Freelancing Gods 2015

19 Oct 2008

Misdirected Zeal

Okay, time for some more thoughts on poverty. Well, tangentially related to poverty really – it’s more focused on how religion can come into play within NGOs.

In case you weren’t aware, some of the biggest NGO charities are built upon religious ideals. World Vision and The Salvation Army are textbook examples. In Australia at least, other well known groups include The Brotherhood of St Lawrence and St Vincent de Paul. And I don’t have a problem with this, by and large. I think most atheists can find common ground with Christians (the faith which all the above organisations represent) and other religious people, and the actions of these groups are generally things I’m happy to support.

What makes me a little angry, however, is when faith gets in the way of helping people – ie. a missionary approach. I know there are NGO organisations here in Cambodia that teach English from the Bible, while others only employ locals if they convert to Christianity. The focus is less about helping others, and more about converting them to your religion.

I’ve no idea if this problem exists in religious-but-not-Christian NGOs – but I was raised as a Catholic, and have some understanding of the underlying ideals of the religion, and I’m pretty damn certain that these less than savoury practices are not what Jesus would do.

Anyway, that’s just an observation (well, more of a rant, really) from my time in Cambodia. And no NGO is perfect, really. I promise future posts will be a bit more constructive though (and hey, there’ll be some more code-focused ones too).

15 Oct 2008

On Poverty

As some of you aware (particularly those following me on Twitter), I’m currently in Cambodia. I’ve been here a month, and I’ll be around for a month more – and maybe I’ll be back again before the end of the year. Given my location, and previous blog posts, you’d think with an event like Blog Action Day 2008, and the theme of poverty, writing a blog post on it all would be easy.

Not quite.

Well, finding things to say isn’t hard. It’s just that there’s so much, across a variety of tangents all related to poverty. So really, it deserves a few blog posts.

But I better at least post something useful now, right? The Blog Action Day site says to talk about what people can do to help eradicate poverty. And that’s kinda easy to write about – you need either spare money or spare time.


The easiest option is to donate your spare cash to a charity. There’s big ones, there’s small ones, I leave the choice in your hands.

You could also use something like the Footprints API, and code something into your app so with every transaction, a little bit of money gets siphoned off to a worthy cause. Or invest in some small businesses in developing nations via Kiva – lend small amounts of money, help people get themselves into better financial positions.


If you’re lolling around the house aimlessly, go put your skills to use. For those of you in America, you could start with Taproot, who I’m sure can hook you up with a local organisation in need of some help.

Looking abroad, there’s plenty of government-sponsored organisations that have six and twelve month placements in third-world countries like Cambodia, Thailand and East Timor. A few off the top of my head (that I’ve spoken about before) are the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, USA’s Peace Corps, the British Voluntary Service Overseas, and Engineers Without Borders. These positions cover a variety of areas – AIDS awareness, land-mine removal, orphanages, building local businesses, sometimes even technical work – and you’ll be working on the ground with the locals to improve things.


The suggestions above – that’s the easy part. It’s easy to tell you what to do. Whether you’ll do it or not is another matter. Whether I will do it is another matter too. The goal is solutions that are tangible and sustainable. Lasting change. Change that builds upon itself. That’s the tricky stuff. I don’t know those answers, and the rest of the thoughts in my head will have to wait for later blog posts.

08 Jun 2008

The End of Charity

As I’m travelling, I’m reading more – so that means it’s time for another impromptu book-review/idea-sharing post.

The book in question this time around is Nic Frances’ ominously titled The End of Charity. The points of the book aren’t that scary though – I find them to be pretty spot-on with what’s needed.

A quick overview:

  • Society’s siloed approach isn’t working: Leaving businesses to focus on making money, and charities to making the world better isn’t really getting anywhere.
  • Value needs to represent more than financial worth: Goods and services need to be given more accurate values which incorporate social and environmental worth.
  • Businesses need to incorporate social and environmental mindsets into their operations: Remove the silos. Don’t leave the ‘doing good’ to a separate organisation (examples: Google Inc and, Microsoft and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, McDonalds and Ronald McDonald House Charities).
  • The market will make it all work: Okay, that’s a little simplistic, but the market does a decent job at helping the best value goods and services come to the fore.

Now the book itself is far more detailed – Frances draws a lot from his own experiences, both in charities and in socially-minded businesses, so there’s no end of real world examples. It’s also extremely easy to digest, so I highly recommend reading it, even if you don’t have much of a business-focused mind.

Granted, some of these ideas can take some getting used to, especially on the left side of politics where broad strokes paint businesses (particularly corporations) as Bad, and charities and other non-profits as Good. A lot of what’s discussed in this book isn’t particularly new to me – I was introduced to the concepts while working at MBO (now Ergo Consulting) (which, perhaps not so surprisingly, had an awesome culture non unlike what Frances outlines for his own Cool nrg). I remember bristling at the idea put forward by our then CEO Paul Steele (who is currently COO at World Vision Australia) that business is the best way to enact social improvement.

A few years have passed since then, though, and I’ve come around to agreeing that the combined approach is far more likely to succeed than the old, siloed way.

Now, this hasn’t led to any dramatic chances in my freelancing lifestyle – but it’s got my brain ticking away, so you’ll just have to wait and see what comes of it. That said, what do you you think about all this? Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have some suggestions on how to make the organisation you work for take a more holistic approach?

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Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

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