Serina enjoying a cup of chai latte at The RUC

Days 52 to 55 – #joyfulgiving366 –

Chatting with a friend about writing, and learning about demand-driven versus supply-driven aid.

Finally, I struck gold in finding a way to give away things. A lot of thing, in fact.

Busy times in my small business world

When I left work last year (last day was Halloween!), I thought that from now on my life would be stress-free. I could sleep in, take my kids to school late, and I’d have endless time for writing flowing novels while signing up for lots of community things, podcasting, taking forward innovative business ideas, while doing extra loads of washing and housework. My home would be immaculately clean (I would be able to declutter and spring clean everything), I’d always have the kid’s school notes signed and lunchboxes done, and I’d be earning a fortune through my business activities. In fact, I’d be famous and successful and everything would just flow.

It has been a positive move for me and I love the fact that I am now aligned with purpose. But somehow, the kid’s lunchboxes don’t get done any quicker just because I’m doing home-based work. And most days, I feel like it is busier than when I was working full-time – just I’m not being paid for it.

And then some days I wonder if there’s any structure to all these grand ideas in my head – the clutter in my mind. So to declutter, I did a short course run by the Canberra Business Chamber and the Business Enterprise Centre Southern Region. And it was good. Really, really good.

I’d taken along a book thinking I might gift it to someone, but it wasn’t really right – at least, not yet. I’m realising more and more that you have to know someone, or understand their passions before you can give to them.

And I continue to make friends in the Canberra business community. I got up early again on Thursday and arrived by 6.45am at a Business at Breakfast meeting. There were 42 of us on Thursday morning, and it was fascinating to hear about what everyone was doing. There are so many interesting connections to make, and many people are super generous with their knowledge. Yet it’s a balance: networking is so important, but if I’m always networking, I’m never actually writing or progressing my ideas. But if I stay at home and write, I never get out and can become stuck in my thinking. Ahhh! At the moment, I’m more happy being out and about and I’m learning so much. It’s a blessing to meet the right people at the right time.

Demand-driven versus supply-driven aid

After the Business at Breakfast meeting, I caught up with a former colleague to talk about writing. The writing community is often just as generous as the business community, or at least it is in Canberra. So, of course, I was happy to share some insights. Because I’ve got it all figured out – right? Well, not really but I’m still happy to chat.

She was super nice and let me rant on a bit about #joyfulgiving366 and my the reasons why I didn’t rush out and donate all my old clothes to bushfire survivors. “I don’t know if anyone in distress at losing their home would want my old boob tube dress,” I said. Now, to be clear, I don’t actually own any boob tubes but the point is that unless I am connected to the community and understand their needs and wants, I felt it wasn’t right for me to foist what I wanted to give onto them. [This is not an excuse to avoid giving – yes I did give, but through recognised charities and individuals and organisations I personally know.]

“There’s a term for that, actually,” she said. “It’s called supply-driven aid.”

It turns out that there is a realm of scholarly discourse about the problems of supply-driven aid. Supply-driven aid is the traditional model of giving aid. We see on the news that there is a crisis in country X. “Oh, they must really need things – let’s collect old clothes (or whatever) and send it to them,” we think, feeling good about ourselves. “They’ve lost everything so they will really need these clothes – and they’ll feel sooooo grateful. We are so kind and generous.”

This is done with the best of intentions and goodwill. The problem with this supply-driven aid model is that often the local community hasn’t been consulted. Maybe they want clothes, or maybe they don’t. Maybe the boob tubes (or whatever) won’t fit, or maybe it wouldn’t be culturally appropriate (I wouldn’t want to wear that style of clothing in an office myself let alone in a conservative society). Meanwhile, where are the clothes going to be stored? And how does that impact local clothing businesses who are probably struggling already?

“I’ve been telling anyone and everyone who will listen to me to be mindful about how to respond to the bushfire crisis,” said my friend. “As someone with a background in aid, I know the risks of supply-driven aid.”

The discourse now in aid academia is about encouraging demand-driven aid. This means that instead of aid being top-down (e.g. clothing being foisted on a community), instead it is driven by a donor’s development priorities. In other words, a community will identify that there is a lack of, say, school uniforms for girls and they will then work with donors who will provide that. Options for local sourcing could also be considered. Sounds pretty simple, but how much demand-driven aid have we seen in recent crises in Australia? How often do we ask people “what do you need?”, “how can I help?” or consider how trucking in (well meaning and needed) supplies could impact on local supermarkets and stores?

I didn’t end up giving away anything to my (new) friend. I wasn’t yet sure what her interests were. “You’re giving your time and advice,” she said. I guess. Maybe. But really, often listening is more important than stuff, so I’ll take that as a compliment.

My friend Meg

On Friday, my friend Meg came around.

Meg and I used to catch up regularly. I met her at the playground at the local shops, and it turns out that she is from Taiwan. We have friends in common in the Taiwanese community. Her daughter is one month older than my younger son. We used to live closeby and on weekends we would have playdates and chat in Mandarin while the kids played. She is an amazing cook.

Then I moved, met Neil and life got busy. I’ve only seen her twice in the last 18 months. I had seen on Facebook that she had gone back to Taiwan for a bit to help care for her parents. Then I saw she was back. So I invited her over with a motive – I had things to give.

My youngest son, now in grade 2, is discovering he’s grown over the school holidays and several of his school uniform shorts are too small. I’ve tried to give away these four pairs of black shorts on my local Buy Nothing group, and through the school Facebook group – no takers. I could donate to the school’s second-hand clothing – but I know it is full. I could donate to an op shop – but it is a low-value product for them to sell (basically they would struggle to sell it cheaper than retail price).

And this really annoyed me. Many of my boys’ clothes are second hand. The only things I really need to go into a retail store to buy them new are their black pants and black shorts. And I couldn’t give them away.

Meg’s youngest son has just started preschool and she gladly took the four shorts, plus some underwear, kids books, Chinese language books and a few other items that she will donate to her kids’ school fete. (The school fete for my kids isn’t until the end of the year, and last year they didn’t have a white elephant stall.)

Some clothes and books that I gave to Meg.
Meg took these for a primary school white elephant stall.

Meg was super happy to have these things. That said, she did say no to several other things including clothing and cookbooks.

Using second-hand items isn’t really big in Chinese – and Taiwanese – cultures. Taiwan has a budding sustainability movement, but even so, there is still a stigma against second-hand items. But Meg is different. I told her about the Buy Nothing project not long after I met her. She is now an active member of her group – she was especially happy to receive cloth nappies that helped when her son was a baby.

I was so happy to find a home for these items, but more than anything, I was happy just to catch up with Meg. As I’ve remarked before, often we are so busy running around at work to earn money to buy stuff, that we don’t have time to catch up with good friends.

Japanese books

I went into my former workplace (briefly) to do some money changes. Not dodgy money laundering – exchanging some Euros for AUD. Travellex has been down for several weeks, and that got me thinking: I know people who are travelling overseas, so why not exchange with them? So I did. And while there, I gave these books to my good friend Martin.

Martin has a beautiful Japanese garden that he is proud of. His wife is Japanese, and so he has a number of Japanese things in his home.

In my former life, I loved Japanese gardens. I still do, but living in an apartment there isn’t much room for any gardens. My former husband built a koi pond and pavilion for me. I loved sitting out there and drinking tea. We would spend hours looking at Japanese gardening books, planning how we would do up the garden.

In between Meg visiting and seeing Martin, we recorded an interview with Texas-based Feng Shui expert Skye Alexander. During the interview, she talked about relationships, intention and the energy of things. Basically, if you want to let go of the past, it’s a good idea to remove items that remind you of your past. So it was time to say goodbye, with love to that element of my past. It felt good to give to a friend who I know would enjoy the books probably more than I did.

Buy Nothing giveaway

While I was in Melbourne, someone posted on my Buy Nothing Project group asking for items needed to help set up their house. I offered kitchen scales, which was one of the items on her list. It turned out she was gifted some already before I offered them. Then another lady asked if she could have my scales.

I had two sets of kitchen scales: this Tupperware one, and a second one that was left by a former housemate. Although this Tupperware one is more expensive, I found I used the other one more. Having two was kind of, well, superfluous. So even though I paid a lot of money for this one at the time (I still remember going to the Tupperware party – my first and last – and splurging on this), it was time to let it go.

#joyfulgiving tally

  1. Writing advice (not sure if I can count this, but my friend suggested it)
  2. 2 x Japanese gardening books
  3. 3 x little boys undies in good condition (and clean!)
  4. 2 x pairs of little boys socks
  5. 4 x school uniform shorts
  6. 3 x kids books
  7. 3 x Chinese language books published in Taiwan
  8. 1 x Zara brand boys summer shirt
  9. A portable DVD player
  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar game
  11. Tupperware kitchen scales

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