KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Stairway to smartaid heaven?

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OK – this is a bit of a departure from my usual blog posts having nothing to do with knowledge management.  It does relate to smart aid however so bear with me…

My son’s religious school had a family programme this weekend on charitable giving where each child was asked to select a charity, and then research and make a presentation on their choice. In addition the parents and children were given the text below to discuss (known as Rambam’s ladder):

The ideals of Tzedakah (charity) were summarized and taught by Moses Maimonides (RaMBaM), a great teacher who lived in Spain and the Egypt in the 12th Century. Maimonides believed that Tzedakah is like a ladder. It has eight rungs, from bottom to top. Each step you climb brings you closer to heaven.

1. The person who gives reluctantly and with regret.

2. The person who gives graciously, but less than one should.

3. The person who gives what one should, but only after being asked.

4. The person who gives before being asked.

5. The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives, although the recipient knows the identity of the donor.

6. The person who gives without making his or her identity known.

7. The person who gives without knowing to whom he or she gives. The recipient does not know from whom he or she receives.

8. The person who helps another to become self-supporting by a gift or a loan or by finding employment for the recipient.

I’m not sharing this to try to convince anyone to accept it based on where it comes from, or that it inherently has merit because of that, but because it seems to me to be quite a thought provoking piece with relevance to some of the #smartaid debates of today, even though it was written around 900 years ago. And it led to some interesting discussions in the room.

Among the important insights that I took from this are that i) it is a duty for all of us to give to help others and to give adequately ii) attitude matters iii) greater anonymity in giving is better.

The preference for anonymity is about not giving just to show off about it, or to expect some personal gain (if you visit any synagogue or hospital in New York it seems they haven’t given this much thought since everything has someone’s name on it who paid for the priviledge). It seems very reminiscent of discussions on donations by major philanthropists, or green or blue washing by corporations who make highly visible donations to try to bolster their brand image, have greater influence over charitable activities in  particular sector or even cover up some of their less charitable actions.

Another key benefit of anonymity is respecting the dignity of the recipient by not making them feel they need to be indebted to the person who helped  them, which is much easier when you don’t know who they are, or when someone can’t identify you (and pity or judge you) as an individual recipient of charitable support.

Interestingly, for Maimonides, the highest form of charity was to help someone to become self-sufficient – even if (or maybe especially if) this is a loan not a gift. Here even anonymity was not as important as promoting self-sufficiency which perhaps in order to work well needs a partnership between the helper and the helped. In fact real self-sufficiency probably comes from  mutual benefit  – including for the giver who might get repaid on a loan, might have a new worker, or might get public credit for their charitable efforts. But this is more excusable when the benefit is long lasting, and is something that empowers, rather than demeans.

I don’t think this tells you everything about what smart aid should be, in fact one challenging aspect is that in listening to the voices of beneficiaries – which is much harder to do when there is anonymity between donor and recipient. But at the same time, I still find it is a nice text to make you think about your charitable giving, what you give, how you give it,  why, and what is the ultimate result you are looking for.


Written by Ian Thorpe

December 13, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Posted in smartaid

One Response

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  1. […] Stairway to smartaid heaven? AKPC_IDS += "8127,";Popularity: 50% […]

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