You can provide scholarships to students in Uganda on your lunch break. You can get updates on riots in Kenya while you Facebook your mom about dinner on Sunday. And you can give loans to entrepreneurs in Colombia from your couch while you watch the game. This is the world we live in, but it wasn't always like this. A lot has changed in the world of international development in particular over the past decade. And it's really just the start.
Much of this change stems from the increased level of knowledge and access to information -- and the pessimistic, critical viewpoints that have accompanied it. You can read book after book, blog after blog, on how aid is dead and helping hurts, how we need more than good intentions and should do our due diligence, and how the western world is responsible for much of the problem. This awareness has led to a burgeoning movement of innovative and disruptive international development organizations that were founded on doing things differently. They may possess different missions, provide different services, and operate in different countries, but they all share some similar characteristics.
- They are laser-focused.
- They are great at telling stories.
- They are seeking partnerships (always).
- They are working with local leaders.
- They are serious about transparency.
- They are community-centric.
- They are and have fun.
You may know some of the pioneers behind this new blueprint -- like Matt Flannery of Kiva and Scott Harrision of charity: water. They've become the "face" of this movement. But there are many of others across North America following in their footsteps. Shawn Smith of Education Generation, Darian Kovacs of Love Global and Richard Taylor of The Wellspring Foundation for Education are three such leaders and organizations. They work in the "typical" areas within international development like education, missions and leadership development, respectively, but their strategies, like their stories, are anything but.
Shawn Smith is one of those people who unintentionally makes you feel dumb after talking to him for five minutes. He's just that smart. Someone who's a Skoll Scholar with an MBA from Oxford, a professor of social entrepreneurship and a founder of numerous social change organizations (all before the age of 35) can do that to you. Shawn and his team used their knowledge and experience to start Education Generation -- largely as a response to the financial inefficiencies, lack of transparency and difficult scalability of many child sponsorship programs. To combat these issues they build partnerships with forward-thinking organizations that are providing high-caliber education to high school and college students. They then raise scholarship funds through a crowdfunding model -- $20 at a time -- to provide scholarships to students showing the greatest potential.
If Shawn and EdGen's model was more or less created from the idea of child sponsorship done differently, Darian Kovacs's Love Global states their founding story a bit more directly: "Love Global was birthed from the idea that missions could be done differently."
Missions work often carries the negative perception of an outdated model. And that's what Darian and the Love Global team are trying to change. Most missionaries raise their own support and rely on church visits, checks in the mail from friends and family, and intermediary agencies. This results in minimal capitalization of the web, but lots of paper and expenses. Love Global offers missionaries a simple alternative: their own fundraising page on the Love Global site. Missionary supporters are able to follow short, frequent updates in "real time," and all donations and tax receipts are processed for them. With 100 percent of the funds raised through the site going directly to indigenous missionaries, it is not only a simpler option, it's a more efficient one.
The purpose of Love Global goes beyond efficiency to giving missions a totally different vibe. That's where Darian shines. One of the most energetic, loud and busy people you'll ever meet, Darian brings his entrepreneurial spirit and desire to experiment to helping Love Global try new things. Take their current contest for example: individual fundraisers who either raise the most money, attract the most visitors, or have the most creative fundraising idea can win a seven-day trip to meet the missionary they're raising money for. In the world of missions, that's pretty wild and crazy. But then again, so is the thought of revolutionizing missions.
"Wild" and "crazy" is not exactly how I would describe Richard Taylor. "Calm" and "focused" would be better descriptions. This isn't to say he's boring -- after spending almost a month with him in Rwanda I can tell you he's anything but. Richard possesses an almost uncanny sense of purpose about him. Perhaps it comes from growing up in Kenya, where he saw firsthand what poverty does to people. Perhaps it comes from a passion to unleash the immense potential of people currently trapped or wasted in many developing countries. Or maybe it is simply because he's a young father of three.
Regardless of where this calm, focus and purpose comes from, it is impressive to see what it allows Richard to do. Just after university he started The Wellspring Foundation for Education with his friend (and now brother-in-law) Jeff Komant. Having seen too many beautifully-built but empty schools, and stacks of irrelevant books that had been donated collecting dust, Richard and Jeff chose to focus on the assets the education system in Rwanda had and could make use of -- its people. Wellspring is slowly starting to revolutionize education in Rwanda through its unique teacher/trainer program. Working in conjunction with top educators in Rwanda, Wellspring invests in and empowers Rwandan teachers to increase their capabilities and capacity. Today, the program is working in over 40 public schools and positively impacts over 50,000 students annually.
As this new international development movement continues to grow and develop, expect to see those shared characteristics of these innovative, high impact and disruptive organizations to become the norm. As you look to give and get involved, look for laser focus, great stories, strong partnerships, local leadership, transparency, community and fun. Because the organizations that Shawn, Darian, Richard, Matt, Scott and many others are starting and working through are changing our world. And it's really just the start.