Charities tempt shoppers with unusual 'ethical' gifts

by Tim Large | @timothylarge | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 19 December 2007 11:33 GMT

Forget goats. If you want to help poor people in developing countries this Christmas, a fly-proof latrine or an elephant-repelling chilli hedge could be just the present to set your mind at rest.

From bicycles for midwives and clearing unexploded mines to beehives and donkey-drawn libraries, charities are offering an ever greater range of novel "ethical presents".

"The need to innovate is greater than ever, particularly when you're competing with big brands - and I'm talking about big charity brands as well as big consumer brands," said Carole Monoyios, head of marketing and communications at aid agency CARE International.

Four years ago, charities like Oxfam and Christian Aid re-energised festive fundraising by encouraging people to give goats and other livestock in friends' and loved ones' names.

These days, they're just as likely to sell buckets of worms for fertiliser, human rights advice for Colombian villagers or

" target="new">horse-drawn ambulance buggies in Ethiopia.

Last year, sales from Oxfam's Unwrapped gift catalogue came to 3.9 million pounds ($7.9 million), while Christian Aid's Present Aid accounted for 4 percent of its annual income.

Other charities have seen the potential.

For $100, you can help War Child reunite a child soldier in Congo with their family. The Mines Advisory Group will clear a patch of minefield for $30, while Africa Now will help farmers in Zambia ring-fence their crops with chilli peppers, a natural elephant repellent.

Mercy Corps even sells climate change kits to help poor people adapt to the ravages of global warming.

For more unusual festive fundraising ideas, see our list below.

"We're trying to compete a little bit more with traditional gifts - to give people a better reason to give up the coffee table book," said Caitlin Carlson, Mercy Corps' communications associate.

'WHOLE WORLD A FARM'

But not everyone thinks ethical stocking-fillers make appropriate gifts.

"They treat the whole of the developing world as a farm," said Ceri Dingle, head of education charity WORLDwrite, which has made two documentaries on the subject, Keeping Africa Small and I'm a subsistence farmer...get me out of here!

"Nobody's offering washing machines. I've travelled all over the developing world, and people not only know what we have, they want what we have. Helping to make that possible is what development is all about."

Cathy Ferrier, Oxfam's fundraising and marketing director, defended presents like goats and bags of dung aimed at helping people who are completely dependent on subsistence farming.

"To insist on offering washing machines and other white goods luxury items to communities that have neither a plug socket nor a water supply shows complete lack of understanding of the communities we work with," she said.

"Fifteen litres of water is required for one half-load of washing - the same basic amount that we are trying to achieve for one person per day to survive."

Ten innovative festive fundraising ideas for 2007

An online bookstore offering 2 million titles and free freight anywhere in the world, with 100 percent of profits going to Oxfam.

£50 ($100) lets Oxfam build a clean, hygienic toilet for schoolchildren or people in emergency situations.

An interactive take on the traditional Red Cross relief parcel. Add items of your own choice, whether mosquito nets, cash, malaria tests or purification tablets.

Pick a colour and tell the world about a problem facing Africa with AfricareÂ?s factoid-bearing t-shirts.

Afghanaid teams up with one of AfghanistanÂ?s only hiphop rappers, DJ Besho, for a night of music in London on Dec. 19.

"Tears for Darfur", an original piece of choral music commissioned by AmeriCares, raised $688,587 when it was performed at a benefit.

£5 ($10) lets War On Want train workers in the fresh-cut flower industry, where health and safety conditions are minimal at best.

$40 helps Mercy Corps provide a loan to a woman in a troubled region so she can start her own business and gain financial independence.

£24 ($48) buys male and female condoms with educational materials to help Oxfam tackle HIV/AIDS.

If goats and pigs seem boring, try giving woolless sheep or a herd of alpacas.

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