It’s Complicated

Written by Plant With Purpose on July 2, 2010 in General

by Aly Lewis

We’ve been seduced.

According to development blog, Tales from the Hood, in the recent post, Cost, “we’ve become totally seduced by the belief that solving the basic problems of the world can be done cheaply and easily.”

And the seducer?

NGOs. Charities that flaunt such irresistible slogans as “ ‘98 cents of your dollar goes directly to beneficiaries’, ‘your $100 buys a poor family a cow and gets them out of poverty’, or ‘feel good about making a difference while on vacation.’ ”

Saving the world is just one click—and your credit card information—away.

Whether the starry-eyed romantic or the diehard cynic, we’ve fallen head over heels with programs that boast of tangible results, low overhead, and quick fixes to the world’s problems, but the truth is, it’s complicated.

As a staff member of an NGO that writes about the difference Plant With Purpose is making in the lives of the rural poor, I can’t figure out if I’m the seducer or the seducee (not to be confused with the Sadducees of the New Testament). When I report on the use of grant funds I want to tell funders that we’ve met all of our objectives, that lives are being transformed, that their money is already making a difference. I want to say X number of families no longer live in poverty and no longer have hardships.

But it’s just not true. Sometimes we don’t meet all of our objectives because of drought or economic downturn or political unrest. Sometimes responding to immediate needs or adapting to a rapidly changing environment is just more important. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we learn valuable lessons from our mistakes as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Plant With Purpose’s programs are making a remarkable impact on the lives of those we work with—I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. We do report real stories of progress and transformation. Families are improving their nutrition and increasing their income and sending their children to school. Your donations are making a difference.

It’s just that oftentimes reality isn’t some ride-off-into-the-sunset-happy-ending. That’s not reality in my life, or the lives of most people I know, and it’s not the reality of the people we serve.

While we may not be able to give you glorious results all tied up with a pretty bow, you can rest assured that Plant With Purpose is committed to working with rural communities to engage in the process of empowerment and transformation, no matter how messy or complicated that is. At Plant With Purpose we wholeheartedly believe in empowering the poor to take charge of their own lives and solve their own problems. Yes, we provide technical assistance and training. Yes, we plant trees and administer microloans, but the real, often intangible, result of our partnership is a restoration of people’s dignity as they gain the skills and confidence they need to work toward a better future.

And that is something I think we should all fall in love with.


Aly Lewis is Plant With Purpose’s Grant Writer. She researches funding opportunities, writes proposals, and submits progress reports on funding received. She also writes the content for Plant With Purpose’s Sponsor A Village program.

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