There are very good ideas that start with the utmost willingness to do good, but when you look into it a bit further, that idea has been “adapted to the real world” and therefore having side effects that one would not necessarily be aware of.
Take for example the website Freerice.com. This website is based on the ingeneous idea of combining the eagerness of people to gain more knowledge (ie.. wanting to gratify their own sense of fulfillment, see this previous post about the selfishness of people) with trying to reduce the hunger in the world..
It works like this as per the instructions on their website:
- Click on the right answer in the middle of this page.
- If you get it right, you get a harder question. If you get it wrong, you get an easier question.
- For each answer you get right, we donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.
Wow.. that’s absolutely amazing.. What a great idea! So for each question I answer someone gets 10 grains of rice in their hand and they can prepare and eat them.. Great! It doesn’t cost me anything, I get smart and I feed a hungry person somewhere!
Well.. It is indeed a wonderful idea for sure.. But then that idea needed to be translated into something that would actually work in the real world. The website side of things is reasonably easy to do. Nothing terribly fancy and the cost for it was carried by the founder of the site. But where to get the rice from to give to the hungry people? Well, the solution that has been applied in the case of Freerice.com is that sponsors can have their details shown on the site whenever a person gets a question right. For that privilege they pay a certain amount of money per question that they donate to Freerice.com.
All good so far, right? So we’ve got the money sorted for the rice that we want to give to all those hungry people. But how to sort out the last hurdle of actually purchasing the rice and distributing it to the people who need it? Well.. luckily there is something called the United Nations World Food Program or WFP. This is where things get a bit hairy I believe..
A quote from Freerice.com FAQ:
All money (100%) raised by the site goes to the UN World Food Programme to help feed the hungry. Sponsors make all payments to the WFP directly.
So we can assume that indeed for every question that we answer corretly the WFP gets some money directly from the Sponsors. I am happy wih that. But what about making sure that the money actually generates the promised 10 grains a question? Here another quote:
The cost of rice per metric ton has more than doubled since the website’s inception. Given that Freerice players raise grains of rice, not dollars, this increase does not change the overall number of people fed.
However, Freerice donates the cash equivalent of the grains raised through sponsorships and donations, so rising rice prices means that Freerice has to raise significantly more money to pay for the grains generated by every correct click.
Ok.. so from this I can assume that Freerice periodically calculates how much money is needed to get the 10 grains per question correctly answered to someone who needs it. That is really good. I can safely assume that for every question I answer correctly 10 grains indeed get distributed. Perfect. Just what I want.
But lets look at what happens when the money gets handed to the WFP.. Couple of quotes from the WFP site:
WFP employs roughly 10,200 staff, of whom 90 percent worked in the field delivering food and monitoring its use.
WFP relies entirely on voluntary contributions to run its humanitarian and development projects. Contributions are made either as cash, food or the basic items necessary to grow, store and cook food. None of the people who ate WFP food last year could have done so without the generosity of our donors.
WFP is governed by the WFP Executive Board, which consists of 36 Member States.
So we can assume that the WFP is a very large organisation with a fairly top heavy structure. They get their money from donations exactly like the ones through Freerice. (Freerice.com by the way has been donated by the founder to WFP so is in direct control by them). All those people that work at WFP will have to be paid. All administrcation costs, accomodation costs etc etc will also have to be paid. This in essence is all fine. Someone has to do it. They might as well get paid for it?
Though a quick Google search finds articles like these: foxnews article. Is the WFP taking a too big a slice from the cake for the work they do?
So to summarise.. indeed your correct question answered on Freerice.com does get someone 10 grains of rice, somewhere. But in the same breath are you also paying for other people that are just clipping the ticket along the way for doing nothing?
Would it actually more cost effective to buy a 20kg bag in my supermarket, get on a plane and deliver the rice myself? Additionally I would myself also get a sense of the situation over there.
Anyway.. no way that I’ll be doing that of course.. I’m selfish like anyone of us..I’d rather purchase a new tv.. So perhaps I should just answer a couple of Freerice questions and stop over thinking it too much.. Perhaps Freerice.com does make sense after all..