We have failed… or have we?

13 Apr

There was a very uplifting programme on BBC2 on Tuesday evening. It was called Beating Cancer and followed three people who were treated for differing cancers with differing treatments but all of who responded extremely well with much improved long-term outlooks.

A medical chap said that over the past 20-30 years little had improved within cancer treatments but now progress was again being made using improved technologies to produce ways of beating cancer. That’s the sort of news we like. It’s positive; it may impact positively on our own health or the health of our loved ones.  It’s also heart-warming to see technology being used, technology which has been developed by humans for the benefit of the human race.

Over the past few years it’s felt like the human race has been stagnating. Whilst improvements have been made in some areas, the main areas of concern just haven’t been improving. That being the case is it not time that we took a step back and evaluated all the charitable work which is carried out either within the UK or within the operations of UK charities worldwide?

When did you last hear that a charity had closed its doors because the problem it was founded to address has been? I’d guess it would be none? Yes? So why is that?

The UK is the six richest economy in the world, which in monetary terms works out at a GDP figure of £1.6 Trillion per year or £1,600 Billion or £1,600,000 million. That’s a lot of money by anyone’s standards

It immediately begs the question – why are people still living in poverty, poor housing conditions, fuel poverty, poor education, a lack of meaningful and reasonably paid jobs, too much crime, and a drugs culture. If the UK is so rich then surely all of these problems could have been addressed long before now?

Obviously they haven’t and as a consequence/response charities have been formed to try to address at least some of the issues. This currently, goes under the name of the “Big Society” as so called by our great and venerable leader who is neither great not venerable “Call me Dave”. The setting up of charities and “good works” of course predates “Call me Dave” although “Call me Dave” might not be too happy to hear this. It goes back a long way, to times which were many times more harsh than now.

That being the case there must have been successes along the way and indeed this has occurred. We no longer have poor houses, street urchins, death from pestilence and plague (much to the disappointment of the World Health Organisation or WHO, a UN organisation). So although we have made progress there is still a long ways to go here in the very rich UK.

Africa has improved in small part although it has a very long way to go in providing people with the same basic standard of living as we seek for ourselves. All the people on this planet should have running water, enough food to avoid going to bed hungry, education, justice, health care. And of course a meaningful job with reasonable pay which provides an acceptable lifestyle.

So how many charities have shut their doors having achieved their initial aim? Let’s be generous and consider that maybe there’s been scope creep? They start off with a noble aim and then find out there’s more work that needs to be done than they first thought. So they up their donations target and add more admin and delivery capability and off they go again. That’s not unreasonable. Neither is choosing a huge issue which will take years. But how many years would be acceptable? Until the issue is resolved? Will it ever be resolved?

A pretty basic part of any project that you take on is to decide on what it is that you want to do, how much it will cost and how long will it take. If you send time on identifying these basics you have a reasonable chance of meeting your original plan. If you don’t then the chances are you’ll not have defined what you want to do properly or and you’ll start adding other things to it. This has an impact on the time it will take and how much it will cost. Not exactly rocket science and well within the ken of most managers.

So. Have we failed? The answer has to be yes. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what a charity is, how they are funded and how they scope there activities to ensure they complete the task as originally planned.


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