Helping one person at a time

africa kids Thursday night, while chatting with some friends, our converstation ventured into the arena of evangelism, humanitarian actions, and other social and theological issues. We eventually found ourselves in a passionate dialogue about the needs of our neighbors. Since we’re able to connect/communicate with anyone in the world within an instant, that pretty much means anyone now.

We eventually found that we wanted to see the direct result of our desire to help – anyone, anywhere, any time. Many times, we don’t want to be committed to a year long program where we just have it automatically withdrawn from our bank account and maybe get a letter at the end of the year. We want to send money for a particular purchase, see the item received by the person, and know that we did something practical for them, now.

In our little group, we decided it was too difficult for big organizations to help. There’s political issues, manpower issues, funding issues, etc. But, when I want to give to one person, right now, I can’t. I can’t simply send someone a blanket, or a sweater, or a bag of rice. Why? Because I don’t know anyone in need. I don’t know those people personally – and I want to. I want to see the direct results of my giving. I want to know that Mr. Smith received the food I sent to him. I want to know Mr. and Mrs. Smith were in need in the first place. And, I want my giving to go directly to them, with as few intermediaries as possible, so that there’s almost no overhead sucking up my donation.

So, with that problem in mind, we embarked on a thoughtful journey of how to solve this major issue.

The fun thing is, we came up with a solution.

What we propose to do is sign on trusted individuals as what we called “profilers.” These people may be missionaries, humanitarian workers, etc. The idea is that they would email us a photo, some basic stats, a story about the profiled person/group, and specific items in need.

The second type of person we’d need is more for the checks and balances required to keep things on the up and up. This person we called the “notary.” They would also be missionaries, or humanitarian workers who are located in the same area as the “profiler.” They would simply receive notification from us about a person/group in the area that needs to be verified as in need of the items listed, and let us know that each need is a valid one.

With those two items, we could post the need on our system which would display the profile of the person/group and each need (along with a dollar amount associated with the item).

People who wanted to give would be able to find the person they wanted to give to and the need they desired to fill, and give exactly to that specific need. The dollar amount given would be subtracted from the amount needed. When that specific item was fully funded, we’d send that money to the “profiler” (electronically or otherwise) so that they could purchase it within their area (thus reducing overhead and visibility because we don’t have to ship it in – reducing the amount of stuff looted by corrupt governments). If the item can’t be purchased in that location, we’d either purchase it here and send it to them, or have it purchased and delivered via a nearby “profiler” or “notary.” The cost associated with that would be added to the individual item. No other organizational overhead would be added to that item’s displayed cost.

Another important part of the process is the need for some method of communication of thanks by the recipient. This would help confirm and validate – at least to some extent – the recipient’s receipt of the item. It would also facilitate a feeling of relevance and immediacy to the giver. Immediate satisfaction from the results of their gift.

Essentially, the goal is to distribute help among the millions of people who can. It’s kind of like Linux, in a way (Linux is an operating system like Windows XP, which was created by tons of people adding their code to the base, rather than one company creating it all). It’s social welfare – distributed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on our little project/idea. Please add your comment!

I’d also like to start coming up with a name for it. If you have any ideas, please say so. I was thinking like a geek and thought up “D-help” (short for distributed help), but it’s way too geeky I think.

[tags]donation, disaster, starvation, world hunger, missionaries, humanitarian[/tags]

Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

9 Comments on "Helping one person at a time"

  1. atrain says:

    Nate, you should check out, a micro-finance outfit that coordinates “charitable loans” to individuals in developing nations. I’ve been doing some research on it and its a very cool thing. is another great micro-finance org that is really making a difference. I like your thoughts on the process of direct giving and avoiding red-tape overhead expenses.

  2. nate says:

    Thanks for the links. Perhaps they would fund us? I’ve been doing some looking into those types of sites too. There’s a new one that’s similar, but focuses more on one-to-one loans than what’s really considered “micro finance” in the sense that it helps entrepreneurs in other countries. But, it’s interesting none-the-less. It’s called Personally, I’d rather make money off mutual funds than this, but it’s an interesting thought.

  3. nate says: looks very similar to what we’re doing. I really like that site. Thanks.

  4. Amber says:

    I’d like to recommend House of Blessing orphanage, run by Lee Trueblood. Lee is originally from the Seattle area and currently takes care of 30 boys and girls in Beira, Mozambique. I think you will find her to be of strong character and a transparent heart, as she chronicles her victories and challenges on her web site. Check out the orphan profiles and newsletters, it is wonderful to see what God has been doing in their lives.

  5. nate says:

    Amber, thanks! I’ve added them to our list of people to contact.

  6. Saphir says:

    Marc Gold made it his lifework to deal with this question and formed “100 Friends”. With a little money from a few donations he has traveled Southeast Asia and met people in need directly, giving little bits that make a huge impact…see his notes on my site or his own at….

    His stories and photos are fantastic – giving a few dollars for a cataract operation, or a sewing machine that gives a handicapped person a livelihood, or $100 that gets a kid out of slavery and into a school – just amazing stuff and very personal.

  7. nate says:

    Beautiful! That’s exactly it! I’ll be contacting Marc as soon as I can.

    Thanks for the links!

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  1. Nate Ritter » Helping one person at a time (part 2)
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