Recently, philanthropic studies students returned from their two-week study abroad program to Germany and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, students visited with an organization that addresses relative food insecurity. Ph.D. student Christina Eggenberger shares how Jarige Job continually works to keep their beneficiaries in mind.
By Christina Eggenberger
Often times in our philanthropic studies program, we get caught up in the debate of if anyone is truly and purely altruistic or the theories of social change and don’t discuss the beneficiary of all this philanthropic effort and energy.
Our team headed to Rotterdam for a day of hands on volunteering as well as to learn about corporate social responsibility from Dr. Lonneke Roza of Erasmus University. These activities may have seemed disparate but the common thread was a reminder that it all starts with the beneficiary. How can we, as philanthropists, start with the end in mind?
We started the day taking a mixture of trams, intercity trains, and buses to arrive at the day’s classroom – the Van Nelle Factory and more specifically Jarige Job (translated from Dutch it means Birthday Boy). Jarige Job is a nonprofit organization that provides all the ingredients for a traditional Dutch child’s birthday celebration for families living in poverty so the child doesn’t feel left out of the tradition.
Dutch schools have a tradition of the birthday boy (or girl!) bringing in treats for the class and each teacher in the school. Often times school children who cannot afford such treats stay home from school on their special day so Jarige Job helps keep kids from being excluded and instead celebrated like any other Dutch child. The box also contains the makings of a home birthday party such as a cake, decorations, and even gifts.
Children who grow up in poverty often miss out on opportunities and as a result feel excluded socially. Jarige Job makes sure that, no matter a child’s socioeconomic status, they feel like a normal kid on their birthday.
While the idea behind these birthday boxes is a good one, what makes the organization truly brilliant is the innovative ways in which their organization has worked to identify children in need of a birthday box and the way in which they deliver their services.
Working through already existing structures that serve those experiencing poverty, Jarige Job sends the birthday box directly to the home or adds it to the weekly groceries given from the food bank. The box is a common, unbranded cardboard box so the child won’t know their birthday presents and treats are provided by an outside organization. This way, the child does not have to feel different from the other children in the way they are celebrated or feel the stigma that comes with poverty.
Our group was able to volunteer with Jarige Job assembling classroom treats as well as packing the birthday boxes with everything from toys to decorations to cake mix and frosting; all the ingredients for a truly excellent childhood birthday.
Afterwards, our group was led in reflection of our volunteer activity as well as about Jarige Job by Dr. Femida Handy from the University of Pennsylvania. Our group had some suggestions for improving the box and learned a lot about how the Dutch system works and how the birthday boxes fit into already existing systems.
Our reflection turned into an interesting discussion when the group turned the conversation towards the idea of gender stereotyped toys and how many of the girls toys were geared towards makeup, dolls, and coloring or crafting, while many of the boys toys were about building things or science-related topics.
Many suggested that all the boxes be gender neutral or the toys be focused on cognitive development. Dr. Handy reminded our group that the organization is very much focused on the child as the recipient and children want the toys that they want. As much as our group of budding philanthropists want to change the entire world, the point of the birthday box is to bring joy to the birthday boy or girl.
It may not be the role of Jarige Job and their volunteers to take on the gendered nature of the toy industry, but it can minimize the social exclusion children experiencing poverty feel on their birthdays.
Next up on the day’s agenda was a lecture on corporate social responsibility (CSR) from Dr. Roza. Her research focuses on employees and their relationship to the CSR programs of their employer. One of the points I found most interesting in her presentation is that CSR programs in companies are either corporate led or employee led.
While she does not present evidence that one is better than another, she does present an argument that the “sweet spot” of engaging employees in CSR successfully is combining the needs of the nonprofit organization and the interest of the employees with projects relevant to the work of the business. The needs of the client need to be part of the formula for CSR success.
Whether one is volunteering for a children’s organization packing toys and balloons into a box or creating a CSR program for a large corporation, philanthropists must always keep the beneficiary in mind. Doing what interests the volunteers or employers and is most relevant to the business but leaves out the nonprofit or ultimate beneficiary of the service only serves our ego.
We must always keep in mind who we are serving or what cause we are championing. So, to all the future philanthropists out there, keep the end in mind. Remember who you are serving and let that be your guide.
In what ways do you keep your organization’s focus on your clients or beneficiaries?