Giving Tuesday: How Philanthropy and Policy go Hand in Hand
Lisa Schechtman is the head of policy and advocacy at WaterAid in America, the U.S. member of WaterAid International, the world’s largest NGO focused on providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education (WASH) services for poor communities in 27 countries around the world. Prior to joining WaterAid, Lisa served as policy director at the Global AIDS Alliance, and was a member of the Developed Country NGO Delegation to the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Lisa has a Masters of Arts in International Human Rights and Global Health Affairs from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in English Literature and French Language from Northwestern University. She is based in Washington, DC.
A budget is a moral document. It reflects priorities, whether household choices or government. A budget is also a policy document, because those line items aren’t an abstract concept. They are guidance for what we do.
History and evidence shows that, more than almost any other population on the planet, Americans—individuals and government—prioritize investments that help people. This is something of which we should be very proud.
In my work to contribute to a world where no one dies from preventable water-related causes or defecates in the open, I know that we make a massive difference with very few dollars. In fact, only 1% of the entire United States Federal Budget goes to the international affairs budget, which supports USAID and the Department of State to help many millions of people be better educated, healthier, and safer.
The specific programs this money supports are a reflection of the priorities of American citizens, Congress, and beneficiary governments combined. When polled, Americans consistently choose safe drinking water as a top priority for how that money should be spent. It’s an efficient choice: With that very small proportion of US taxpayer dollars, we helped more than three million people gain access to safe drinking water last year alone.
Yet, the US government cannot, and does not, do it alone.
According to Giving USA Foundation in Chicago, even in tight financial times Americans continue to donate. This is not just an expression of generosity and solidarity, though these characteristics are both admirable and important. Charitable giving is critical to the operations of many organizations and to the success of the US Government in implementing its own policies.
This is because USAID, like many other government agencies, does not work in isolation. Instead, it works through and with organizations in beneficiary countries to leverage and maximize existing human and financial resources and multiply the impact that could be had with taxpayer resources alone. These local partnerships ensure that the right relationships and expertise are captured, which, in turn, ensures we make fewer missteps; respond better to local needs and context; and build local capacity, expertise, and investments that will ultimately make international assistance obsolete. These are things that simply cannot be accomplished by USAID alone. Non-governmental organizations with local staff and local programs are a key element of success—including for those three million people who now have safe water to drink, thanks in part to you.
US Government resources and NGO resources are part and parcel. When you give to organizations of your choice, it enables and leverages US Government partnerships and priorities to make us smarter, more effective, and more efficient.
That’s where #GivingTuesday comes in.
Last year, a large group of NGOs came together to celebrate the American notion of philanthropy, a complement to the good work our government undertakes every day. Together, these organizations are focused on basic services and improved well-being in every corner of the United States and every country in the world. Our message is simple: in addition to buying gifts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, let’s join together in a culture of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Whether it’s your time or your money, the philosophy is that when we give back, we change the conversation around priorities, we influence budgets, and we make lives better.
It’s a simple way to play a part in deciding where strength will lie, in ensuring that the 1% of the US budget that goes to fighting global poverty can go even farther, in taking a stand for the change you wish to see in the world.
A long-time supporter of WaterAid has already taken that stand, by offering to match every penny raised by WaterAid on Giving Tuesday, this December 3. It’s a great reason for us to be thankful. Whether with WaterAid or another organization you support, play your part in deciding global priorities by adding giving to your holiday season.