Effective Philanthropy – From a former critic By Catherine Keyl


So why did I dislike development work so much? During my years as a current affairs journalist for Dutch television, I came across quite a few wrongs out in the field.

While doing reports from Senegal, Mozambique, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos I saw food shipments that were left to rot in ports and leaders from poverty-stricken villages who suddenly drove expensive BMWs.

The destitute population who really needed help, didn’t get any.


nd usually when providing assistance, development workers started first from what would be good in their own country. For example, they automatically thought of toys when helping children whose practical need could be as simple as underwear.

Many years ago now, when Sallo Polak came up with the idea to ask local communities what they need to improve their situation, it was music to my ears. When you want to help people, you should ask them what they need and then work together to make it happen. Could it be any simpler?

Well, actually, it’s not that easy. Try explaining to a sponsor that toys are wonderful, but that the need for underwear is really more urgent. Especially for girls who are vulnerable when they go to school. The only way to find these things out, is by talking to the people involved. You have to move past what you think is needed or what you would like to give.


r try telling donors that establishing a village school is a great idea indeed, but that the need for toilets is just as great to prevent the spread of diseases. Building a school just sounds a lot sexier than building a toilet.

But the feeling that you get when a girl in a refugee camp tells you about her dreams, and the realization that you have a real possibility to help make her dreams come true – that is priceless!

I spoke to such a girl a few years ago. She was living with nine other girls in a shabby dormitory with a dirt floor and only a couple of tatty textbooks for their studies.

“I’m going to be a teacher,” she said proudly to me, “so that I can teach everyone in the camp English.”


ure, but how? I thought. Well, you see, in the end because of Philanthropy Connections.

And she wouldn’t be the first one from the camp to do so, either. How wonderful is it to read the proud story of a young man who also realised his dream; he became a teacher as well. And that was after a very rough start in life: a refugee, a minority under attack, poor but incredibly resilient.

And if you have the opportunity to make a small financial contribution to all of that, it’ll make you feel on top of the world.

Catherine Keyl