September 24, 2014

Charity or Empowerment?

Charity or Empowerment? Are charitable donations to feed and house the poor really the way out of the mire of poverty or do NGOs need to focus more on skill development? Should we as donors be more proactive rather than merely donating money? #CharityorEmpowerment

NGOs (Non Governmental Organisations) are set up by very motivated and driven people, who want to bring about definite social-economic-political-ecological changes in society. As far as this thoughtful topic goes, there are four possibilities in my opinion:

(a) Charity
(b) Empowerment
(c) Empowerment through charity
(d) Charity through empowerment

(a) Charity:

Situational: This sense of 'only charity' is seen in most disaster situations, where various NGOs step in to distribute people's donations of clothes, shoes, blankets etc.. Much needed.
Charity as objective: However, there are also NGOs set up to do only charity as an organisation. In this case also, it helps the most destitute in immediate terms like NGOs taking care of leprosy patients, mentally-challenged, orphans, old widows, drug addicts or other such socially-isolated groups. Such people may not be able to be productive even if skills are taught due to inherent physical/mental/emotional weaknesses.

Still every attempt must be made to teach them skills- how much ever low in productivity they may be. Because, raising their sense of dignity is important, so that they can overcome their illness or problems. Only helping catch fish for the man, than teaching him to fish, is not correct. Therefore, charity alone should NOT be the aim of an NGO. Undoubtedly, a component of empowerment has to be embedded in it so that going forward, the same destitute can earn their livelihood too, or at least live a more fulfilling/dignified life- so they feel wanted, appreciated.

(b) Empowerment:

Again, there are NGOs set up only to empower people by teaching them skills. This is indeed noble. Such NGOs should also try to get the skilled employed, or encourage formation of SHGs (self help groups) so that the people can earn as well on sustainable basis.
The by-product is self-reliance, confidence-boosting of poor people and enhanced standard of living which goes far above 'only charity' towards the poor. It holds prospect of eradicating poverty.

(c) Empowerment through Charity:

Charity can be the first step towards helping the poor. After that, people have to be helped in building or re-building their lives, for which skills have to be taught to them.
Some NGOs like Goonj, engage the poor to work on some projects, only after which they are given clothes donated by samaritans all over India. Again MGNREGA, though a government programme, is also based on this concept- work before you are given a dole- this raises self-esteem in their own eyes and society's eyes.

That is why, it is essential that the work such poor engage in, must be productive and teach them some life skills too, with which they can feel empowered and earn more. Aim should not be to keep them dependent forever on the doles. e.g. if people are taught sewing, agarbatti making, electrical/mobile repair etc. and then given money/clothes, they will be empowered and may earn enough to not come back begging for work/doles/clothes again.

(d) Charity through Empowerment:

This is an oxymoron because when NGOs empower people, they are not doing 'charity' or one-time acts of kindness, rather they are doing far more than that. They are EMPOWERING them.


In conclusion, all NGOs must have a component of empowering people within their processes.

Even for NGOs set up with 'only charity' as aim, we must encourage those to have in-house skills-training or collaboration with other NGOs to impart skills, or enhance prevalent skills (e.g. mentally challenged/autistic etc. paint well) so that their collective way of life and health can be enhanced.

We as donors must ensure that we support all such NGOs which empower the poor by donating with open hearts, as these help build India as a nation.

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  1. Very well-written, Amrita.
    Great analysis & presentation.
    Agree with your views.
    May each of us contribute to build our nation.

  2. Well penned down and presented. Agree! Cheers

  3. 'raising their sense of dignity' appealed to me most.

  4. I agree with you....a logical analysis ....

  5. Great post Amrita, too much agree with your points.

  6. Very well structured and rational post that appeals to both head and heart!

    I completely agree that "We as donors must ensure that we support all such NGOs which empower the poor by donating with open hearts, as these help build India as a nation." By helping the poor to come out of poverty, we are also helping ourselves.

    I have explained how we can be more proactive as donors in my post

  7. Empowerment anyday. Charity for acute situation followed by empowerment. Empowerment is like renewable resource.

  8. A very thought-provoking post and the analysis is good. Well-functioning NGOs are one of the keys to nation building.

    1. Thanks so much Kunal! Yes NGOs build the nation to a large extent- in inclusive, sustainable manner- what Govt promises but cannot deliver.


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