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Just before Christmas, Margaret Wente put together an interesting list for the Globe and Mail that described the charities she recommended as worthy recipients for the donations of generous Canadians. Just after that, I was asked if a similar list exists with the names of organizations working internationally to promote global health. I don’t recall seeing such a list. (Although at the end of Stephanie Nolen’s “28 stories of AIDS in Africa”, there is a good list of agencies working in the area of HIV.) Since there are just a few days left for Canadians to make charitable donations in the 2012 tax year, this is a good time to suggest some commendable recipients. If you know of other similar lists, let me know! 

The list below is far from comprehensive. The two key criteria are organizations that: (a) work internationally and (b) I have worked with enough to vouch for them with some personal level of confidence. I will mention agencies in four categories.

 1.      Emergency relief

In the field of humanitarian relief work the bar has been set by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and it would be tough to surpass their record. I worked with MSF in 2005 in Niger. Many friends have worked with MSF. The organizational instincts for justice and impartiality are highly laudable. Their respect for donors is legendary. Their ability to respond quickly to medical emergencies around the world is a sight to behold. If you want to support relief work, your donor dollars are well spent with MSF.

 2.      HIV/AIDS

In this category it’s easy for me to make strong suggestions. In my work with Give a Day to World AIDS, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on where Canadians should contribute. For the international scene, two organizations stand out. The Stephen Lewis Foundation supports over 300 projects in 15 countries. The diverse array of grassroots projects are initiated and managed by people in the communities most affected by HIV. Dignitas International supports a model of community-based care that sets the benchmark for holistic health care for people affected by HIV. I have supported both of these organizations since they began and I can guarantee that a donation to either or both is money well spent. (Please remember that this list is intentionally focused on agencies that work internationally. Otherwise I would have given details on some of great local AIDS service organizations such as the AIDS Committee of Toronto, the AIDS Committee of York Region and the incomparable Casey House.)

 3.      Education

I have clearly stated in the past my personal bias that one of the best ways to improve health and well-being is to invest in education. To be more specific, I propose that investment in higher education for the least-resourced settings in the world may be the most potent antidote to poverty, violence and ill health. This is one area where I wish Canadian Official Development Assistance would step in with strong leadership. In the meantime, I can only mention a few small organizations that have recognized this powerful means to impact world health and development. The first agency I recommend is the little-known Academics without Borders which promotes development by improving and  expanding higher education.

Secondly I must give a shout-out to an organization with which I am very well acquainted – the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration (TAAAC). This is an innovative partnership between the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia to support post-graduate training in medicine and other fields. The critical shortage of highly trained human resources in the health sector threatens overall economic and social development in many countries. The TAAAC program works to increase the output of health workers and other skilled professionals. I have been working with this initiative for almost five years now and I can safely say that it one of the most valuable projects in which Canadians could invest.

I want to note one other very new education-focused organization that is worth serious consideration for potential donors. Daughters for Life was founded by the astonishing Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish for the purpose of advancing the education and health of girls and women in the Middle East.

 4.      Faith-based

Finally, I know that some people prefer to donate to a faith-based organization. Most of the agencies listed here under this category are Christian – since that is my faith experience. In this category, one organization that can be seriously considered by all Canadian donors is the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). I can imagine few agencies with whom I could better entrust my donation than the Mennonites! The work of the MCC is focused on peace, justice and a pragmatic response to the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. Their track record for integrity, efficiency and effectiveness is exemplary. Many of our closest friends have worked with the MCC and their families have been involved for generations. I cannot recommend the organization highly enough.

You may also want to consider the excellent work of SIM Canada – an organization with whom we worked in Niger, West Africa for more than a decade. Another terrific Christian organization that should be recommended is Save the Mothers – known for their innovative program in East Africa focused on prevention of maternal mortality.

In this category, I would also like to mention Ve-ahavta which is a relief and development organization founded on the Jewish value of Tzedakah (Justice). I have been impressed with their work at the Howard Hospital in Zimbabwe.

Bottom line

This is far from an exhaustive list of great organizations working for global health. But they are some of the agencies that I have supported or worked with over the years. Please add to my list with your own recommendations by commenting below. I agree with Margaret Wente that Canadians are generous. But I would add that many Canadians want to look beyond their own borders to respond to needs in places far from home. And my final reminder for this post is one of my favourite Hausa proverbs which says “Dukiya ba ta sa kyauta, sai zuciya” meaning…

“Wealth does not cause generosity, only the heart does!”


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