Friday, November 23, 2012

SCAMS: How To Avoid Being Taken In

Scams are always lurking after emergencies like 9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Then there are the con-artists who post pictures of hungry children far away or the semi-celebrities who set up their own "foundations" to battle cancer or other life-threatening diseases. The scams multiply at holiday times when well-intentioned people want to be especially charitable.

What can we do to avoid being taken in by scams (although some may slip through despite all our efforts)?

1) Direct your support to well-known, legitimate charities, or to organizations you know and related agencies they recommend.

2) Instead of just following your emotions, take some time to reflect about your priorities for your charitable efforts and to research several organizations in the area that interests you the most to find the one that has the greatest impact.

3) Since bogus charities often adapt names similar to bona fide ones, check out the exact name and leadership of the soliciting charities through the watchdog agencies, such as Charity Navigator (www,, GuideStar (www.guidestar,org), and Charting Impact (www, 

Consult  Giving Is Not Just For The Very Rich: A How-to Guide for Giving and Philanthropy  by Dr. Susan Aurelia Gitelson for further guidelines.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Giving is at its best when it encourages other people to give

I established the Gitelson Award for "Human Values in International Affairs" at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) a number of years ago. Originally it was interpreted by the SIPA awarders as a prize for human rights scholarship and action. Nonetheless, I maintained that the core concept went beyond just "human rights" and was applicable in all fields when people treated others from different backgrounds in a humane way. It was essential, moreover, to consider human values in economics, finance and other areas where the emphasis is usually more on profit and cost-benefit analyses than enhancing other peoples' lives.

As the award has evolved through the years, the winners have really come from a variety of disciplines. Lately, the prize has gone to collaborative groups in workshops often traveling to other countries on thoughtful missions. This year (2012) the award went to a workshop project on "Avoiding the Resource Curse in Uganda" under the supervision of Professor Jenik Radon. Eight students from Canada, India, Norway, the US and elsewhere worked in Uganda with Members of Parliament and others to emphasize that the revenues from newly discovered oil should not be concentrated among the elites, as happens in so many Middle Eastern, African and other countries, but rather should be distributed widely for the benefit of people throughout Uganda. They could find models, for example, in Canada and Norway.

When I met the awardees and their parents at the SIPA commencement in May, it was obvious that they had formed close bonds with each other and with the people they had met on their Uganda workshop. So much so that the eight recipients decided rather than keeping their prize money for themselves, together they would give all the funds to build wells in Ugandan villages so that the people would have easier access to essential water.

It is thrilling to know people who have taken what they have received and given it joyfylly to a project where it can make a difference. They demonstrated that they are likely to continue giving effectively to others in the future!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nigerian businessman/banker promotes local entrepreneurship

Tony Elumelu, a successful Nigerian businessman, has started a foundation and invested $5 million with colleagues in 1997 to buy a weak Nigerian bank and then merge it with another group to become the most significant bank in West Africa. His approach is to encourage African businesses to promote economic growth and thereby to alleviate poverty. He calls this promoting of entrepreneurship "Africacapitalism". The effort combines supporting entrepreneurship, advocating government policies friendly to new enterprises, and providing capital to business with social purposes. (see "The Giveaway," by Caroline Preston,, May 30, 2012)

This African-led approach is spreading throughout the continent through the Tony Elumelu Foundation, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (originating in the Sudan, but headquartered in London), and other African-led efforts. For more on African self-reliance approaches, see

Empowering local people is central for international aid

American foreign aid under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and USAID has moved from just feeding the hungry to "providing tools to spur long-term economic growth," according to Dan Glickman (NY Times, letter to the Editor, July 23, 2012). The writer, who was agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration and is now chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, reports that the current emphasis in the Obama administration is agriculture development, just as global health was the priority in the George W. Bush administration.

I have always advocated international aid that empowers local people rather than keeping them dependent on foreign experts or on handouts ever since I spent a year doing research on UNDP assistance to Uganda and Tanzania in the 1960s and published the results in Multilateral Aid for National Development and Self-Reliance.

The results can be significant. Glickman reports many African economies are growing 5 to 7 percent a year, which benefits Africans. It also strengthens potential markets and allies for the US.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Children in foster care or gifted students?

Do you ever wonder about whom you should support:  the neediest children or the brightest? On the one hand, it is obvious that children lacking parents or coming from disadvantaged homes need assistance to go to school and possibly to have enough to eat. On the other hand, it is not fair to neglect very bright children who are bored when teachers aim for the lowest possible level and don't provide intellectual stimulation.

This set of choices came to mind through the contrasts in two Wall Street Journal "Donor of the Day" columns on succeeding days: "Guiding Gifted Students" by Melanie Grayce West was about Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber's contributions to founding a school for gifted children on Manhattan's Upper West Side and then using it as a model for the Speyer Institute to spread its ideas nationally (June 12, 2012). The next day Alexander Heffner wrote about Dr. Samantha Miller who is aiding children in foster care by supporting an "Afternoon Academy" with an academic support program combining rigorous academic stimulation with emotional counseling (June 13, 2012).

Both approaches are worthwhile and needed. Since we can't help everybody, however, we have to prioritize our causes. In this situation, which of these causes would you support and why? Or would you approach K-12 education from an entirely different angle?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The book is waiting to be published!

After a year spent researching and writing my book, "Giving Is Not Just For The Very Rich," I am awaiting its birth through's affiliate CreateSpace. Keep watching and the baby will be born soon!