Delivering aid in a digital world

Providing help isn't always a matter of air-dropping food in a distressed area

With mobile banking taking off around much of the developing world, how long will it be before international aid is delivered electronically? Sound crazy? If you think so, you might be surprised to hear that it's already started happening.

Getting aid directly to those who need it in the most timely and efficient manner possible is a topic that's always fascinated me. For some time I've taken particular interest in the level of "overhead" (costs) that charities take from their donations, particularly the ones I give to. Long ago I came to the conclusion that, wherever possible, I was going to give -- either in the shape of a loan or a donation -- directly to organizations working on the ground, by-passing as many middle-men and -women as possible. That's been a relatively easy exercise for me, since I've been fortunate enough to visit many grassroots conservation and development projects in the course of my work. This gives me the personal connection and level of trust required to take such a leap of faith before waving good-bye to my hard-earned cash.

For those who don't have that connection, there are organizations like Kiva, which cleverly solves the problem by linking lenders in the "developed" world with borrowers in "developing" countries through the Internet. Rather than giving handouts, individual lenders -- that's me and you -- can select an entrepreneur in a developing country and choose to lend them money to help build their business. Currently Kiva take no overhead on the loan amount, although with a commitment to reach full sustainability by the end of the year this might not remain the case for much longer.

The beauty of Kiva is that lenders get a real sense of connection with the person receiving their money, something sadly lacking in more traditional charitable relationships. I, for one, have no idea who ended up benefiting from my last Salvation Army donation, for example.

As our ever-expanding digital world slowly reaches some of the poorest and marginalized members of society, opportunities to deliver financial aid to them electronically becomes less myth and more reality. Mobile phone users in a growing number of developing countries can already pay for goods and services wirelessly through their mobile phones, and there are few technical challenges in allowing someone in the UK, for example, to make a direct donation to a user in Kenya by way of airtime credit to their phone. Just as the Internet redefined the way we shop, the mobile phone will likely end up doing the same for international aid.

Handing out money electronically isn't always going to be the answer, of course, but it may be in surprisingly more cases than you think. In times of famine or hardship, for example, the typical Western response is to send over plane-loads of food aid. Although this might seem like the most logical thing to do, often it overlooks the chief cause of famine. Lack of food generally comes below politics, political instability, access to resources and markets, and civil conflict in the famine equation. In other words, it's rarely about a simple lack of food. And flooding a country with food aid creates its own problems, from feeding the militia in conflict situations to destroying what's left of the local and national agricultural market systems. The problem is considered so serious that last summer CARE International turned down a US government donation of US$45 million in food aid.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ken Banks

IDG News Service
Show Comments


James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >


Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >

Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?