Okay, so 2016 was rough, and a lot of people are pessimistic about 2017's prospects. But even if this is a dark year ahead of us, there's still a lot of room for you to do good as a global citizen. We've got some quick, concrete tips to help you make the world a better place in 2017.
Volunteer local, give global.
The election of Donald Trump has led to a spike in charitable contributions to domestic non-profits. People are throwing their weight behind groups like the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in anticipation of a hostile President.
But this has unfortunately led to a drop in donations towards some really excellent globally-oriented charities. I talked to Charlie Bresler about the problem a few weeks ago. Bresler is the Executive Director of the Life You Can Save, a non-profit that supports the world's most effective charities, like Oxfam, the Against Malaria Foundation, Innovations for Poverty Action, and Population Services International. They're saving lives on a daily basis in the developing world, but people have turned inward in the face of Trump.
Bresler suggests something simple: just give more. "If one feels the understandable urge to give to political movements or organizations fighting the Trump agenda," he wrote to me in an email, "then please consider giving more money over the next four years so that you don't diminish your gifts to fight global poverty. We certainly can afford to give more generously if we all consume less, which has the added benefit of being good for the environment."
The truth is this -- you can do a lot of good at home by getting actively involved. You can go to protests, you can go to local government meetings, you can call your representatives. You can't be as effective globally, except in regards to money. You get a lot more bang for your buck when you donate abroad. So do the most good possible. Get involved at home, and give abroad.
Learn how to help before you start to help.
A lot of us (myself included) have gone on very well-meaning trips to help people in developing countries. The problem was that we were not remotely qualified to help. We were bussed into a village we knew nothing about, we built a house despite having zero construction experience, we met a few "locals," and then we were bussed out.
Voluntourism is tricky. It comes from a very kind, generous place, but it doesn't do the good we may want it to do, and in the worst cases, it may be exploited by horribly cynical people: over the last few years, there have been stories of "fake orphanages" in Cambodia that target rich tourists.
The problem is a simple one to solve, though: you should only help when you know how to help. Are you a doctor? Great! Go volunteer somewhere -- anywhere! Your skills translate anywhere there are humans. Are you a specialist in earthquake resistant construction? Oh my god, that's awesome -- we could use you in a ton of places. If you don't have skills like these, that's fine, you can still help. But you may be helping most by simply giving money wherever you can. We mentioned The Life You Can Save above -- check out GiveWell, too.
You can do a lot of good -- you just gotta know how to do it first.
Travel as green as possible.
Travel is great -- it helps you see and understand the world better, which in turn makes you a better global citizen. But travel can be super harmful to the planet. Fortunately, the Union of Concerned Scientists made a graphic that helps you figure out what the greenest way for you to travel is. Check it out:
Download a few simple apps.
Technology can be used in some really great ways to help save lives and make the world a better place. Here are some simple ones you should download now:
TraffickCam. This app is simple -- it helps fight human trafficking by simply asking you to take a photo of every hotel room you stay at, and then uploading that photo into the app. This helps authorities identify rooms where sex slaves are being held (which they can see through photos or webcams). It's super easy, and it's for an incredible cause. Similarly, Free2Work helps you keep track of companies that have used forced or child labor.
Buycott. Buycott is another simple app -- it helps you to stop supporting causes to which you're opposed by buying goods from businesses that support those causes. It's simple -- you select causes you want to follow. You scan the barcode of a food item, and Buycott tells you if the business that sells that item is, for example, using slave labor, or is discriminatory towards LGBTQ people, or has donated to particular candidates. Talk with your money!
Green Globe. This is another great one for the environmentally conscious. It's simple: they'll help you identify which nearby businesses or hotels are green certified.