Help for those who have fallen through the cracks

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The Independent Online

The trouble with big bureaucracies is that little people fall through the cracks. It is as true of charities as it is of public bodies. That is why The Independent is asking its readers this Christmas to help support a tiny charity called Hope for Children. Many charities these days are large, well-run corporations that use the techniques of mass-marketing to raise donations and the latest management theories to spend them efficiently. All of which is a good thing, but it always risks overlooking good causes that do not fit neatly into the preconceived criteria set by the aid agencies.

The trouble with big bureaucracies is that little people fall through the cracks. It is as true of charities as it is of public bodies. That is why The Independent is asking its readers this Christmas to help support a tiny charity called Hope for Children. Many charities these days are large, well-run corporations that use the techniques of mass-marketing to raise donations and the latest management theories to spend them efficiently. All of which is a good thing, but it always risks overlooking good causes that do not fit neatly into the preconceived criteria set by the aid agencies.

Hope for Children was set up by Bob Parsons to fill the gaps left by the big charities - he knew what they were missing when he worked for Save the Children in Sri Lanka and Rwanda. It is - and we make no apology for this - a maverick outfit. In such a case, everything depends on the quality of the individuals, and we believe that Mr Parsons and his two co-workers, working with agencies all over the world, can be trusted to identify those gaps left by big charities and governments where your money can best make a difference.

Another danger with the big charities is that, quite rightly, they move from alleviating immediate misery to tackling its long-term causes. But this can lead them into spending vast amounts of money trying to influence public opinion in rich countries, as this is usually a precondition of achieving political or legislative change. The most striking recent example was the NSPCC's "Full stop" campaign against violence against children. It is difficult to argue that this was the best use of resources devoted to the prevention of cruelty.

Hope for Children is at the other end of the spectrum, and might face the opposite criticism of trying to put a sticking plaster over fundamental injustices. That is the eternal dilemma of good works: where to strike the balance between small personal gestures that make the donor and beneficiary feel better in the short term, and grand political campaigns to make the world a better place that are disconnected from today's pain and patchy in their results.

Surely, the objective should be to try to operate on both levels at once. Campaigns such as Jubilee 2000 have achieved great successes, working with governments, including Britain's, in cancelling the debts of poor countries. But Independent readers of have shown, in their generous response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch in Central America and to last year's appeal for children caught up in war, that they are moved by suffering to want to help directly.

In the name of that sense of connectedness between those of us on the paving stones and those who have fallen between the cracks, we urge you to give generously.

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