Allison Schrager writes:
Regardless of how you feel about why we are in Afghanistan, many of us would hope to improve the daily lives of those who live there. But how can we help the citizens of a country so far away? How do we even know what they might need? I could join the military or find work with an NGO there. But really, I am far too selfish to do either of these things. I have endless admiration for those who are willing to disrupt their lives and put them on the line. I, however, want to be able to offer help from the comfort of my own home.
But it is hard to deny that aid can do harm when given too enthusiastically to countries in need. However, putting the ever-sceptical economist in me aside, the fact remains that I do want to help people in Afghanistan. How can I do this effectively, and without offending my professional sensibilities?
The best way is to find an organisation that has local knowledge of the country and a thorough understanding of its economic needs. Also, target individuals and leave the big macro-development projects to the government and large aid organisations. I find the Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA) appealing. It is a New York-based charity, founded by Afghan-Americans and Americans, which offers micro-loans to Afghan land owners to plant fruit and nut orchards. It also provides agricultural training and support to the Afghan farmers, particularly women. The group’s goal is to spur economic development by empowering individual farmers with a source of income and food.
I usually recoil at talk of agricultural subsidies. But in this case the farmers receive micro-loans, which require some discipline and accountability. Micro-loans, when administered properly, provide an institution that developing countries generally lack.
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