Health Poverty Action – a cause to get excited about

While I am increasingly positive about the UK Parliament, which is undergoing a Dr Who-like regeneration, I find myself feeling more and more critical of international aid. UK INGOs have become a bureaucratic industry sending out dishonest and disparaging marketing messages about resource-poor countries and the people within them. Hiding behind apparent moral virtuousness, NGOs can duck accountability in a way that politicians seldom can.

After years of depressing encounters with arrogant aid workers who refuse to take accountability seriously, I’ve been plunged into the middle of an organisation that bucks all these trends. A few days ago I had my first Board meeting as a Trustee of Health Poverty Action and had three surprises. The staff made it clear that they refuse to portray people in the Global South as pathetic, saved only by the kindness of Europeans. They resist unnecessary bureaucracy, spending tiny amounts on both fundraising and their UK office. This means that for every £1 (untied to any project) someone donates to them, they can go and raise £20 for projects from governments and grant-makers. That is a fantastic investment. And they have chosen as their key theme for policy reflection this year: accountability!

This is a charity I can get excited about. So much so that I have rashly agree to live on £1 a day for 5 days. I have had some doubts about this in the past. There is something inadequate about this 5 day experience is a way of trying to imagine what it is like being poor. But it isn’t about that, I now realise. For me, it is more of a symbolic reminder to those who may want to support good causes that this is what some people live on. I have hesitated to give money or time to nearly all international NGOs in the recent past, so the relief of finding one that I feel certain about after years of searching is delicious.

If you feel like sponsoring me, you will make me even happier.