As our organization continues to expand our charity evaluation framework to account for the complexities of global development, we are delighted to announce a new partnership with IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative. Among other things, this new partnership will allow us to incorporate the intangible but indispensable concept of dignity into our charity evaluation framework among the other impact factors that help us determine whether or not to recommend donating to a specific charity.
In this blog post, we explain the importance of upholding the dignity of beneficiaries in global development and the objectives of our new partnership with IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative. We also offer a few guidelines for assessing whether charities uphold the dignity of their beneficiaries.
The importance, and challenge, of advancing dignity in global development
In his book The Life You Can Save, our founder Peter Singer observes that extreme poverty is not just a condition of unsatisfied material needs. It is often accompanied by a “degrading state of powerlessness.” 1
Research shows that respect for dignity is something international development beneficiaries deeply value but, unfortunately, are often denied. Even when people get the material aid they need, they frequently come away from interactions with international development service providers feeling bruised, mistreated, and ignored.
Indeed, organizations working in international development face a number of challenges when it comes to ensuring the dignity of their beneficiaries. Cultural barriers, power dynamics between donors and beneficiaries, and the pressure to show quick results might hinder the impact that someone’s donation may have. Moreover, the complexities of human development are hard to capture in a cost-effectiveness analysis — especially in low resource contexts. Without careful evaluation and consideration, there is a risk of causing unintended harm on the ground, even as organizations are trying to do good.
In order to build a more equitable and just social sector, we believe it is essential that any charity considered effective upholds the dignity of its beneficiaries. And we believe that philanthropy must lead the way in making the international development sector more just and respectful of people’s dignity.
Treating people with respect is not only good in itself. It also unlocks other kinds of impact and leads to numerous positive outcomes such as improved well-being and self-confidence, better health, better-functioning democratic systems, increased cooperation, and greater satisfaction with services received.
In this spirit, our research team at The Life You Can Save is working to adopt a holistic view of impact and expand our definition of effectiveness to incorporate the concept of dignity. And we have partnered with IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative to help ensure our approach to advancing dignity is both robust and evidence-based.
IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative: Ensuring Dignity through Data
Founded by researcher and consultant Tom Wein, IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative aims to promote human dignity in international development through impact evaluations, capacity building, and partnerships with organizations on the ground.
In recent years, IDinsight has studied cultures of dignity and trialed improvements together with many charities across East and West Africa and South Asia, including GiveDirectly (one of The Life You Can Save’s Best Charities), Shining Hope for Communities and Indus Action.
Based on its studies, IDinsight has identified three central concepts that must be considered when conceptualizing and operationalizing the concept of dignity:
- Equity: Does the organization treat beneficiaries as if they were equals and reduce power asymmetries?
- Agency: Does the organization give beneficiaries choices and meaningful chances to consent?
- Representation: Does the organization offer beneficiaries the chance to be and feel seen by the institution delivering aid?
These concepts are not only essential considerations for any organizational leadership that aims to develop a strong culture of dignity. They can also be used by charity evaluators and donors alike to assess how a charity is performing on these dimensions.
To learn more about IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative, and how they advise charities to approach building a culture of dignity, check out the links and tools available here.
Evaluating Whether a Charity Upholds Dignity
Through our partnership with IDinsight’s Dignity Initiative, our research team has now expanded our charity evaluation framework to incorporate the concept of dignity as one among many factors we use to evaluate effectiveness and impact.
We recommend our supporters use the following four criteria we have developed in partnership with IDinsight to assess whether a charity upholds and advances the dignity of its beneficiaries on the ground:
- Priority: When looking at a charity’s website, reports or listening to a presentation, evaluate whether the service they are providing is something people in the area value and are calling for. Most importantly, how does the charity know this is something people need and want? A respectful charity will make reference for participatory processes of preference elicitation, willingness to pay and will transparently discuss trade offs with other priorities.
- Interactions with beneficiaries: A respectful charity will reference concrete steps taken to ensure that beneficiaries are treated fairly and in the way they wish to be treated. Donors should look out for references to the three pathways in charity’s websites, social media, presentations and reports.
- Culture and People: Internal culture is key to developing respectful interactions both within and outside the organization. Donors should look for examples of concrete steps organizations take to ensure staff are treated with respect.
- Listening and Learning: A highly impactful and respectful organization needs tools and mechanisms to know that they are treating people with respect. A charity that respects people’s dignity will mention ongoing and proactive measurement of beneficiaries’ experiences, feedback mechanisms, and will show a track record of adapting their programs based on these mechanisms.
With these evaluative criteria, we hope to ensure the best possible recommendations for our supporters who want to ensure and advance the dignity of beneficiaries through their donations. We also aim to provide additional guidance and support for our recommended charities as they grapple with the difficult challenge of building and sustaining cultures of dignity.
1 Singer, P. (2019). The Life You Can Save, 8.