The Do-Gooder Industrial Complex

I was in eighth grade. It was a cold spring morning in Ohio. And, I was holding my mom’s hand in a human chain that stretched across the continental United States. We were ending hunger in Africa.

It was my first act as a do-gooder.  And, it was the beginning of my conditioning by the Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex.

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex spun a particular narrative about the end of global poverty. It fed me a particular set of beliefs, assumptions, and notions about poverty and the poor. It prescribed a role for me in ending global poverty. And, over the years (a lot of years), it motivated me to take a set of actions that I now know were in many cases inconsistent with long-term sustainable development.

I was brainwashed. And, I am not the only one.

But, there’s an alternative narrative that is being put forward. It is not new. However, technological advances have made it easier for this narrative to compete with the communications departments of the Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex.

So, I thought I would take a stab at a rough juxtaposition of the two narratives:

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex is fond of saying:

  • “We are the generation that will end global poverty.”
  • “Teach a Man to Fish.”
  • “Be a voice for the voiceless.”

We like to ask:

  • “How can we end another’s poverty when we never had to end our own?”
  • “How can we teach a woman to fish when most of us don’t know how to put a worm on a hook?”
  • “Why not try listening?”

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex believes:

  • Laptops, play pumps, and solar cookers = Silver Bullets
  • Poor People = Good People
  • Barefoot Child = Poor Child

We believe:

  •  Laptops, play pumps, and solar cookers = “Oy vey”
  • Poor People = People
  • Barefoot Child = Child who may prefer not to wear her shoes at that very moment

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex believes that solutions come from without, are top-down, and flow from male dominated panels in the conference halls of the Western World. We believe solutions come from within, are bottom-up, and flow from local communities.

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex believes in the Buy-One Give-One Business Model as a way to end poverty. We do not (and this goes for RED as well). We cannot consume our way to the end of global poverty. Indeed, we believe that our current consumption patterns are part of the problem.

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex currently believes in “Girl Power!” We believe in “Woman, Man, Girl, and Boy Power!”

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex likes to say “You can make a difference over spring break.” We like to say that making a difference is an internal political process that is years in the making.

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex leaves a lot of people saying:

  • “No one is doing anything!”
  • “Something is better than nothing.”
  • “You have the ability to change the world. But, are you willing?”

We want to leave people saying:

  • “How can I partner with local leaders who are doing the heavy lifting?”
  • “Sometimes doing nothing is the best course of action.”
  • “What role (if any) do I have to play?”

The Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex elicits:

  • Sympathy
  • Hubris
  • Conviction

We want to elicit:

  • Empathy
  • Humility
  • Doubt

In the Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex narrative, the hero is usually a well-funded Western do-gooder. This narrative dominates our culture. It steals dignity from others. And, it needs to end.

In our narrative, we can only be sidekicks. This narrative is just beginning to gain traction. And, there is a coalition of educators and young people forming with the purpose of pushing back on the narrative of the Do-Gooder-Industrial-Complex.

We are striving for a fundamental and sustainable change in how our culture interacts, communicates, and articulate its relationships with those who are materially poor. Toward that end, we invite you to join us April 6-10 for the 2015 National Two Dollar Challenge.

We may be a small group. But, we are on the right side of history.

Which side are you on?


Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (

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2 Responses to “The Do-Gooder Industrial Complex

  • Santiago
    7 years ago

    Hey Dr. H, great blog! I wonder sometimes though about the role of conviction. I don’t know if its always something to be avoided. In fact I wonder sometimes if it is something that, from time to time, is necessary to be able to say that “I believe in something.” I understand the problems with it, that it can lead to arrogance and to doing things for people, to paternalism and condescension, instead of working with people. But at some point we have to act out of a core belief right? And isn’t this a form of conviction? Aren’t we acting, or not acting, out of some sense of empathy? Its the difference I think between complete indifference towards others and the problems of others, and a sense of connection and empathy. And haven’t we made a determination about how to approach our work and thus rejected alternatives to our approach? Isn’t that a form of conviction? Is this a way of saying that we decided that one way is better than another? I have a hard time thinking about confident-humility and what it means or what it looks like. I think it can be a constant state but I also think it can be a fluctuation between confidence and humility when one is more necessary than the other. Sometimes I think it is necessary feel a greater sense of confidence in ourselves when we are taking on work that is new to us, or when speak up about what we believe in like when we share our blogs. And other times it is absolutely necessary to feel a greater sense of humility when we admit our limits, our role as sidekicks, and our failures. I have a hard time with this though… What do you think?

    • BluCollarProf
      6 years ago

      Hey Santiago. Living in the overlap between confidence and humility is a constant daily struggle. And, yes, you need to inhabit one space more than another when the context calls for it. When does the context call for it? That’s a judgement call on your part. However, I think that as long a you approach your work and the world as a student – someone who does not know but wants to know more and learn – you will find that you will fine tune your judgement over time. And, for the record, you got what it takes, right now.

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