How do I help? Elephant Adoption.

Last week I posted about the Wildlife Photographer exhibit and how it's overall message was that we, as humans are doing some terrible things. I want to help.

I don't know how to help. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Is giving money enough? I was going to adopt an elephant with WWF. Except that for a measly £3 a month, and receiving an elephant stuffed toy just seemed... trite.

Surely there's more I can do?

My problem is there is nothing out there that says - HERE. Do this. There is a problem, and here is how you solve it. There's nothing out there because these problems? They are massive. They are complex and wriggly and the opposite of straight forward. There's no easy solution.

Take Ivory poaching. How do you tell the guy that poaches to stop, when this is what is feeding his family? The Chinese business man whose invested in ivory that his cultural and traditions are wrong and he should stop buying ivory, thank you very much. How do you tell the billion dollar industry that hey, we know that money is grand, but please find something else to invest in. How do we tell governments (like China or Burma) to spend money policing illegal ivory? How do you tell governments like South Africa or Zimbabwe that support the sale of ivory are muddying the line between legal and illegal black market ivory trade and fuelling ivory demand? Even if they pump any ivory sale profit back into local conversation, Elephants are still paying the cost. How do you tell Chinese tourists that the pretty ivory ring, or delicately carved paperweight is the product of brutal and terrible pain and butchery?

How do you tell people to stop doing what they're doing?

I... I don't know. I don't know how to help, or fight the good fight.

Here is what I do know.

I know I'm from the wrong place

If I'm selecting elephants and the ivory trade industry? I'm from the wrong place. I'm not African, and can't raise awareness in Africa that poaching is bad. I don't have the cultural knowledge to reach out. I'm from somewhere where my nationality would hinder the goal.

Same in China, or Burma. If China + Burma are currently the largest importer of illegal ivory, I'm still from the wrong place for raising awareness about how ivory has a much larger cost than just the monetary one.

I know I don't have the necessary specialised skill set.

I don't have anti-poacher skills. I'm not a politician. I'm not a strong public speaker. I don't know how to track elephants. If I did go down to Africa, or out to China or Asia or wherever I thought was best for fighting the good fight against ivory poaching, I'd be getting in the way. The people who do have the skills would end up baby sitting me, instead of doing what the should be, and using their very fancy PHD's and skills to do their job.

Here is what I do know.

I have the money.

I earn a pretty penny, and I know that every little bit helps! However, this is a two edged sword, because there's a certain amount of trust involved. I want to give it to a charity that is going to use it for more harm than good. I want my money to go further, for there to be a greater value for my cash. I want to have an impact.

While I was looking around at charities, turns out there's a lot that I didn't know. Here is what I learnt:

A donation can change someone's life.

Literally. For a few thousand pounds you can literally save someone's life in the developing world. This isn't a "marketing pitch" so much as understanding what the value of a donation made here, in the comfortable developed world is worth elsewhere. That's because...

A pound goes further overseas.

The impact a donation can have varies between causes. Education in the UK costs over £100,000 to educate a child with 12 years of schooling. With international aid, you can save a person's life for approximately £2,000, according to Give Well. Isn't that insane? Part of it is who you give it to, though.

A donation goes further if you donate to the right program.

Give Well's example of this is pretty apt: Let's say you've settled on the cause you care about, for example HIV/AIDS in Africa, and you're ready to choose a charity. Depending on the approach and charity you choose, the impact of your donation will vary widely, from (a) $150 to prevent a case of HIV/AIDS to (b) $1,500-$5,500 to treat (not cure) the disease for 10 years, or (c) no impact at all if you support programs that just don't work or charities that don't run their programs well.

Isn't that insane? I also found out that...

Specifying a particular program skews funding, so don't do it.

Loads of donations are earmarked for the 'fun' programs (save the lions rather than save the Vietnamese blue swimming crabs!) which means if a particular project is funded and the money is earmarked? It can't go anywhere else. Some aid agencies had to build mini-mansions because they had to spend all the money earmarked for housing. Awkward.

Also? Overheads are not a sign of how well a charity is doing.

Turns out the people who have better tools do a better job. Overhead means better tools, and more a efficient staff. Makes sense, right? Assuming that you've picked the right program, your money will go where it's needed, and sometimes that means helping the charity run better so it can do what it needs to more efficiently.

I know that there are people out there taking on the fight, who have the skills. Who have are from the right place. And don't have the money. I have money, though.

So I adopted an Elephant.

An Asian one, because African elephants aren't available through the WWF. But, because I'm not sure the money I'm donating goes specifically towards the elephants (which is okay - it's that earmarking thing), I'm okay with that.

WWF got good reviews, are held accountable, and do amazing global work. Their latest annual report (for 2012) was positive for helping both African and Asian elephants (and other species, too).

Buuut, it doesn't feel like contributing. It doesn't feel significant. But there's no list with things to do that feel like that, and right this moment I'd like to do more good than harm, so donations it is.

WWF got several good reviews which indicate that they're not wasting money, or doing any fraudulent type things. They're not doing more harm than good.

So yes. That's what my my research came to. I do wonder though, can I be doing more?

What do you guys think?