As advocates of professional rule breaking, we believe that the we need different methods of improving the world. Charity is part of the old guard.
Of course charity and philanthropy has been responsible for changing the lives of millions across the world, but the question is rarely asked whether could be both the problem and the solution.
Veronica Yates is Director of CRIN, the Children’s Rights International Network. They call themselves a self-loathing NGO.
Last year Veronica took the radical step of rewriting the rules not only of how CRIN operated, but also taking a stand against how the whole charity sector operates.
“I looked around suddenly and thought, maybe I’m part of the problem.”
So what is exactly is wrong with charity - what rules need breaking?
Symptoms not causes
First on the list is how charities campaign. By and large, they inform people about the symptoms of problems (war, famine, disease), but rarely do they tell you about how and why the problems exist in the first place. They encourage you to keep sending money to starving children in Yemen and turn a blind to who is fueling the civil war, or why (far too political)
Giving your spare change to the symptom is easy. Looking more critically at the system is hard. But ask yourself, are here to take the easy route?
A dependency on despair
Negative campaigning reinforces hopelessness. CRIN want to change that by carving out clear principles (their code).
“stories of despair make us feel powerless. We want to better define what is we’re righting for, rather than just repeating what it is we’re fighting against.”
Charities are ultimately dependent on negativity in order to exist: misery is how they convince you of their purpose. But will we ever start challenging the causes of the problems from a place of pity and guilt. Charities charge their batteries on negative emotions.
Attack at the edges
Charities tend to fight the stuff we all agree is ‘bad’, as CRIN describe it “the low hanging fruits of advocacy”. In this sense they’ve moved far away from being provocateurs or real changemakers (with a few notable exceptions).
CRIN are actively trying to break this norm in their own field, children’s rights, by fielding some more controversial campaigns. Their 2018 report outlines their intention to challenge the exclusion of children from voting, their participation in the legal system and the bodily integrity of children (including looking at things like virginity testing, routine male circumcision and forced steralisation of children with learning disabilities).
Subjects most charities wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. But CRIN understand that attacking at the edges in order to absolutely necessary to influence the mainstream.
NGOs produce large volumes of content in the hope of winning support. Yet on closer inspection little attention is paid to how language is used. CRIN highlights a couple of the problems with NGO language:
Impotence: language has become flaky across the board. In a recent study of the most commonly used words at the UN Security Council strong sounding words such as “demands” and “warnings” have been used less and less frequently.
Clarity: jargon is a problem everywhere, but there is a special kind of jargon that exists in the think tank/NGO space. If you read a paragraph with two many phrases that require a second or third read (e.g. this framework requires leveraging more resource, and identifying synergies with partners). The result is cognitive overload and you’ve lost your audience.
Pragmatism over principles
Charities too often succumb to what’s realistic, rather than what is just, but CRIN argue -
“Perfection is a tough standard to meet, and setting a goal based on what seems realistic rather than principled can have a seductive allure. Yet a trap lies in caving in to pragmatism, and chasing short-term goals: if we lose sight of the ultimate change we want to see how can we ensure our pragmatic steps will get us there?”