Monday, April 10, 2017

Hope soap?

We all want to do nice things, right? Except for those people, and you know who they are. The rest of us want to be sweetness and light all the time, except when people are on our last nerve and we're having a day. Or it's Monday.

But let's assume most of the time we want to make a positive impact in the world. And it's Holy Week, so we want to holy up. There are so many good things we can do. We can even help others by making charitable shopping decisions.

Really? Is that just soft soap, or can we shop our way to a better world?

Soapbox Soaps says we can.

Soapbox's array of hand soap, body wash, shampoo, and other cleansing products uses your purchasing dollars to fund a variety of charitable projects in various parts of the world, including the distribution of soap to the soapless. Anyone familiar with the scourge of cholera knows that handwashing is more than just a means to avoid the common cold; it saves lives.

Here's a list of charities they support. One of the neato features is that you go to the Soapbox site and plug in a code on the package to see exactly where your support went.

This made a contribution to Sundara Soap Recycling in Mumbai,
which turns used hotel soap into sanitized soap for the masses.
Anyone who's ever been around us masses knows we need soap.
So when you spend $4 for a bar of soap that would normally cost a couple of bucks, you know that in addition to getting a good quality soap, you're helping someone somewhere.


Serious economists have wondered about the shop aid model; the buy-one-give-one used by TOMS shoes has been a matter of some study. Concerns have ranged from the provision of inappropriate footwear for local conditions (a concern TOMS addressed) to the need for things even more basic than shoes (food, medicine, shelter) to the destruction of the local economy by massive giveaways.

These were issues addressed also in economist Dambisa Moyo's eyeopening 2009 book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. Everyone was familiar with horrible warlords hijacking aid to the poorest, dictators who skim charitable donations or just take it all, and whatnot, but Moyo also gives a sound illustration of what happens to the local economy even when things go right. She gives a hypothetical example of an African manufacturer of mosquito nets who is driven out of business when a Hollywood star arranges to send 100,000 nets to Africa. The manufacturer is driven out of business and his employees turned into charitable dependents. And "in a maximum of five years the majority of the nets will be torn, damaged and of no further use" and there will be no one around making new ones.

There's no question that the TOMS people and similar outfits want to help the world's poorest; there is a great deal of question over how it can really be done. As Dennis Moore discovered on Monty Python's Flying Circus, "this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought."

And I don't have the time to even address the charities who mostly seem to be in business to help their officers

I don't want to single out Soapbox, who really do make a nice product and may have learned to avoid some of charity's traps. But from a layman's perspective, based on what I've read, it is extremely difficult to lift the people of another country out of poverty. The farther the country has sunk into chaos, the less likely it can be helped. Efforts to help can backfire in any number of ways, including by accidentally empowering those who cause or exacerbate the chaos in the first place. I am probably as helpless to aid the starving in Somalia as I am to punish the bastards who blew up Egyptian Christians on Palm Sunday.

The most useful charitable donations tend to be cash donations for emergency aid (don't send food or blankets or other things unless asked). And check out organizations at the Better Business Bureau's before you donate. Some good pointers can be found here as well.

Personally, I think some of my best charitable giving is when I don't indulge in anger or irritation at the people in my proximity, but rather try to change my attitude to one of helpfulness and kindness. No one wants to be a Mrs. Jellyby. It's a lot easier to throw money at people far away than to be nice to those who are bugging me. And it's Monday, too.

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