Voices of Philanthropy
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Aid versus Empowerment: A fine line that can make or break your good deeds

by Bahaa Hamade on 05th April, 2016

When I speak to people about my work in philanthropy, I always start by describing the fine line between 'doing good' and empowering others to transform their lives. While aiding and empowering others may sound the same, they are in fact two fundamentally different principles. To illustrate, I like to refer to an ancient Chinese proverb which says: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."

While acts of kindness and generosity may alleviate urgent needs for water, food and shelter, extending aid without a 'design for impact' offers only a short-term solution. Critically, it is only when we empower others with the skills, knowledge and resources to elevate their own social circumstances that the transformative power of philanthropy can offer long-term benefits.



During my recent visit to Ethiopia, I witnessed this scenario first hand. Dubai Cares has contributed AED 14.7 million (USD 4 million) to a Homegrown School Feeding program that the government of Ethiopia is piloting with the support of Dubai Cares, as well as the World Food Program (WFP), Partnership for Child Development (PCD) and SNV-Netherlands.

The program focuses on providing in-school meals prepared with locally-produced ingredients. A simple idea? Yes, but the positive benefits of this approach are endless.

Firstly, children are provided with healthy and nutritious meals to support their learning journey and to encourage enrollment and attendance in schools. Secondly, using local produce stimulates economic growth and development in the community, by providing a valuable opportunity for farmers and producers to generate structured and regular demand for their produce.

And the benefits don't stop here. The Homegrown School Feeding program has been improving the economic welfare of communities in Ethiopia by encouraging investment in local agriculture, as well as the creation of jobs in the production, distribution and management of the school meals program.

In other words, the program has facilitated self-sustained communities that thrive from within and do not necessarily rely on external support. As a result, a self-perpetuating circle has been created, offering long-term benefits to farmers, community members and students for generations to come. This, to me, is the definition of empowerment.

To date, the program is being implemented in 30 schools to address the health and nutrition needs of approximately 30,700 primary school age children in the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples' Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. Looking at the bigger picture, the scale of such programs in different communities across Ethiopia will generate an unprecedented impact that would radically shift the poverty levels of the county as a whole.

Providing aid on a one-off basis remains important especially in response to crisis or emergency situations. However, long-lasting positive change is achieved through program frameworks that place sustainability and scalability at the core of any developmental effort.

Next time you want to donate your money or volunteer your time, think of how your contribution may result in long-lasting change and empowerment in the lives of those you're helping.

Bahaa Hamade Bahaa Hamade
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