Fighting Poverty with Passion
A lot has happened in regards to my organization and VISTA experiences since my last blog. Our apprentice program began on September 24th, and last Saturday we had our fifth weekend build day. Seeing the program in action and doing interviews with apprentices has really helped me in my role with the organization and understanding the impact the experience can have for apprentices. I can also feel how having the opportunity to work in such a small organization will help me in any future career engagements. I am becoming much better at outward communication, managing multiple complex responsibilities at once, and understanding the reality of what non-profit management is like.
On a totally unrelated note, I had an upsetting realization last week. In the past I have had discussions with friends about the double-edged sword that is non-profits. On the one hand, they have the ability to provide services that are otherwise inaccessible, but in the process of providing those services potentially harm society as a whole. A society that relies on non-profits to advocate for its underserved is a fragile one. Non-profits are notoriously transient, especially when being a “social entrepreneur” and “failing fast” are idolized traits, and the creation of non-profits becomes a sort of game. I remember when I was studying in university, professors of social entrepreneurship actively encouraged 19 year olds to start their own non-profits in New Orleans, a city that is already bloated with well-meaning organizations, many of whom compete against each other to serve the same mission. Through my work, I’m now coming to understand many of the realities of non-profit management, and know with certainty that no college student will do justice to communities they suppose to serve, and will likely cause more harm by “trying it out” and failing than if they didn’t in the first place.
What got me thinking about this again was a discussion about tax breaks through donation to non-profits and some of my current work which is basically trying to convince employees of a huge corporation to donate to my organization instead of putting that money into the government in the form of taxes. I am well aware of the existing contentious relationship many Americans have with our government, but the government will never be able to better serve Americans without the funding to do so, and a well-designed government program should, hypothetically, be able to improve the quality of life for the country’s underserved much more effectively and finally than any non-profit could. So while I would love for people to donate to unCommon Construction so the high school students that work with us can have a better experience, I would prefer that the people trusted in the government enough to pay taxes so policies could be designed that will eventually eliminate the need for programs like unCommon Construction.
This is also a frustration I have with AmeriCorps on the whole, in that no number of Volunteers In Service To America will ever eliminate poverty in this country. AmeriCorps measures their “impact” by the number of volunteers that have served (1 million members in the last 50 years!) but that calculation is meaningless if the organizations they serve at are ineffective in their mission to eliminate poverty.
It just seems to me that if 50 years of AmeriCorps hasn’t eliminated poverty, perhaps it isn’t the most effective approach to solving this problem.