The other BOGO: How giving can hurt the world. / by Ken Miguel-Cipriano

We all love a great deal, as a matter of fact our country loves a good deal so much that we have a day, almost a holiday, where we spend massive amounts of money on huge deals. We spend so much that it most certainly breaks any budgets that these deals were intended to appeal to and serve. As Americans we love excess and to feel good, combined the two dominate our culture. Everyone is familiar with the buy one get one free model, and its increasing size and reward. It has been so successful for large and small businesses that it was only logical to adapt it for rallying the public for aid and development. Buy one give one (BOGO) works almost identically, and is an often utilized tool for funding and advertising. Awareness and involvement are perennial issues within aid and development, so BOGO naturally lends itself conveniently as a solution, albeit superficially. The buy one get one model is great for consumer products, because it accomplishes its purpose quickly. The purchase is made and the product and reward are exchanged. What seems to have been overlooked in the adaptation of this model for aid, has been the value in the reward. Buy one give one gives nothing to the consumer other than the satisfaction of giving something to another in need. As much as I would like to think that society's altruism is pure and requires no reward, our desire for a reward is so strong that it can't be ignored. The consumer is left with nothing but a fleeting good feeling that has no directed value. What is the consumer feeling good about? The short description on the product might provide some information about the cause, but its likely eclipsed by the product itself. Without direction the consumer is left to manage their own feelings. Now this might seem cold and calculated, but that's business, and the reality is that people do not have time to independently discover and inquire about an organization or cause. The burden lies with the company to tell their story quickly and well. It is irresponsible to continue to receive donations and provide virtually no return or information. Worst yet may be the repercussions of not providing a value to the consumer, because if it's not given it will most definitely be taken.

A potentially dangerous message being advertised is that aid and development issues are simple and are being resolved with simple solutions. A quick interaction that sets its goal at receiving a donation misinforms the recipient to the gravity of the greater issue. From a consumer point of view, when the purchase is made so is the donation, thus accomplishing the goal. What then are they expected to think when they are annually bombarded with the same promotion, from multiple companies mind you, with no success or apparent progress. How have these promotions managed to continue year to year? Well, with a lack of direction or information the consumer is left to think the next logical step for themselves. The problem must be so large that they still need help, and my involvement, unchanged, is required once again. Perhaps this is how we have become a complacent society of donors, unfortunately setting us on an inevitable path to donor fatigue and cyclical failure. Enter the always effective motivator, war.

Whether it's the war on aids, cancer, homelessness, or hunger, the idea of fighting enlists crowds to take the issue personally. Purposely drawing on emotions to perpetuate a broken message that struggles to stay interesting, serves only to seductively numb society to the reality of actual struggle and war. Worse yet is the hour when the issue becomes actual war, and donors believe that their money is doing anything other than shifting the focus of the conflict to the money aimlessly pouring in to end it. Bad ideas and decisions usually lead to more of the same, and BOGO is no exception.

A false sense of accomplishment is severely detrimental to the aid and development process, because it is precisely that...a process. Aid and development should not be looked upon as having calculable solutions that end at some point in time, such solutions can only exist in the vacuum of theory. The active variables involved in aid and development are far too difficult to coordinate simultaneously to precipitate a framed solution, so it must be managed as an ongoing process. The BOGO model uses a quick interaction, otherwise it would not be cost-effective or successful for that matter. It is of course not the intention of companies to subconsciously manipulate the idea of aid in the minds of consumers, and if you subscribe to such theories let's hope you're wrong. Regardless of all the attention that it regularly draws in, the BOGO model's sole use as an awareness and funding tactic breaks down to a simple tactical mismatch. BOGO is meant to perpetuate small transactions, whereas aid and development issues are best served by a sustainable ongoing venture. With every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, and donor practices are directly responsible for the crippling dependency that plagues developing countries the world over.

Does an immense need form a culture of dependency or does a giving culture create the immense need? Experience has shown us that prolonged dependency of infrastructure and development are outright detrimental to a country's sovereignty over not just land, but culture as well. Further increasing the level of frustration is the issue of reliable and available data. Without a proper data flow we only have correlation to prove causation, an untenable approach if there ever was one. The human variable tosses a wrench into the whole scientific process and  makes it difficult to gain any ground. If we were dealing with a hard science the process would be more or less straightforward, still an arduous task, but the scenarios would be calculable and logical. Whenever we seek to understand a process containing human variables as main components we inevitably study human culture. It is precisely this that has been overlooked, and it is a sensitive approach to culture that will provide better insight into the barriers in development and aid. Money, resources, and personnel are all absolutely necessary, but their use must be limited to maximize efficacy. A lack of proper management allows for unnecessary human intervention, which can dismantle the entire process all together.

However backwards it may sound, feel, and seem, giving has and can hurt people. I hope this goes without saying, but I will state it anyway, but giving can be a wonderful way to enrich the life of another and your own. It can teach you so much about life and the importance of your actions and decisions. Still, we need to continue to inform ourselves and only partake in causes if we can truly dedicate the time and effort. Every action we take, big or little, has a real effect. Forcing the act of giving, in the face of its crippling repercussions, is unbelievably selfish and irresponsible. Set aside your ego and do something new, shift the focus of aid and development back to the issue. Ask more of the organizations that ask for your money, ask for measurable development, ask for greater transparency, most of all ask for change. If the humanitarian field has put on the robe of the consumer industry, we as the consumer now drive the process. Let's use our actions to drive down a different road and get back to doing what we came here to do, help.