to us and let us know, and we will happily talk more about sharing in our upcoming posts!