If you had US$1 million to give to charities aiming to eradicate poverty, how would you do it?
Would you support a soup kitchen? A financial literacy program? Educational scholarships? Organizations pressing for policy changes?
I worked for nonprofits for many years before realizing the way I approached solving social problems said more about me than it did about the problem I wanted to solve. If I really wanted to make a difference, I had to think about how I was thinking about the problem. And, if I wanted to make a difference at a broader level, I had to help donors and nonprofit leaders think about how they think.
Nonprofit fundraisers consider many demographic characteristics to explain and predict charitable giving, such as age, gender, income, and marital and parental status. As far as I could tell, no scholars had considered “how people think” as a category worth considering.
My quest led me to obtain my Ph.D. and learn to analyze how an individual’s thinking changes over time. Along the way, I found that how people construct their ideas influences their philanthropic choices, and that how donors think is as important as what they think.
How donors think
Human beings develop increasingly complex ways of making sense of the world over the course of a lifetime. To a large extent, this is intuitive – you probably expect a 20-year-old to think about many things differently than a 50-year-old. How people think, however, is largely unconscious. People are rarely aware of how they are thinking in the moment.
Water issues continue to be front and center of global health and development goals. In fact, 783 million people today do not have sustainable access to clean, safe water. While there have been notable strides in providing access to water to regions in need around the world, that need is still astronomical.
Many NGOs and companies are on the frontlines of working towards ensuring communities have access to water. One such company is GIVN.
GIVN, a certified B-Corporation based in Chicago, provides water to communities in need through its three key partners: Water.org, Water is Basic, and UNICEF’s Tap Project. For every bottle of GIVN water you buy, one person will receive a full day of water. To date, GIVN’s sales have provided 800,000 days of clean water to communities in need.
Nepal, while being a hotbed for adventure seekers, trekkers, tourists, and mountaineers, faces many economic struggles that heavily plague low-and-middle income countries. The vast majority of Nepal’s economy is based on remittances with 25 percent of its working population living outside of the country. Additionally, with an average population age of 23, Nepal has a dismal 50 percent unemployment rate. These systemic economic struggles, of course, disproportionately affect women and subsequently their children and families. Couple that with a stringent caste system and some Nepali women remain inherently stuck on the lowest rung of the class ladder and are subject to some of the basest forms of work available to them.
The Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI), a youth-driven environmental NGO based in Kathmandu, is working with some of these women whose only other economically viable life option may be selling themselves sexually to the nearest customer, working in the illegal scrap waste trade, or going abroad to find work and then enduring whatever fate awaits them. HCI employs socially discriminated women waste workers at its PET Bottle Recollection Social Enterprise (Nagar Mitra) allowing them to create a livelihood beyond what might traditionally befall them.