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Goat Gifts 101


A guest blog from Julie Cowdroy: an ambassador for the Global Poverty Project and Opportunity International Australia. This article was first published on ABC 's The Drum on the 21st of December 2010 - you can read the Drum article, here.


Pictures of goats are popular at this time of year. Cards and e-cards featuring a photograph of a goat usually wearing sunglasses are in circulation representing the fact that somewhere, someone has received a goat, and someone else has received a picture of a goat.

The charity gifts trend is alive and well in Australia and many are jumping on board to purchase goats as well as a plethora of other gifts, spending anywhere from $5 to $10,000. One can choose to buy pencils, poo, piglets, or a taxi service in the Philippines for the world’s poorest people.

TEAR created the first charity gifts catalogue in 1994 while Oxfam launched its first Unwrapped campaign seven years ago, and many poverty driven NGOs have hightailed it to follow in their, er, hoovesteps. An environment of goodwill is a great way to stimulate some Christmas cha-ching for overseas development programs - in 2008, Oxfam alone raised $6 million, even at the height of the GFC - but it’s also what we as consumers want.

According to a 2005 report issued by the Australia Institute, 73 per cent of Australians would be happy to receive a charity gift, although, of course we would answer that way.

Still, a marketing manager of one organisation that only jumped on board the charity gifts bandwagon this year said that they decided to run a Christmas campaign because many of their donors were asking for it. Why? People are sick of buying crap at Christmas. They want something more ‘meaningful’.

Yet how meaningful are goats? There is nothing worse then getting something you don’t need – a universal truth that also applies to those who live below subsistence.

One of the first lessons that purchasers of such gifts learn is that it is not always clearly articulated that paying for a goat does not actually mean that a kid named Billy is bought and shipped off overseas. Often the money is collected and spent on projects and programs according to where an organisation decides the ‘most need’ is.

The method of delivery varies from group to group. For instance, every gift available for purchase at ChildFund Australia has been researched and the number of, say, piglets available for ‘sale’ is the number of piglets required for a particular community. You buy a piglet, a piglet shall be given. World Vision and Oxfam have broader categories. Buy a chicken and they’ll put the money towards their livelihood programs. Buy a bicycle ambulance or a hip-hop microphone and the money will go towards their education programs. Yes, one of the items you can buy is a hip-hop microphone. World to the Vision.

TEAR have a colour-coded system - red for education, green for agricultural and farming gifts, blue for health and so on. By placing gifts within categories as TEAR, World Vision, Oxfam and others do, the donor can see how their gift is a part of a broader development strategy.

Edward Fox, who was Oxfam's Fundraising and Marketing Director until 2007, and is now the CEO of Opportunity International UK says, “When done well, the charity gifts proposition can improve the public’s understanding of the charity and increase the supporters’ affection for the cause. They can be fun and they are a light-hearted way to explain (unwrap) what the charity does.”

The desire to understand more about international development is evident in the many requests to organisations for donors to track specific gifts and get a photo of the actual gift being given. It seems to get on one’s goat not knowing who gets one’s goat. Some are bursting to know if someone will be bursting with gratitude to see the goat that they gave. NGOs do not generally offer this service.

However, a group called Charity:water has an aspect to their campaign called Proving It. Once a donor funds a project, local partners submit reports back to the group about the execution of the project. Charity:water then give donors photos as well as coordinates to plug into Google Maps so one can see the project they funded. A commemorative plaque is uploaded that recognises the donor and community who worked together to make the project possible.

People enjoy this. They want to feel connected to the receiver of the gift. However, it is a very fine line between wanting to know where one’s donation ends up and reinforcing the message that donors are the “Whites in Shining Armour”.

Goats at Christmas time provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on how we approach international aid and development. Archie Law, CEO of ActionAid says, “For the world’s billion hungry people who are marginalised and excluded from basic services, the daily struggle continues long after Christmas. When you buy that goat this Christmas maybe you can spend a moment thinking about what you can do in 2011 to contribute to the long-term changes needed to affect meaningful change in the lives of the most excluded.”

There are great projects and programs that poverty-driven NGOs are executing and donors should ensure they are savvy and do their homework to make sure the groups they channel money into have sustainable development strategies. True partnership with the worlds marginalised involves an understanding on our part of the role goats play in global development. And that shouldn’t get on anyone’s goat.


Disaster Aid - A brief diagnosis


Turning on my TV on the morning of January 13th, I remember being struck by the surreal footage of a collapsed Haiti over my morning cup of tea. It was much the same when the creeping reality of the floods in Pakistan emerged just a few months ago.

In both situations, we dug deep, and made a donation to one of the many organisations working on the ground in these countries. In this blog, I’m going to explain how those donations to disaster appeals get spent.

Following a disaster like Haiti, aid agencies have to think about three main questions:

  • Do we have access to and relationships in the disaster zone; are any of Haiti’s main roads, railways, ports or airports that are not blocked or damaged beyond use?
  • Do we have the skills to respond to the disaster zone?
  • Do we have the finances to respond to the disaster?

As soon as they can answer “Yes” to the three questions above, it’s all systems go.

In donor countries, aid agencies often work together to raise funds to minimise competition and waste. In the UK, this is done under the banner of the Disasters Emergency Committee (the DEC) and there’s a push on in Australia to setup something similar.

On the ground, one of the first things that needs to happen is for all of the agencies already working in that area to get together and work out a common plan. Leadership in this area falls to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who setup a communications centre and work with large aid agencies such as OXFAM and Save the Children, as well as smaller local groups to delegate out who’s going to do what.

This coordination is essential to avoid duplication and gaps in the response – but it’s not easy. Straight after a disaster things are chaotic, and despite best efforts, there are still sometimes problems in the way that agencies are able to work together on the ground. It’s from these gaps and problems that the media inevitably report 2-3 days after a disaster that aid is yet to arrive in certain places.

Local governments also acquire resources, acting on behalf of the central government and typically using their army to distribute aid. Armies are often the best equipped and trained people to respond in emergencies, and provide a vital role in coordinating the distribution of aid when the usual civilian channels are overwhelmed.

Smaller and local aid agencies tend not to coordinate as much with UNOCHA in what aid is bought and where it is sent because they lack the scale to make a big difference to the overall response. Instead, they may channel your funds directly to local community partners who get missed by the big agencies. Smaller aid organisations may also focus on specific regions and have more detailed knowledge of the area, therefore increasing the efficiency of aid.

Rupen Das, former Director for Emergency Response and Disaster Mitigation at World Vision Canada, suggested that the overall aim of humanitarian aid is to get the essential goods to the affected people within three days to save lives.

Once the initial aid has been delivered, the use of aid is more focused on keeping people healthy and sheltered. In the video below we hear Nigel Fisher, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, talking of generally improved living standards since the earthquake in Haiti. He says that before the quake, majority of the population lived in slums and didn’t have access to clean water and healthcare. That is not the case now, although millions live in camps they do have access to clean water and healthcare.

Although the immediate aftermath may be all we see in the media, remember that these emergencies don’t get fixed in a week or a month but over some years, look at New Orleans five years after Katrina struck for example. The use of the aid must be spread over many years, helping the people and country as a whole get back on their feet.

Be encouraged by the work of aid agencies and continue to support relief efforts because I don’t feel that they get the credit that they deserve. These are big aid packages for big disasters that require a huge effort to coordinate.

What can I do? - How to make your donations count


We all know the benefits of being generous with our money and donating to charities, and also how this will help charities in their work against corruption. Rather than reiterating these points, we thought that in this blog we would focus on how you can make sure that any donation you give will really make a difference.

To ensure you personally are happy with the donation you make, it's important to do a bit of research on the organisation first. Think about the following questions:

  • Do the issues fit? You should give to the organisations that work on the issues that you're most passionate about and interested in.
  • Do the values fit? You should give to the charities that you feel best fit your values and priorities in terms of how they work, where they work, and why they work that way.
  • At what level do they operate? You should give to groups that you feel are working at the most important level - grassroots, regional, national, or international, and who finds the right balance (in your mind) between doing things on the ground to improve lives and campaigning to change the rules.
  • Are they an accredited organisation? Are they member of the peak-body for development charities like BOND in the UK or ACFID in Australia. Belonging to these organisations means that they subscribe to a set of rules around how money can be used, and often that there’s positive peer pressure on them to adopt policies

If this is the sort of organisation that you want to give to, the next thing is to make sure that you are comfortable that the donation you are giving will really make a difference. The key thing to look for is measurable impact. That’s not just facts and figures, but case studies that show that the organisation’s work is making a change and sustaining that change over a longer period, whether for specific beneficiaries, the environment or through policies.

Some questions you could consider asking the charity are:

  • How will someone's life change because of this donation?
  • What does success look like for the project/initiative that I'm giving to?
  • What real change has this organisation created or enabled in people's lives to date? Can they show it to you?
  • How does this project enable a community to be more self-sufficient and capable so it won't need aid in the future?
  • What does the organisation do to ensure that money won't be corruptly used? What steps will they take if corruption is suspected or found?
  • Have any of your projects failed? Why? Development is risky, and not all projects work. Good organisations recognise this, and are open about the things they’ve done in the past that didn’t work.

While many people are tempted to ask about an organisation’s administration costs, we’ve left this question off the list. This is because asking about why they need to spend so much on admin costs is a little like asking why an airline might be spending so much on safety costs.

Organisations need to spend money on administration to make sure things are done professionally. They need to pay for staff and management (accountability) to make sure your money doesn’t go missing due to corruption. They spend money on communication so you find out how your donations were spent and what difference it made. In the best agencies money also gets puts into research and evaluation to understand what really works in ending poverty.

And, that’s really the question we should be asking: Does it work?

When it comes to ending poverty, we want to fund things that work. Then, once we know they work, we want them to be as cost-effective as they can be, meaning that we get the best possible price for the best possible outcome.

In ending poverty, it’s the difference between asking ‘how much of my money goes to the school I’m funding’, and ‘can the children read and write properly’?

We’ve provided you with some information to get you started on making sure your donations count. Remember that there are 1.4 billion reasons why we should be generous with the money we have and use it to contribute to the movement to end extreme poverty.

Where does my money go – Giving Goods


Have you ever wondered where your money goes after making a donation? In this series of blogs, GPP co-founder Simon Moss explores how you can understand where it goes, why, and how you can help it go further.

Pencils for Africa screamed the advertisement in the local school newsletter. After seeing firsthand the lack of resources at schools in Malawi, a group of students have banded together, and are collecting pencils, pens, textas and the like to send to Africa. Dedicated, they visit each classroom each day, collecting new and used pencils that students, staff and families are able to spare.

In the staff room, they’ve started stacking boxes and boxes of these pencils, and before long, there are several milk crates worth. About a week in, someone asks how they’re going to get the pencils to Africa, which is where I come in.

Getting emails and phone calls about ideas like this are amongst both the best and worst of my job.

Best in that time and again, I’m amazed at the initiative, passion and dedication that people have for helping others. The fire that is sparked by spending time in poor communities is truly inspirational, and it’s a wonder to see people come back motivated beyond belief to make a difference.

And, it’s the worst, as it makes me the bad cop, as I was in this case.

Very politely, I asked some probing questions. How many boxes? How much did they weigh? How much does international freight cost? How much are the pencils worth? How long will they take to get there? And, perhaps the hardest, how much would a similar number of pencils cost to buy in Malawi?

Invariably, the penny drops, and I’m left to console someone whose good intentions got ahead of their common sense. Realising that good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes is an important lesson to learn, but not always an easy one.

In one story that I would have thought apocryphal, but for the photos I’ve seen, a $25,000 piece of medical equipment was lovingly organised, donated and sent to East Timor, only for it to sit in the back garden of the hospital because no one knew what it was or how to use it.

So, my great hope is that we can learn from the mistakes of others, and keep in mind a couple of questions when considering sending goods overseas:

Has the local community in the given country identified it as a need? If not, ask them to think about it before going any further.

  • Can it be sourced locally? How much would it cost?
  • Can it be maintained and looked after locally? How much would it cost to fix?
  • How much would it cost to get and send to the country?
  • How long would it take, and what assurances do you have that it won’t go missing or get broken along the way?

Giving equipment can be an amazing resource, better than money can buy, or it can be an expensive and disheartening waste of time. The beauty is, it’s you who makes the decision on what the outcome will be.

Leave your testimonials below of organisations you know of that give goods... 

Where does my money go - Buying a Pig/Goat/Chicken


Have you ever wondered where your money goes after making a donation? In this series of blogs, GPP co-founder Simon Moss explores how you can understand where it goes, why, and how you can help it go further.

My family doesn’t look forward to Christmas like they used to. Over the last two years, I’ve bought them pigs, goats and chickens, instead of more ‘normal’ presents like socks, jocks and books. Chances are, I’ll do it again this year – but I won’t commit to that here, lest the surprise is spoiled by them reading this blog.

Led by campaigns like Oxfam’s Unwrapped and TEAR’s Best Gift Catalogue Ever, there’s been an explosion in Christmas gift options for the discerning supporter of action to end extreme poverty. But, I’ve been left wondering – what would happen if we all bought pigs, and no one bought any chickens.

The logical conclusion would be that it would smell really bad in the communities that got the pigs, that chicken prices would rise, and pork prices would fall.

The reality is thankfully different. It turns out that it doesn’t really matter which animal or piece of equipment we buy. Charities don’t let us choose how many pigs should be given in rural Cambodia, nor do they let us choose how many wells will be dug in Mozambique.

Say a community determines that 100 goats, a new school building and a salary for three nurses are important investments. All up, they might cost $25,000. The charity commits to raising that amount to provide the community with those things – which the community in turn sees as a great way to build up their own assets through the goats, educate their kids to lead better lives through the school, and keep everyone healthy through the nurses.

Over in our suburban shopping centre, we sift through cards, catalogues and posters, looking for the gift that will work for us. Dad would love the well – he’s always building things. My kid brother can have a goat, for obvious reasons, and my girlfriend can have a nurse’s salary. Thousands of people around the country think through the same decisions, and at the end of the day, no matter what combinations of things are bought as gifts, the $25,000 will go to things that the community wants and needs.

For us, giving gifts like these is a great way to be connected to people in poverty. We get a tangible sense of what our money can achieve, and a good chance to give a gift that has real meaning and resonance for the person we’re buying for. For the world’s poor, gifts like these provide the resources they need, whilst still enabling them to keep control over their own development.

To see how you can give a gift that keeps giving, head to your local Oxfam store from November onwards, or head to your favourite agency’s website to see their catalogue.