Capillary Philanthropy: Businesses, local NGOs, and the future of aid

I often find that aid blogs tend to criticize much, offer solutions too little. Orietta L’Abbate, CEO of AAE Australia Inc., shares her proposal for the future of aid.

What do you think? Could it work?

And if the answer is no, you’d better be ready to offer your own new idea. Let’s hear it.


Large scale aid intervention in large scale disaster has shown its slowness and its inability to cooperate and effectively intervene in the Haiti 2010 earthquake.

The lesson learnt in Haiti and other places would be prevention before intervention. This has been realized by some international organizations, but not all. And to approach the “big” philanthropists is virtually impossible for a small, albeit genuine, association in need of help.

I advocate for a small, but capillary, prevention scale.

Capillaries are the tiny blood vessels that connect the arterioles (the smallest divisions of the arteries) and the venules (the smallest divisions of the veins). We have around 10 billion of these capillaries mapped throughout the body, forming a fine network. The largest capillary is only about as wide as the head of a pin. Despite being microscopic, capillaries have an enormous task—to facilitate the transport of blood (with its oxygen and nutrients) to all parts of the body.

Philanthropy could put in place a “one-to-one” support system whereby businesses select a “sister” local NGO to help on a 5-10 year plan. Tax deductibility must be streamlined and be transparent in this case, perhaps with a mini-Inc. or mini 501(c)3 registration. Tax departments should be happy to ensure more work for themselves and donors would have their tax deductions ensured, with the bonus of no additional administrative expenses and the money could go directly to the recipient. This would create a direct relationship and personal involvement between the business and the non-profit.

Recipients’ organizations, as small as they can be, should be locally registered and police-checked (like teachers are). Personally I prefer local associations that ensure their commitment is to all, not to “some” or with a “water-for-prayers” philosophy (yes it happens).

All monies should be allocated giving priority to income-generating activities (with embedded mandatory training), education and health, again locally implemented as much as possible. Donors’ organizations can send foreign volunteers to set up as a temporary interventions/training and their activities should be monitored by the recipients and reported on a regular basis.

Prevention includes all areas that need improvement: schools (small, sound buildings rather than large ones, and reconstruction training) agriculture (water sheds, structural plantations, plots fragmentation), evenly distributed and trained health workers (training locals) and services throughout districts, and water wells (training in maintenance and repair), etc.

Such prevention also implies a cooperation system in case of disaster, whereby neighbouring recipients and neighbouring donors aid each other in a disaster situation. This type of system would minimize damages (smaller scale is easier and less expensive to repair) and would empower local reconstruction and medical operations, as well as lessen international aid/government expenditures after disaster.

A variation could be a philanthropy network of businesses, each contributing to a part of a whole, for example whereby say 10 businesses work together towards improving 10 villages in the same area. Ten businesses could even choose to partly pay one person to organize the program.

In our very small scale, Association Amis des Enfants (AAE) Australia Inc. has been supporting Association Amis des Enfants de l’ile de la Gonâvefor more than a decade. This one-to one relationship has ensured a coordinated decision-making process, direct financing, and accountability. Sure not everything has gone smoothly. Much time and money (the former being exceedingly more than the latter) has been donated to liaise and organize, but it has worked well to the benefit of the entire community around AAE.

Sure, we had a personal involvement, as we adopted from Haiti in the 1980s, but many disheartened donors would welcome a direct, transparent, and, yes, tax-deductible way to help. Of this I am sure.

In Middle Ages Europe, such a system was in place, whereby it was mandatory for each member of the trading corporations to select a charity of choice and devote to it a fixed percentage of earnings.

Why have we lost it?

And why not to resurrect it on a scale that is today technologically very possible?


Orietta L’Abbate can be reached at oriettala (at) gmail (dot) com.

This post originally appeared at:


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Comment by Jennifer Lentfer on January 31, 2012 at 3:44pm

Edward, thanks for your comment. You might also be interested in this article: "Where Afghan humanitarianism ends and development begins"

Comment by Edward O'Connell on January 30, 2012 at 5:41pm

Great article, I wrote a piece recently entitled "Civil Society Expansion for Afghanistan" if you are interested. Again solutions! We don't wait three years until security is better. Security is iterative with engagement, you create security with engagement. In fact you understand, engage, inform, develop and secure at the same time will be model for the future. I can be reached at

Thanks again.


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