Probability Practise, helping the Poor

Can we help the poor simply by increasing the probability that a skillful independent helper or her organisation finds them?

William Easterly, the development economist and author of “The White Man’s Burden” makes a famous distinction between “Planners” and “Searchers”. The Planners have led most of the development efforts over the past 40 years – and failed on many occasions. We are going to make a similar distinction here in an attempt to explain how we think social media should work to support grass roots initiatives.

Organisations, institutions, associations, formal frameworks, companies, hierarchies, programs – they all have something in common. They want to – and need, for that matter – plan and monitor their activities, use official channels, be bureaucratic. Of course there are good reasons for this because ill-informed, ill-skilled, and even ill-intended individuals are roaming this world. So the only way to make sure we are working with professional, well-informed and trustworthy people is to plan everything carefully and leave nothing to chance.

But this would exclude fledgling initiatives, fragile ideas in the minds of a small group of slum dwellers, or excentric individuals. They dream about improving the lot of their communities, but they don’t have any papers to show. They are the Searches of their world, and what could help them is individuals who meet them in private, get to like and trust them, and start supporting their Cause.

Our platform wants to help these Searchers at the very beginning of their endeavour, when their ideas and resources are still vulnerable and they could benefit most from external help, because they need moral support, experience, exposure, and trust. Using social media techniques, doing a background check is fairly easy and so is documenting trust. De facto, social media can overcome the hurdle that used to seperate the invisible, unofficial initiatives from the connected happy few.

These small (in the language of the West: promising) grass roots initiatives don’t qualify for being at the receiving end of an official fund raising campaign. There won’t be an NGO supporting them with a landrover, a university professor and some field workers to be permanently stationed “on the ground”. There’s no legal structure, no liability, no professional expertise – just chaos and need. The need of a computer to be fixed, a toilet to be built, a website to be translated, a sewing class to be started. But it will never happen: the paperwork would cost more than any NGO could account for.

But what about Chance Encounters? What about people who happen to be there where help is needed, people with skills who wouldn’t mind making the world a bit better? People who like to help their neighbour more when that neighbour lives thousands of miles away and is actually in dire need of that help?

The idea is to increase the probability of an independent change maker encountering a needy cause that needs just what she can offer them. It’s about nurses, plumbers, mechanics, IT-experts, lawyers, translators, economists, doctors, carpenters, organic farmers helping out where it is needed the most, and don’t leave before the project is sustainable. It’s about adventure travelers helping poor communities becoming sustainable and sensitizing their followers back home. It’s about independent volunteers supporting causes less visible where they can really make a change.

This is probability practice: Increasing the chances of the least connected fledgling initiatives to be found by skilled independent people who like to help a distant neighbor and create a little hope for the world’s silenced voices

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