With everyone’s world being turned upside and down by Osama’s death on May 2, it’s going to be hard to get all of you thinking about social entrepreneurship and philanthropy again, but I’m going to try anyway.

So remember the whole 60 minutes and Mortenson episode? (If not, refer back to a great contribution by Saba Gul on the issue here) Many in Pakistan have dismissed the outrage against Mortenson as being unfair. “Look, at least he’s built a school! What have you and I done?” In a weak defense, Kristof in his column portrayed Mortenson as a passionate but disorganized hero. Whatever people’s case for Mortenson, Kevin Starr in his insightful column hit the nail right on the head when he talked about why on earth is CAI spending nearly $400,000 of donor money per school.

If there’s anything that the space of social innovation and entrepreneurship has taught us, it is the importance of maximizing impact in the social sphere. While not everyone can start their own social enterprise, what we can do is to think long and hard about who and what we’re giving to.

There are two issues of giving that I want to tackle in the post. The first one that is directly relevant to the Mortenson episode is to check the financials of the organization. I’ve only been volunteering for the Association for the Development of Pakistan (ADP) for four months now but  during this short period, I’ve learned a lot about the organization’s extensive due diligence process. Before funding a local partner and project, ADP’s evaluation team goes through a rigorous process that checks both the sustainability of the project, as well as the financial integrity of the organization e.g. how much of the money is being spent on salaries and how much on programs; can we get easy access to their most up to date financial statements; calling up references etc. If we want to get the most value out of our donations, we should do the same. Take advantage of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP), a reputable organization headquartered in Pakistan that does the legwork for us. Check out their reports and see which non-profit organizations they’ve certified.

From my experience, in Pakistan we normally have a knee-jerk reaction to giving. Earthquake? Boom. Rs.12, 000 to Aunty Fazilat’s boutique donation drive. Flood? There, $500 to UNHCR. Not that I’ve anything against Aunty Fazilat or UNHCR, but it may do the world some good if donors start thinking about whether organizations are effectively using that money (Mortenson’s CAI versus Aga Khan Foundation’s long-standing education projects are the perfect case in point).

Secondly, it doesn’t hurt to think about what you’re funding. While immediate short-term assistance is critical to emergency relief efforts, we may also want to diversify our giving pool. How about Rs.2000 to say the Edhi trust and Rs.4000 to a long-term flood rehabilitation project?

Moving away from rehabilitation efforts, the space of social innovation has opened up a whole new pool of sustainable philanthropic opportunities. Instead of simply giving your cook a bonus on Eid, we can also donate to an organization that is implementing long-term development projects? Or perhaps donate to a low-income social entrepreneur who through his/her innovative project may turn around a community? (On that note, do check out Kiva.org)

Since I myself have just started thinking about how responsible giving, I would love to hear your insights regarding philanthropy. Do large one-time donations work best or spreading them out? When and why have you regretted giving to a specific cause or organization? When have you felt that your money was well-spent? Let TC-P know in your comments!

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