"Put in a nickel--Get out a dollar"
By Lee ("Boo") Buchanan
In early September of 2016 Sarah, Moses, and I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Grace and Stewart Nance out at their beautiful home on Beaver Lake in Eureka Springs. Their hospitality was amazing. They arranged to have delicious food and beverages available, not just for the three of us, but also for about 20 of their closest friends and neighbors, all of whom were invited for the express purpose of being introduced to us so that they might learn something about (and hopefully be inspired by) Restore Humanity. We may have also watched and enthusiastically celebrated the Razorback Football team’s overtime victory over TCU but mainly we were just getting acquainted with new friends while attempting to pass around some awareness alongside the alcohol. After Sarah and I made a brief presentation we answered some questions before engaging in some pretty interesting conversations about philanthropy generally and our projects in Kenya specifically. At one point our gracious host, Stewart, felt compelled to extol the virtues of giving to Restore Humanity. He talked about us as a grassroots organization which is incredibly efficient with its resources and how this efficiency really maximizes the impact of every dollar donated. Dr. Scott Bailey, who serves as Chairman of Restore Humanity’s Medical Advisory Committee, then reiterated Stewart’s praise with a clever turn of phrase. He said, “You put in a nickel--and you get out a dollar”.
This is my second solo contribution to the RH Blog and I want to use it to unpack what Stewart and Dr. Bailey were saying. When you make an investment you are spending money with the expectation of getting more out of it than you initially put into it. The return on an investment is typically thought to be measured in terms of monetary value but I submit to you that what counts as a reasonable return should depend entirely on what you’re investing in. And make no mistake, charitable giving is a kind of investment. Restore Humanity’s various projects are all designed to provide people with improved health (both mental and physical), as well as opportunities for educational attainment and an improved quality of life. So when you make a donation to support these efforts your investment is best thought of as yielding increases in human health and well-being.
Right now 1 US Dollar is worth around 100 Kenyan Shillings so the purchasing power of your donation in terms of its influence on the people Restore Humanity helps is considerable. Per capita spending on children’s healthcare in the United States is around $3000 annually. That breaks down per kid to about $250 a month--which just so happens to be how much it takes to cover the monthly cost of healthcare for all 19 of our kiddos in our Children’s Home combined. The average monthly cost of childcare in the US is around $1000 per month. That means to have a single child looked after and properly cared for during business hours of 9 to 5, Monday through Friday for three months will cost about $3000. That same amount--$3000--would cover all the costs (yes all of them) associated with taking care of one of our kiddos at the JCO Children’s Home 24 hours a day, 7 days week for an entire year. Take a moment and just think about that. $250 provides a month's worth of healthcare. In the US it covers 1 child but in Kenya it covers 19. $3000 provides 3 month’s worth of (daytime) childcare for for a single kid in the US but is enough to meet the totality of a child's needs for a calendar year in Kenya. Given this state of affairs Restore Humanity can do a whole lot of good with just a little bit of money. However, with more than just a little bit of money there is no telling just how transformative our efforts may become. We would love to find out just how awesome things could get but we first need help from generous people who understand the virtue of our work and the value of investing in our programs.
The economics of our situation allow us to stretch a dollar to be sure but it’s the prudence of forethought when deciding what to spend money on that is the key to making Restore Humanity successful. On this front my beautiful wife and fearless boss, Sarah Fennel Buchanan, deserves all the credit in the world. Her commitment to transparency and making certain we spend money only in ways she’d look you in the eyes and be proud to tell you about forces us to move slowly and grow organically. For those who know her well it will come as no surprise that she learned such fiscal philosophy growing up in the household of Joe and Jean Ann Fennel. However, Sarah would be the first to tell you that she’s also benefited immeasurably from the guidance and mentorship of our Kenyan partner and dearest friend, Juanita Opot, who co-founded our Children’s Home along with Sarah 8 years ago. The JCO Children’s Home was actually constructed on Mrs. Opot’s land and is named after her late husband James Christopher Opot. Mrs. Opot is a Village Elder in the Luo tribe. She is among the most respected and influential people in her community. She oversees the day to day operations of our projects (and the raising of our 19 kiddos). She is as motivated by love and compassion as anyone you’ll ever meet but she’s also a strategic thinker with a brilliant mind. She understands very well how to negotiate the local culture and politics of her community to get things done. It is largely because of her and the relationships that she and Sarah have cultivated with local leadership that make Restore Humanity’s work possible. The efficacy of our projects can also be attributed to the two following things:
We’re lucky enough to have highly competent, highly motivated people in key leadership positions in the community of Sirembe. This makes collaboration both desirable and easy to arrange.
We’re usually able to get a high degree of buy-in from the relevant stakeholders because Sarah and Mrs. Opot have employed a policy of not using any resources or beginning any projects unless we are first asked to do so by people whose collaboration is essential for the project’s success.
When I think about the name ‘Restore Humanity’ it calls to mind the fact that there is a wide spectrum of possible human experience ranging from pointless misery and suffering on the one hand, to sublime happiness, love, and compassion on the other. The programs Sarah and Mrs. Opot have created represent an effort to move the lived-experience of the people we work with away from the bad (on this spectrum) and as close to the good as we can get. The purchasing power of US dollars in Kenya has an impact which is wholly disproportionate to what it actually costs to make a donation. Between Sarah and Mrs. Opot we have what is frankly an embarrassment of riches in terms of leadership, vision, wisdom, and compassion and the community in which we work has competent and cooperative people in key positions of influence and authority. All of these serendipitous facts taken together add up to make donations to Restore Humanity an outstanding investment. I know of no other opportunity likely to give you more bang for your buck. If you’re interested in learning more about Restore Humanity or any one of its programs I invite you to contact me via email at HLee@RestoreHumanity.org. I LOVE coffee and am always looking for an excuse to schedule a meeting at Arsaga’s Depot. Or if you need no further persuasion to join our Global Restore Humanity Team and want to help sooner rather than later then I encourage you to do so here. I’m happy to meet you for coffee either way...