Started by Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly, Nothing But Nets is another brilliant case study in the power of social fundraising. Fueled by small donations of $10 where 100% goes towards the cost of a net (along with distribution & education on how to use it), thousands of volunteers have raised millions of dollars to ‘cover a continent’ and prevent 3,000 malaria deaths a day.
Check out their PSA:
For more, see a recent NY Times article.
Making charity cool, and getting youth to spend on compassionate causes is a positive development, but aid alone often amplifies the problems it seeks to eradicate. Foreign donors spend millions of dollars a year to buy free nets for poor rural Africans, so much so that the donated nets usually outnumber the ones produced by the local market. While flooding the market makes it more likely that rural poor have access to nets, it eventually crushes local producers and makes the countries permanently dependent on outside aid. Even in the face of a flooded market, the best free nets donated by foreigners are often smuggled to urban areas and sold for a profit by small time street-smart entrepreneurs.
Rather than directly providing free nets, a better use of foreign aid would be to partner with local net producers to 1.) build & support BOP marketing mechanisms that drive up demand for nets (like Lok Darshan) 2.) improve local net manufacturing technology to increase quality while reducing cost 3.) repeat 1 & 2 for legitimate malaria medications (as opposed to the counterfeits all over Africa) 4.) educate the population on how to eradicate mosquito breeding grounds on a mass scale.
Such an approach requires working with compassionately engaged partners on the ground, and usually getting your hands dirty by spending significant time doing work yourself to local build capacities that previously did not exist. Effectively addressing the problem requires an alignment of the head, heart, and hands. While spreading awareness in the west and raising millions is two-thirds of the battle, without the less glamorous work of shifting consciousness by sweating it out in Africa, any solution falls short by simply displacing the problem.
Fund-raising organizations usually become self-justifying and continue to raise money for their cause regardless of the efficacy. Such an unwise approach ultimately destroys them through a combination of donor fatigue and donor enlightenment about nothing truly changing. Further, they do a disservice to every other organization that is fund-raising for a good cause by competing for the same dollars while pushing donors back towards the quicker thrills of self-indulgent consumerism when their efforts miss the mark.