Sunday, January 27, 2013

The true cost of travel

I am in the midst of a career change, and that means I've sought the advice of many people in the last year. My most trusted mentor recommended I spend some time abroad volunteering for aid organizations. Clearly this is where my passion lies. By spending time on the ground, I could learn about how aid works in poor countries, and what type of aid is truly effective. I could advocate from a place of experience, even expertise. It sounds like an important and worthwhile use of my time.

And then I think about the cost.

Plane tickets, appropriate clothing, medicines and inoculations, ground transport, food, housing - thousands of dollars for my travel and basic needs. Then there are my lost wages. A meaningful trip would last at least 30 days, probably longer. Thousands of dollars.

And then I think about the true cost. The opportunity cost.

The opportunity cost of my travel - the thousands spent and the thousands given up in lost wages - the opportunity cost is lives saved. I know enough to know that poor countries do not need free, unskilled labor. I would be there for my own knowledge, nothing more. There is little work I could do on the ground to save and improve lives. What they need is money. And rather than spend my money to gain first-hand knowledge of the problem, I could spend my money to solve the problem. I could trust the published research of experts in the field and direct my resources to those groups doing the best possible work.

Leila de Bruyne, founder of Flying Kites, blogged about "Voluntourism" in the Huffington Post. She reflects on her summer as a volunteer in a Kenyan orphanage:

"I spent a lot of time that year wondering if I had unintentionally exploited the children I'd traveled so far to meet. Did I help the little ones learn the days of the week and the older kids practice their written composition? Yes. Had my trip contributed in any significant way to a more just, safe life for them? No. I was a 19-year-old, providing unskilled labor, to deeply traumatized children, for a very short of amount of time. The price of my plane ticket would have been better spent on the salary of Kenyan teacher, a source of continuity for children who deserve it the most."

I recommend reading her blog in it's entirety. Flying Kites offers a different kind of volunteer experience for people interested in helping orphaned children in Kenya - and it involves a lot of fundraising.

-Selfish Blogger

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The United States of Charitable Giving

This handy little infographic from shows which states' residents give the highest percentage of their income to charity. Remember that giving to religious institutions counts, whether or not that money is used to help those in need. It is interesting to note that libertarian leaning states give very little. I'd love to dig down into these numbers to see what giving looks like without gifts to religious institutions. I wonder if libertarian-leaning states, like New Hampshire, appear to give less because they are not tithing, or if they actually give less to need-based causes than the rest of the country.

-Selfish Blogger

Friday, January 4, 2013

Accident of birth

We have no control over where we are born, but it makes all the difference to our chances in life. Explore what it means to be born poor in the USA, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia in Welcome to the World by Why Poverty?. This one hour video, and others by Why Poverty? are available free on their website and on PBS.

-Selfish Blogger

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Progress check

Studies have shown that the way people spend their money is influenced by peers; any good article on peer influence will cite the tendency to tip an already-full tip jar, and withhold from the jar that's empty. This influence holds true for giving to charity as well. I had two main goals in starting this blog: first, to give more of my own money and, second, get others to give more of their money. I can't measure how much money others have given as a result of this blog, but I can measure changes in my own giving. So in the spirit of peer pressure, here's my giving record in 2011 and 2012.


My pre-tax income was: $46,400
I gave in total: $1,540.50

Here's the breakdown:
$974 to improve lives in the developing world
$265 Animal rights/protection
$176.50 to my friend's causes or local causes I care about
$125 to health care and reproductive rights in the US


My pre-tax income was: $50,000
I gave in total: $5,382

Here's the breakdown:
$3,135 to my friend's causes or local causes I care about
$1,422 to improve lives in the developing world
$675 to animal rights/protection
$150 to health care and reproductive rights in the US

I increased my giving to people in great need by about 1/3 and more than doubled my giving to animals in need in 2012. But the bulk of my giving ($3,100) went to the nonprofit I run. As an Executive Director, I spend most of my time asking people to give money to my nonprofit, so it's only fair that I give as well. But my nonprofit does not directly save lives - it makes an affluent community that much nicer to live in (affluent relative to the rest of the world, poor by Los Angeles standards). It's strange to write this, when I spend so much time stating why people should give to my nonprofit, but there are more meaningful places I could have given my money this year. 2013 calls for a little shifting in my giving.

I am proud that I contributed over 10% of my income, and that I was able to give my raise away - something I wasn't sure I would have the self-discipline to do. I lived very comfortably in 2011. I wanted for nothing. The same was true in 2012. I have been able to put away $5,000 each year for retirement. Perhaps I will be able to continue living on about $45,000 per year for the foreseeable future, and give away what I earn on top of that...

How did your giving go?

Here's to another year of simple living, simple eating, and never shopping out of boredom. Here's to 2013!

-Selfish Blogger