A few days ago, the whole international development blogosphere began a counter campaign against the “A Day without Shoes” commercial. This seems to be the latest of many mass efforts to stop people from starting campaigns to gather in-kind donations to send to developing countries.

What all the blogs are saying: in-kind donations (giving goods like old tshirts, shoes) overseas is ineffective aid, so please stop.  Bloggers have aptly given it a catchy acronym SWEDOW (Stuff-WE-DOn’t-Want) (Not the poorly named charity).

Why is it ineffective aid, you ask?

Just to name a few reasons:

  • The cost of transportation/shipping/sorting/etc.  of in-kind donations is cost ineffective compared to the questionable benefit
  • There is a lost opportunity (aka cost) of providing long term development initiatives that are proven to help people’s livelihood (water and sanitation, medicine, etc.). A lot of the communities receiving in-kind donations lack basic services; I doubt the first thing they would want is one of your used t-shirts or shoes. What people need is to be empowered so that they can buy the things they actually want.
  • It’s not as if all people in developing countries don’t have shoes, or that people can’t buy shoes or t-shirts in developing countries. In fact, most of your stuff was probably made there.
  • Even if they do want them, these goods usually don’t reach the poorest of the poor. Often in-kind donations  just end up flooding local markets,  making it harder for people to sell goods from their own countries. Or, worst case scenario, if people do receive them,  it puts people who do sell t-shirts/shoes/whatever out of business.
  • In-kind donations can increase local communities dependence on free handouts and deter income generating activities
  • In regards to this campaign:  People in developing countries are reduced to a problem, rather than seen as people. If you really wanted to do people a favour, you would campaign about how making foreign investments in these countries is a good investment, rather than spreading a stereotype of poverty and insecurity which deters investment.
  • People think that they are actually contributing to make the world a better place by buying or giving menial things, without putting in any real effort to combat global poverty/issues.
  • Aid is complex, political, and hard. People dedicate their lives to trying to understand it. These kinds of campaigns reduce it to something simple and easy, which it certainly is not.

Despite these arguments, in-kind donations seem to be a lesson that people just can’t learn (e.g Japan; Haiti1 million t-shirt guy; the recent World Vision debacle).

To read more about it, click on a few of  these: