The book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton describes how well-intentioned donations devastates causes by creating dependencies without investing in people with skills and attitudes for progress. The book cover said Lupton “has been at the forefront of urban ministry” in Atlanta churches and community development for 40 years.”
I purchased a summary of the book from Amazon by an author called The Growing Leader which gives the guidelines to build sustainable development that avoids toxic charity. They resonated with my experience in community development over 40 years. They also match the characteristics of a polio eradication program called PolioPlus that is expecting to declare Nigeria polio free for one year in December 2014.
PolioPlus began as a Rotary Project that gained momentum when it was co-sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation.
WHO praised Nigeria’s PolioPlus project as one of the keys to success in halting a terrifying threat of Ebola in Nigeria’s two major cities.
PolioPlus followed the guidelines of successful projects described in Toxic Charity.
First, PolioPlus began with a clear goal to eradicate polio from the planet in each nation on the planet.
Second it focused on unique programs within each community over the long term, in this instance, nation by nation. Nigeria is battling violence from terrorists that overrun its borders, but it dedicated itself to improving health care.
Third, it focused on assets in the community. Nigeria had a stable government, a strong health department, a medical research university, doctors and nurses. It had Rotary Clubs committed to the goal. The nation had ongoing relationships with world health organizations. Those assets were strengthened and harnessed to serve the polio eradication goal.
Fourth, PolioPlus focused on the front burner issues concerning the people. WHO reports polio was not the front burner issue in Nigeria. Malaria, diarrhea, and diseases like tuberculosis were killing millions of people. Six-hundred-fifty thousand people suffered from Guinea-worm disease, a painful, sometimes fatal disease spread by unsanitary water.
Fifth, charitable donations were used to invest for the long term, not meet emergencies. The Ministry of Health created treatment facilities and staffed them with doctors and nurses to treat the rampant diseases crippling the people. WHO and CDC strengthened medical facilities with equipment and training for doctors, nurses and citizen volunteers. Rotary donated vaccines and volunteers. Rotary International magazine The Rotarian said patients flocked to the centers for primary treatment. After primary treatment patients were informed about the polio and given the vaccine.
The Medical New Today website article How Nigeria Prevented an Ebola Outbreak reported on investments in advanced GPS technology that enabled neighborhood by neighborhood mapping of polio cases. The Nigerians and WHO adapted the technology for the Ebola threat to trace and link 894 people who’d come in contact with two Ebola patients. They monitored each contact daily, isolated them when symptoms appeared and cleared them when they’d had no symptoms after 21 days.
Sixth, PolioPlus focused on leadership development to build capacity. A volunteer, Tunji Funjo, is chair of the Nigeria polio eradication program. The President of Nigeria and Minister of Health supported the polio and Ebola campaigns. They inspired neighborhood volunteers with local dialects. They used social media and well-known video and TV stars. The PolioPlus communication networks quickly transmitted the campaign against Ebola.
Seventh, PolioPlus focused on a deliberate pace that allowed people to accept the project. People trusted the centers that had treated them for disease. When the centers began explaining symptoms of Ebola, how it spreads and how people were being tracked, hysteria was avoided.
Nigeria’s story should reinforce the guidelines for volunteers working with communities and serve as an inspiration for volunteers and assistance programs for people wanting to think globally as well as act locally.