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December 21, 2011

Think Kit: Giving

December 21, 2011

This year for Christmas I’m getting the gift that keeps on giving: money.

Furthermore, it is also uncomfortable for me to receive Christmas gifts at the normal level of profusion with which I receive them.  It is uncomfortable precisely because I feel psychologically incapable of appropriate and balanced reciprocity. Also I tend to receive an abundance of sweaters, which are sent to me from all corners of the globe.  But sadly, as people who know me well can confirm, I usually just wear my black hoodie.  For years, the sweaters I received sat in my closet.  Hanging tenantless in the darkness, they must have asked the heavens: "Why was I created?"  My attitudes have changed somewhat and my girlfriend’s family actually did manage to find clothes for me last year which I wore on a regular basis this year.  However, their united will in purchasing me oodles of clothing came with a rather awkward, unspoken subtext: they thought that I needed a wardrobe upgrade.

For all of these reasons,  I fell in love with the 20 Liters gift scheme this year.  It is literally perfect for me.  The concept is that I asked all the people in my life to donate to this Water Project that builds clean water infrastructure in Africa instead of buying me clothes or gift certificates to Barnes & Nobles.  Then some of them asked me to give to the fund, too.  They’ve got this whole neat system for giving.

People are actually starting to do this more and more.  And for good reason!

It turns out, for example, that Americans spend about 46 times as much on Christmas as it would take to provide the entire world with clean water. Now is that really necessary?  At first I didn’t believe this figure, but I checked it out and it's basically correct.  The World Bank's low-end estimate of the additional funding that it would take to get the world clean water for drinking and sanitation is about $9B(see page 24, or 'page 8' of the Human Development Report, which is a function of the U.N.'s Millenium Development Goals).  Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation's projections for the amount that consumers are going to spend on Christmas this year?  $465B.  Read it and weep.

So it turns out that billions of people are without clean water, it's more deadly than all forms of violence including war,  a child dies every 8 minutes yada, yada, yada.  Furthermore it costs the global economy about ten times  more (roughly $90B) every year NOT to implement clean water infrastructure than it would cost to implement it($9B). Go figure.

So anyway that’s why I decided to tell people to give to my 20 Liters campaign instead of buying me Christmas gifts this year. Whether the goal is achieving clean water access in Rwanda or creating the necessary funds to provide wheelchair accessible vans for people in your community, ‘receiving donations’ instead of Christmas gifts is something that we can all consider doing, especially those of us that find Christmas stressful. 

There is something seriously liberating about doing this, like the way you feel after finally cleaning out your garage or your attic and it looks beautiful. [Cue holiday music] In fact, in a way, redirecting the capital flow that generally gets invested into your Christmas gifts into a campaign that’s helping people on the other side of the world can be looked at as a sort of pre-emptive garage or attic cleaning!    And…um…that’s something we can all enjoy! Together! Or something!

[Insert moral of the story here]

Thomas Doane is a prolific blogger and a frequent contributor to gospel(s)

This post is part of Think Kit 2011.

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