»Change, not charity«

Faced with the misery of some in this world, the capacity for sympathy and a selfless willingness to give is an expression of humanity. It is good and right to help the weak and needy facing real crisis. Anything else would be sheer cynicism. But at the same time it is worth reflecting that charitable giving aimed at relieving misery in specific concrete cases may unintentionally contribute to continued dependence, and even perpetuate or increase misery overall.

Those familiar with traditional practices in development aid know all about that. The free distribution of food or clothing by aid organizations can, within a short time, drive local producers, who are no longer able to sell their goods, to ruin. These small producers and their families then end up having to join the queue of people needing help.

The limits of helping people to help themselves

Helping people to help themselves is one answer to this problem that was even mentioned in the Bible: Teach the starving to catch fish, rather than giving them a fish every day! But what if they are denied access to the lake because it is privately owned? Or the fish have been poisoned with chemicals? Or the fishermen have to work for a paltry wage on a boat that they no longer own? Or the government or the local mafia keep back nine tenths of the catch for themselves? Or too many fish are caught, so that stocks are dramatically reduced?

In all these cases, the people who have been taught to fish are now dependent on the sympathy and gifts of others again. Helping people to help themselves or empowerment – in other words the strategic authorization to successfully look after one’s own interests – depends on the local and regional set-up. This also needs to change, if the local circumstances – hunger, dependence, exploitation – are to improve permanently. Helping people to help themselves in a local context, which apart from market incentives also requires collective and solidarity-based forms of organization, therefore also calls for a policy aimed at creating closer connections, one which strives for regional, national and ultimately global structural changes.

Charity and handouts are not enough

Battles for political power, arguments over the interpretation of problems (including their causes and potential solutions), and struggles for political involvement and control are inevitable in the circumstances. Anyone who shies away from that, who wants to limit his or her involvement to charity or even handouts, may see themselves as »worthy and good«, but will unintentionally be contributing to perpetuating the existing situation. Like plants that take root in the cracks of a wall, political initiatives have also set out to loosen and break apart in places the apparently rigid structure of the prevailing low-level and high-level political scene.

Bewegungsstiftung wants to help these plants grow stronger in the long term. That is why the foundation is using its limited resources for funding and advising social movements and their campaigns.


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