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"It always seems impossible, until it's done."
—Nelson Mandela

We can stop it

When we look back on history we easily wonder: Why did so few people oppose the injustices of their era?

When we're surrounded by any of those injustices or by new ones, the answer is clear: Injustice, in its varied forms, brings benefits to well-placed people. Anyone who opposes it will be frozen out. Those who gain from it know how to cloud the issue, so it's easy for the rest of us to say, "I'm not sure," rather than to take action.(1)

To get started

There are many easy things you can do.

Get on our mailing list. We will not give your name to others. At first, the newsletter will be infrequent. As we grow, we may more often send out alerts, asking you to respond to media stories which, often just through lack of awareness, perpetuate karma colonialism.

Writing letters is the most effective thing you can do in a small amount of time.

Write letters. Our newsletter will give suggestions, but don't limit yourself to them. Send us a copy. This is the most effective thing you can do in a small amount of time. Mail is more effective than email (it's less often used, and the recipient can't just click "next"); short letters are just as good as long ones; individualized letters addressing someone by name are much better than copies; anything you do is better than nothing.

Talk about the subject. If you live in a country that gets aid, you may be surprised how much interest you get. Local people will see that all the things which made no sense when they believed "the INGOs are here to help," make perfect sense when seen as a form of colonialism. Those who are paid by an INGO may be defensive or hostile, but some are themselves grappling with doubts, and may appreciate a discussion that attempts to find solutions, rather than an attack

Use the term "karma colonialism" if you wish — in talking or in writing. It will jar people. We won't get results without people being jarred. While we need to be thoughtful about how to use such a strong phrase, it does push people to take a fresh look. Furthermore, it moves us way from the idea that "sure, aid may usually be ineffective but if donors want to give without paying much attention, that's their right, because it's their money."

Thank those who write or speak out about these issues. They don't get a lot of thanks.

Link to us. It's easy, and it helps.

Spread the word. Put a link to us on your blog, Facebook page, or elsewhere.

Read. Get more familiar with the issue. Here are suggestions. As you learn more you'll be able to do all these things better — and you'll feel motivated to do so.

If you work in the aid industry...

Discuss these ideas with those affected. Typically, people in a poor country have little or no access to such ideas or the bigger picture. TheY see aid money and INGO staff at work, they know it's supposed to be helping them, they see enormous amounts of waste and ineffectiveness, but they have no framework in which to place it. We have had many conversations like these, and often the local person quickly responds with examples of things that had previously mystified them, but which make sense now in the framework of, "aid is really to aid the giver."(2)

Encourage and help affected people to write. They probably feel powerless. But while they have less political power and money, they can have a powerful voice. Some, though not all, donors would be greatly moved by a single letter from one of those "needy people" they thought they were helping, explaining the problem and asking, "Why won't you let us develop our country ourselves?" Unlike letters to the media, this is a case where a more detailed letter is best. We suggest a thoughtful and not accusatory tone.

If you work in the aid industry, we need your stories and examples of how it keeps poor countries poor.

Report your experiences to us. We need more examples of the dynamics we describe on this site. Send us copies of revealing emails. Anecdotes are a bad way to set policy but they're invaluable for making abstract arguments come real. Also let us know if we may give your contact information (name, email or phone) to journalists or writers.

Quit. Ouch. It's easy for us to say. But if you have a job which you know is contributing to colonial relationships, shouldn't you consider getting out? If you're sharp enough to see what's happening despite strong pressure to look the other way, then you've got some rare skills which can lead to a job you'll take pride in. Step back, perhaps discuss it with a sympathetic friend, and think about your options.

Bigger steps

When you're ready to commit more time, there's more you can do.

Make a website, blog, Facebook page, or other way to provide depth about an aspect of karma colonialism in which you have experience or interest. You can focus on one country where you've worked; one area (health, education, trade, human rights); one INGO or organization. Spread the word within that network; you'll hear from people who have stories to tell. After you've created the site, please let us know.

If you can provide website design help for someone who wants to fill it, let us know.

Start a local "auxiliary." Half the world's population is affected by this issue; it doesn't draw much attention now, but the potential is there. Weekly or monthly meetings can discuss a topic or a book or bring in a guest speaker. If your meetings combine an opportunity to be involved in an issue of social justice, along with satisfying social and intellectual interaction, you'll develop a solid base. Offer speakers to community, civic, business, and religious groups. (Plan your speech well, practice, and get feedback, before you start. If your speaker makes a strong impression, others will invite you.) Meet with the media to ask for coverage of this point of view.

Photographs are invaluable. It will take just seconds to snap a picture, but you must be alert and recognize opportunities.

Post pictures that graphically show examples of karma colonialism. Although it often acts in ways that aren't easily photographed, we've listed some suggestions at Take photos.

Tell us other ways you can help. Do you have writing or editing experience? PR skills? If you're willing to be asked when we need help, please let us know.

Never forget that we will win

The aid industry has many powerful interests on its side, but the case against it is overwhelming. History has been here before. Slavery, smoking, witch-burnings, drunk driving, old-style colonialism, keeping women barefoot in the kitchen, Inquisitions, and many other practices were once accepted as the norm. Determined people spoke out, and changed history. We can do it again.

Notes and Sources

1. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spends a billion (that's a "b") dollars a year on "Policy and Advocacy," placing stories in the media that push their view of what poor countries need. See Melinda Gates's cellphones as an example. Coke, Pepsi, and their trade association have become masters at sowing confusion; Marion Nestle thoroughly documents this in her book Soda Politics. (back)

2. Education in poor countries is weak, and seems to be getting weaker. We do not believe that the aid industry and Western interests have deliberately tried to make it weak, but we do believe that they benefit from a population which doesn't challenge them, and so while they are happy to fund mind-deadening, rote-based schools with more children, they aren't motivated to help the quality of education improve. We discuss this more in Poor education. (back)