The ‘Three Cups of Tea’ Scandal and My Greatest Concern
Posted on April 19, 2011 at 1:14 pm
The scandal behind “Three Cups of Tea” has highlighted many problems currently surrounding aid and philanthropy. I’ve written about most of these issues in the past, and there have been so many brought up in this current scandal that it can be hard to know where to even start.
Here is a quick run down of what I see are the major issues:
- Whites in Shining Armor/founder stories are emotionally resonant but meaningless. People become so attached to the story that they don’t try to evaluate the project itself. (see Eureka and other myths, Disruption Isn’t Just for Entrepreneurs: The Three Cups of Tea Lesson and The Dangers of Hero Worshipping)
- Problems with the way we represent the people and places we are trying to help. Is the representation accurate or is it inaccurate to increase donations? What is the impact of misrepresentation? (see The Tea Test, Three Cups of Tea – A Critical Review, Fund-Raising and Program Goals Often Clash, Say Charity Officials, What message are we sending?)
- A lack of the ability to enforce professional practices including: financial standards, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, complaint mechanism, and accountability. (see More Than a Fancy Name Or Good Story, An Important Message from Dining for Women, The importance of charity evaluations, Learning from Maddoff)
- Providing help that is not actually helpful like schools without teachers, a major theme of this blog. (see Not Even His Cause Was Worthy, Three Cups of Humble Pie)
- Issues with charity ratings and evaluating a charity before giving. (see Tea, lives, and trust and Bad donor advice perpetuates bad aid practices)
But what has me most concerned is this final point.
- Using charitable “awareness raising” (fund raising) material in our schools. (see Three Cups of Tea- Four Cups of Bullshit and Destroying Reader Loyalty)
Whether it’s TOMS A Day Without Shoes or CAI’s Pennies for Peace, schools and teachers are using what are essentially commercials for a charitable product to teach children about the larger world and philanthropy. As is the case with most commercials, these “awareness raising activities” often distort or over-simplify the problems faced in ways that benefit their own organization.
This is extremely worrying as the children brought up on these myths and misconceptions are going to turn into businessmen, philanthropists, and lawmakers. How will the decisions they make be impacted by a distorted view of what the world is like and how to really help? (see The Live Aid Legacy)
Following the success of A Day Without Dignity, there was interest in creating a Smart Aid curriculum for use by schools and service learning clubs. This scandal brings that need into even greater relief. We need to start providing very real information to students so that they don’t get swept up in hero worship the next time a feel-good story and easy solution is presented to them.
Note: If you are interested in funding or helping with the curriculum development, please get in contact with me.