The mountain was moved, lets keep things going September 23, 2012 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Can MeFi come together to help out a project in India?

As mentioned by others here, it would be amazing if somehow Metafilter could help continue the project of Dashrath Manjhi to have a paved road to the city and a small hospital/health unit in his village. I am willing to devote time and resources but know nothing about India, giving aid to this country or the logistics. If others are willing to help, I am happy to help with co-ordinating or the like a Metafilter effort.

Anyone have ideas?
posted by Megami to MetaFilter-Related at 12:28 AM (27 comments total)

It's a great impulse and a worthy goal... and it's fine to sort of brainstorm a bit to establish a way to communicate among people who want to participate in an effort like this, but I'd add that this may be a thing better organized outside of the aegis of Metafilter proper since such efforts tend to become controversial in the sense of not everyone being on board with the site itself as a crowdsourcing venue directing funds and attention to X as opposed to [REST OF THE ALPHABET].

But the other modfolk will be along in a few hours to comment with more authority on that.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:49 AM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd be willing if someone with direct experience could explain our strategy for avoiding the likely red tape and constant bribes/expedition fees. I mean, think about it. The guy who cut through a mountain can't get this done, and he lives there.
posted by michaelh at 2:10 AM on September 23, 2012

Taz, totally understand that - would be happy for this to be an X project that just happened to have its genesis on MeFi rather than being a 'Metafilter branded project'.
posted by Megami at 6:19 AM on September 23, 2012

This is a bad idea. Unless you have direct, in-depth knowledge of the situation (far more than "I read about it on the internet"), access to several people who live there and know the system, and the culture, and have real pull with both the locals and the government, this is just more White Savior Complex. Sure, it's motivated by good intentions, but they're ignorant good intentions that will invariably cause more harm than good. That's the beginnings of all White Savior Complex movements in a nutshell.
posted by tzikeh at 6:44 AM on September 23, 2012 [21 favorites]

in the sense of not everyone being on board with the site itself as a crowdsourcing venue directing funds and attention to X as opposed to [REST OF THE ALPHABET]

Perfectly said.
posted by mintcake! at 7:47 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can take on the project of finding out what respected aid agencies are doing in that area, and if there's an agency that will take the project under its wing, then you raise funds. Much of the world doesn't have access to banking services; you can't just send money. Or, much as this story has ignited your compassion, you can direct your efforts to other places where the need is as great, and a mechanism exists to channel your effort effectively. There are many compelling stories, and there are agencies with good track records.
posted by theora55 at 7:51 AM on September 23, 2012

There's a MeFite who has posted about doing humanitarian work in Africa; anybody remember who it is? There's probably several MeFites with expertise.

There have been posts about the best charitable organizations.
posted by theora55 at 7:58 AM on September 23, 2012

Theora55, you might be thinking of allkindsoftime, who's posted about the logistics of charitable giving in africa (if I remember right, they do logistics w/ World Vision. Could be wrong on the charity)?
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:15 AM on September 23, 2012

This is the second MeFi charitable thing I've seen floated in as many days. I'm kind of feeling we need some sort of long-term solution to "let's all help!" things.

Like, is there a version of Projects (or IS it just a Project) which directs people to charitable efforts involving MeFites, recommended by MeFites, for MeFites, etc? I just feel like donation efforts really should be an opt-in, case-by-case thing. There are times that an all-site effort for something related to MeFi itself, with a mathowie+mod imprimatur makes sense, but there are also a lot of nice, one-off ideas that don't come as close to the center of the bullseye, and maybe they need a home of their own. Like, something where you'd click on "MeFites Help" and have a page of charitable projects posted and described by people, a little marketplace of donation targets that you could choose, or not, to give to.

I dunno, it just seems like it keeps coming up. I agree that there's no great way to evaluate the potential for something like this, but as with all donation projects, that level of due diligence is up to the people who care about giving their money. Personally I'd want a lot more analysis and information about what kind of structure would be handling something like this, because dumping a bunch of unspecified money into a developing economy while having no idea what you're doing or a clearer picture of the context or a responsible party on the ground is generally a recipe for at the best, corruption, and at the worst, harm.
posted by Miko at 8:39 AM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Megami, thank you for posting this here. I've been thinking about this since I made my naive wish yesterday. Though Metafilter has worked wonders before, the logistics and remoteness of this project may unfortunately be beyond our collective reach. theora55 is likely right -- if we can identify a local agency, we might be able to develop a workable approach.

This road project really wants the attention of a group like Engineers Without Borders. Is anyone here associated or familiar with them?
posted by vers at 8:40 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do humanitarian work in Africa, although it may not have been me you were thinking of. I definitely echo that such a project is best undertaken in close partnership with a local, on the ground movement.

I would suggest there may be other causes that need our help more. There are many small but inspiring labors of love out there, and this particular one appears to have caught the attention of a nation. From what I can see his story has been featured on a popular Indian talk show and has been the subject of multiple media articles, and is slated to become a major motion picture. If anyone is personally interested in learning more about what's going on with this, I think liking this Facebook page (mentioned on the Metafilter post in a comment) and listening in for a bit to see what folks are saying would be helpful.

In the meantime I very much like Miko's idea about featuring charities affiliated to Mefites, but of course I am biased because I have a charity I'd love to get the word out about. What about some sort of 'charity of the month' type feature?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:07 AM on September 23, 2012

Rather than anything which might give the impression of a site endorsement, I'm thinking something just like Projects or Jobs, which is essentially "list your pet project here." That would leave it to individuals to take it on themselves to post their projects, and other individuals to review them and decide whether to participate. And, like projects, I think it would be better if it were something a MeFite has a role in of some kind, as an originator or employee or developer or even target of charity, not just "Hey,I love this charity, you should donate to it too."

This may not be the way to solve what is essentially a low-level but recurring issue, but I just wanted to throw the concept out there. We currently don't have a 'bucket' for this sort of thing, so it ends up in MeTa. I'm proposing we develop a 'bucket.'
posted by Miko at 9:31 AM on September 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

might be thinking of allkindsoftime, who's posted about the logistics of charitable giving in africa

That comment.
posted by stebulus at 9:56 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think some local knowledge is essential, as googling indicates that development in the area has become a greater priority thanks to this man's fame. I don't know that we'd be adding anything useful, or just creating something that would be neglected and fail, or something in between, should we succeed in raising even a tiny fraction of the funds needed.

Especially after the whole "Three Cups of Tea" debacle I've become wary of the problematic savior/white-man's-burden narrative, and I'm really uncertain that a wildcat crowdsourcing approach is able to overcome these obstacles, even if we are sending cash instead of, say, shipping old tennis shoes around the planet.
posted by dhartung at 10:07 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

agreed. though cash is almost as good as comfy tennis shoes.
posted by clavdivs at 10:14 AM on September 23, 2012

Megami.... firstly it's great that you've been inspired to do something, and I applaud you for starting to look into how to do it.

This specific project may not be the right place to do that because it's all gotten a lot of publicity and is already a high profile thing in India, so whether a few extra bucks from people on a website will have a real impact is debatable.

I say "may not be the right place", not "is not the right place". Of course if you want to, do look into the situation a lot further to see if there is a useful role to be played.

money you put in to this would be way better spent (i.e. not completely wasted) invested in a cause a few thousand miles closer to where you live

I disagree with this, simply because the scale of the problems and how far a dollar goes is vastly differently in these places than it is closer to home. There are places in Africa where $5 will pay a child's school fees for an entire term, and that child was otherwise not going to even get to learn to read. Try having that kind of impact on a life with $5 close to home.

Having said that, it is also a real concern that what you imagine is contributing your money to a great cause can in fact be just giving money to fictional aid workers to buy fictional stuff for helping fictional people. (e.g. This, by no means an isolated example.) The aid world has its share of scammers, and also well-meaning but ineffectual organizations, and so on.

a MeFite who has posted about doing humanitarian work in Africa

I hesitate to volunteer other people's names, but I believe infini is a development worker of Indian origin, and seems to have worked in Africa.

Overall, I'd say: don't be deterred from following through on wanting to do something. It might be a longer and bumpier road than you expect, and maybe you'll have to look a while to find the right place for you to help, but it is worth it in the end.
posted by philipy at 11:14 AM on September 23, 2012

I think this is a really nice idea. But, I also think the problem is more than just a lack of money. There are serious problems with the government and the caste system that I think are affecting the road issue. This article explains more about Manjhi's work and what happened after he carved out the road:
After Manjhi completed his road, he worked tirelessly for the betterment of his community. Among his other efforts, he managed to persuade nearly 50 Musahar families of his village to settle on government- granted land, although most of them were unwilling to leave their old homes. But when Manjhi started living on the allotted land, the rest followed suit. This new settlement is now known as Dashrath Nagar. Manjhi’s other efforts have been less successful. Despite his herculean feat, the Bihar government has given him only token appreciation and insincere help.

Himself landless, he made a petition once for property on which to build a hospital. Then chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav allotted him a five-acre plot in a village called Karzania — the people of the village never allowed him to take possession as they were using the land as a grazing ground. More recently, the Bihar government recommended Manjhi’s name for the Padma Bhushan [India's third-highest civilian award]. This never materialised, nor did Nitish Kumar’s promised support for a road Manjhi wanted from Wazirganj to Gahlaur. Government sources say the forest department had refused permission for the road, claiming that Manjhi had violated regulations by cutting away at the hill without the department’s permission. The Padma Bhushan was reportedly denied to Manjhi because of claims made by certain quarters in the bureaucracy that he did not actually carve out the hill road single-handedly. The villagers who benefited from his labour were outraged at these reports.
posted by Houstonian at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2012

I just don't see a role that outsiders could play in hyper local situations like these.
posted by infini at 3:25 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just don't see a role that outsiders could play in hyper local situations like these.

Especially if Laloo Prasad Yadav is still chief minister of Bihar. He'd probably appreciate a new jewel-encrusted paan spittoon, though.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2012

Hi folks

Thanks for all the comments. Firstly, I was not just suggesting we gather up some cash and send it to India. There seems to be quite a few people on MeFi who have a great understanding, and networks, in the NGO/Aid/Development community so I was more looking for conduits in to that.

I have lived in a developing country (PNG) and seen first hand how well intentioned but badly used aid can do more harm than good. My partner has also seen it first hand in countries he has worked in (such as Timor Leste and Afghanistan) so I know it is something that is complex and needs to be done properly to work. It seemed that there was a lot of good will in that post, and rather than let it just dissipate in to 'wow, people are great aren't they' sentiments for a day or two, I was hoping to harness it in to perhaps making a concrete change.

But reading this thread I see that people are wary, and that's okay. If anything it is laudable that there is so much thought behind this amongst people here, rather than just 'yay, give us your paypal account and I'll chuck in a couple of bucks'. I will investigate other avenues to pursue on my own. And I think Miko's idea upthread is a great one.
posted by Megami at 12:42 AM on September 24, 2012

Metafilter's full of bright and well-educated people and I appreciate a lot of the well-intentioned debate and warnings being thrown around about trying to fund development in the third world.

I'm of course biased, but I do believe that a thorough study of development indicators proves unequivocally that aid, when done right, can drive development. I also believe that aid very, very often is done horribly wrong. Essentially my job is about stopping many aspects of the latter.

I also am of the belief that many of the well-intentioned debaters often - perhaps even sub-consciously - use said debates as an excuse to not get involved. I'm not pointing fingers at anyone in particular. Everyone can do something, and I think they should. I am pointing fingers at us all.

A story: back when I was living in NYC, I had two friends from college visiting and we had been out to dinner. Walking back to my place, we were three across, me in the middle, when we passed a homeless guy on the side walk. The perhaps more pragmatic (and/or cynical) of the two asked myself and our third friend "If you gave that guy a dollar, do you think it would be an ultimate good? I mean, do you trust it would be the right thing to do, even though you know he might go buy booze with it?" Third friend - the more bleeding heart of our group, responded "Absolutely" at the same moment I responded, just as emphatically "Absolutely not."

I have to say I've come much further towards changing my answer - in general - in that regard. I still don't give to people on the street, frankly my work has taught me how that usually hurts, more than helps, when the dollar could otherwise go towards systems that serve the people. But the more I've been exposed to those systems, the more I believe in the ultimate good behind them, most of the time. That isn't to say I've ever encountered one organization that doesn't have its problems en masse. Its just to reiterate what I've said all over MeFi for the majority of my existence here: I believe first world resources are vastly sufficient to solve the lion's share of third world problems.

Megami, good on you for wanting to get involved with a specific venture. It may be a bit on the margin, but if you can find one that you can fund in a positive way (usually that will be via a professional organization, as pointed out above), even better.

I too like Miko's bucket and would put some funds in said bucket.

I'd be willing if someone with direct experience could explain our strategy for avoiding the likely red tape and constant bribes/expedition fees.

As a Supply Chain / Procurement guru in the humanitarian sector, with on-the-ground field experience in India and Pakistan (but not in this specific community), I can pretty much promise you this is going to be very, very difficult. I could write for a long time on that matter.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:55 AM on September 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I usually have to add about 5 to 10% of my budget as contingency fees when submitting invoices to clients. Its the local cost of doing business, particularly if you are foreign to the location.
posted by infini at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2012

Miko's bucket idea sounds interesting, maybe an LOI page like IRL?
posted by parmanparman at 5:12 PM on September 25, 2012

Miko's bucket

There may be ways to achieve this without having to build anything new, but by tweaking site policies. Some possible ways would be:

- Allow IRL or Jobs to have "let's get together to work on something" threads
- Allow Projects to have threads about things that are primarily real-life projects, with some minimum web presence
- Pick some online collaboration or volunteering site, and include it in the Social Explorer

I'm not advocating these options btw, just throwing out ideas.

That said, I don't think any project will pick up a lot of momentum unless it is highly visible to a big chunk of the userbase, and that only seems to happen via MeTa threads.
posted by philipy at 10:40 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's what I had in mind, philipy.

I don't think any project will pick up a lot of momentum unless it is highly visible to a big chunk of the userbase, and that only seems to happen via MeTa threads.

This is why I wondered if it were something like Projects, could that work. MeTa doesn't really get as many eyeballs as other parts of the site, but the idea that Projects go in Projects, and only a disinterested 3rd party can put them on other parts of the site, acts as a filter for those who don't go looking for donation targets. Maybe it could rely on that system, just as Projects does.

Sorry I'm writing so incoherently - I got up at 4 AM and flew across the continent. It's nap time. But I hope what I said makes sense.
posted by Miko at 1:30 PM on October 2, 2012

I don't have any real idea how much attention people pay to Projects. My impression was it's not much, but that's on the basis that I don't see a lot of conversations happening there, and I personally only think to look at it occasionally.

What I do know though is that when I posted a MeTa about people hooking up on Goodreads, well over a hundred people joined up in short space of time. And I saw the same thing happen when someone posted about This is My Jam, which is what gave me the idea in the first place.

Meanwhile I did a little Googling, and found this article on crowdfunding sites for causes, of which the most prominent seems to be

It would probably make sense to piggyback on one of those rather than for Mefi to roll its own version of them.
posted by philipy at 9:36 AM on October 3, 2012

don't have any real idea how much attention people pay to Projects. My impression was it's not much

I think that's actually a plus, in that the cream (really viable ideas) rises to the top, and lots of that does get posted to MeFi where it gets eyeballs aplenty.

lIt would probably make sense to piggyback on one of those rather than for Mefi to roll its own version of them.

Well, yes, but we can't really piggyback on them unless someone here in MeTa posts to say "Hey we're all doing this thing at," which is kind of the way it is now (see Kiva, etc). And I don't think that's such a great way.
posted by Miko at 11:54 AM on October 3, 2012

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