DIY follow-up, part 4 of 5: So what is the role for people who don’t fit your definition of “professional”?

(This continues a 5-part series which responds to the responses that I received following my Foreign Policy post about Nicholas Kristof’s D.I.Y. aid concept. For more background, also see Part 1: How complicated can things really be?)

4. So what is the role for people who don’t fit your definition of “professional”?

Many comments have come in related to the question above. A few examples:

  • “One thing we need to be looking at is: how can regular people contribute?” (Chris Watkins, commenting on my original post here last week)
  • “Dave Algoso has a point … But how to combine the passion of DIYers with the expertise of pros?” (Maria Amundson on twitter)

The answer is actually pretty simple, so this will be the shortest installment in the series. If you don’t have the option to make this a career and commit to being a professional, there are a few steps you can follow.

1. Get informed. Follow blogs, watch documentaries, read books. Not just one or two, but many. If you care about these issues, learn about them.

2. Give money. This is a point where Kristof and I agree, actually. Learn about an organization that’s doing good things, and give money to it. Earn money in your day job, doing whatever it is that you do, and then donate part of your income to an organization that will make good use of it. This is classic division of labor: if your comparative advantage is in making widgets, but you want to help poor people, make those widgets and then give some of your personal proceeds to a good organization (i.e. hire a professional).

3. Advocate. It’s election season in the US. Have you ever heard our candidates seriously discuss US foreign aid or the impacts of trade policies and agricultural subsidies on developing countries? Our political discourse is limited to countries that are strategically or economically important (e.g. India, Iran, China), where America has made significant military interventions (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan), or where there’s a serious humanitarian crisis (e.g. Haiti). The same goes for our news media’s coverage. There’s a huge opportunity to educate ourselves and others on the impacts of American policies on poor people in developing countries, and to advocate for improvements in those policies.


Further reading: For information on how to be an informed donor, check out Saundra Schimmelpfennig’s blog: Good Intentions Are Not Enough.


Check out the full series: