Thursday, 28 June 2012

Re-post: Charity and a culture of dependency

This is a copy of a blog post from October 23 2008:


This is an edited version of my letter published in the Straits Times in Singapore:


Oct 22, 2008
Charity and a culture of dependency

IN READING what Mr Willie Cheng had to say about the non-profit sector, ('Good Principles', Oct 12), I was struck by the following point he made: 'Charities should seek extinction rather than growth. The mantra of business is growth.

'The opposite applies to non-profits. Non-profits are created to achieve societal change. Ultimate success occurs when the non-profit's mission is achieved and its existence is no longer needed.'

What a timely reminder amid the current context of big banks (formerly 'cooperative building societies') becoming 'super-banks', the dependence on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in disaster zones, and nearer home, the 'mega-churches'. I realised that NGOs, mothers (and fathers), teachers and missionaries have one aim in common: to work ourselves out of a job.

Last week, our eight-year-old (already responsible for keeping his own space tidy) offered to clean the dining area. Hurrah! I have one role less to play.

The first violin teacher of famed Israeli violinist Maxim Vengerov said that there was nothing else she could teach him after two years, and she sent him away to find another teacher. If teachers do not encourage their pupils to move beyond what they are able to teach, we stunt the pupils' growth.

Mega-churches? What's the point?

If a church has non-profit status, that is, it pays no taxes, then it too should heed what Mr Cheng has to say. They must achieve societal (or spiritual) change, and move on. If the church leaders are doing their job well, that is, working themselves out of a job, then there should be new cohorts of church members willing and raring to pioneer churches where the needs are greatest.

If they choose instead to run themselves as a business by using tithes to seek growth and profits, then they must cease to call themselves a church or a charity.

Be that as it may, all these groups would do well to 'seek extinction'. There is a term for the phenomenon of institutions which start ostensibly as 'helping hands' to those with specific needs, but then develop mechanisms that make the needy even deeper in need. It's called a 'culture of dependency'.

See Mega-church = mega-ego. Beware!

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