Food for Thought

June 5, 2012

As Justin mentioned in a recent post, we are currently starting an exciting partnership with an organization called Feeding Children Everywhere.  FCE has an amazing process by which they mobilize volunteers and donors to package nutritious, dehydrated meals to send all over the developing world.  The meals can then be cooked with boiling water and provide an extraordinary amount of sustenance for their weight.

When I first heard that Justin was discussing using FCE’s meals to give to our clients, I was concerned about the repercussions for our “good development” approach.  As you’ve probably seen in other posts, I always try to encourage our team and other non-profits I’m around to make decisions based on what is best for the overall economic growth and healthy future of the community.  At first glance, I felt that if we gave away meals that were donated by Americans and shipped half-way around the world, we were depriving the local economy of the investment that our centers currently make by purchasing corn, beans, and rice in bulk from local suppliers.  I was NOT a fan.

After spending more time pondering the opportunity, though, I’ve taken a different perspective.  Another thing I talk about a lot is examining the “big picture,” and that’s exactly what I was failing to do!  If CFA can take the amount we are spending on purchasing food out of our center budgets, we could essentially operate twice as many centers for the same resources.  That means each year we would be graduating twice as many people from our program – people with stable health and growing incomes.

How does that affect the local economy?  Well, in our current model, we directly purchase food for each client from a local vendor for a period of nine months.  If we switch to using food coming from the States, we will remove that nine-month per client investment in the local economy.  BUT, the goal in working with each of these clients is that they will be providing for themselves by purchasing their own food for another 20 years!  So the money CARE for AIDS is investing in food for one client is less than 5% of the total investment that that client will invest on her own over the rest of her life.

That leaves us with a choice.  Choice #1: the money we have budgeted for food is used to purchase nine months of food from a local vendor for each client.  Choice #2: the same money is used to increase the number of clients we are graduating each year by close to a factor of 2, and CFA doesn’t invest any money directly into the local economy through food purchases.  While choice #1 provides more of a short-term benefit for the local economy, choice #2 will quickly produce GREATER overall gains as time goes on.  Even though we don’t buy food from a vendor for nine months, the clients we help will buy food from his shop for the next 20 years.

So that’s why we are pursuing this kind of partnership – does it make sense?  This is a good example of the trade-offs that take place all the time in the development world.  It’s often tricky, but I think that we can achieve quality results by keeping in mind those two questions: what is good for the local economy, and what is the long-term, large-scope result?

What do you think?  Am I missing something, or is there a better option?  What would you do in this situation?  It IS a question we have wrestled with, so we would love to know your opinion!

More about FCE at http://www.feedingchildreneverywhere.com/