Why the World Needs Less Charity and More Collaboration

A well meaning uncle gives his only niece, a sixteen-year-old girl he sees maybe once every four years, a Christmas gift. The girl is a runner. Her tennis shoes have worn down so bad, she’s getting shin splints. She needs a new pair and it’s her lucky day because her gift is in the shape of a shoebox. Elated, she opens the box. Inside is a sparkly pair of high heels. The girl loathes sparkles and never wears heels. Her face falls, but her uncle doesn’t see it. She sees him smiling at her, proud and expectant, happy to have given her something so nice. 

“Foreign aid is like buying a Christmas present for someone you have never met: someone who will never give you feedback on whether they liked it,” Professor Waya Quiviger said, summing up the principal agent problem of foreign aid presented by William Easterly. 

How does someone on one side of the world know what is right or needed for someone on the other side of the world? And even if they do know what is right, how can they ensure that their gift reaches the right people and systems, not just the already-powerful and potentially-corrupt? 

The genesis story of Orant is a fairly common one. A group of men in the US gathered together with the shared mission to fight poverty on a global level. They traveled to Mozambique, Cambodia, Haiti, and Malawi to see where their impact could be the greatest. Malawi lacked a history of political strife and housed extreme poverty. Here, the US team chose to start their charity. 

As Orant evolved, so did its concept of charity. Orant Charities US (OCUS) is a private operating foundation that offers consulting and fundraising services to Orant Charities Africa (OCA), a local Malawian NGO run by an entirely Malawian staff. With this model, feedback between donor country and beneficiary country is encouraged, discussed, and used to develop better, stronger, more efficient programs. 

Orant’s fundraising is run almost entirely from the US where its primary donor base is located. Technology makes cross-country communication feasible and regular. Rather than US donors blindly sending money to governments or churches in Malawi with leaders who may or may not be using the money to serve their communities, OCUS is informed on and involved in all on-the-ground operations. The OCUS team meets weekly over Skype with the direct service team in Malawi to discuss goals, developments, and program operations. This way, OCUS can track its investments and measure impact. 

OCA, the Malawi NGO team, on the other hand, are the experts and leaders of Orant’s mission. All program managers in Malawi are college-educated and trained in their specialties: water management, education, healthcare, and agriculture. More importantly, Malawi is their home. The community they serve is their community and the culture of their clients is their culture. They speak Chichewa and English, the language of their people and the language of their primary donors. Because of this, they know better than anyone the needs of their community, and the solutions to address those needs.     

The women of the FEM for Women program with the co-founder of the program, Gloria Banda.

The collaboration between OCA and OCUS has been integral in making Orant’s programs what they are: local, holistic, data-driven, and impactful. For example, in 2017, OCA’s accountant saw the opportunity for business growth among women in Malawi. She worked with the former director of OCUS to develop the FEM for Women Program. After three successful years of operations with 100% of loans paid back in full, OCA decided it was time to restructure the program and prepare it for expansion. Gabriel Kapanda, the Country Director of OCA, requested that OCUS analyze the program’s operations and develop ideas for improved functionality and growth. Soon, the US and Malawi teams will meet to determine an implementation plan. 

OCUS isn’t an estranged uncle gifting OCA sparkly high heels. Orant as a whole is not a foreign aid mission, but an international collaborative effort to battle poverty and inequity. Ours is a framework rooted in relationships. When visiting Malawi, the Africa team greets the US team, “Welcome back to your second home.” OCUS and OCA are two organizations with one shared mission: to make a lasting and sustainable impact in Malawi through programs that support local women and communities.

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