What This Baltimore Ice Cream Company Can Teach NGOs

BalCorporations are criticized for social and economic destruction in the name of pursuing greed while international development projects are criticized for having minimal impact in the reduction of poverty. Taharka Brothers, an ice-cream company based in Baltimore, has succeeded in in blending a successful business model with social justice twist, and NGOs would do well to take note.

Individual efforts to promote public good have always been characterized as “charity” or “philanthropy," whereas institutional and political efforts to alleviate poverty are considered international development. Charity and international development see world problems through a lens of needs which can be fulfilled by funneling funds into well-intentioned projects carried out by NGOs. Unfortunately, it fosters a subconscious condescension in the donor and a culture of dependency in the recipients.  

To counteract this paternalistic relationship, NGOs should not only assess a community for its needs but also for its capabilities. Solely focusing on what people need ultimately victimizes them and often times puts well-being in terms of material items instead of empowerment. Empowerment can occur when individuals are seen for what they can achieve actively as opposed to what they can receive passively. 

Development through charitable means, while noble in its intentions, creates an unequal partnership of the donor and the recipient. Instead, NGOs should focus on collaboration with local populations to create a mutual relationship.

This dynamic is exemplified by Taharka Brothers. They have eschewed development programs for direct trade agreement with Haitian farmers specializing in vanilla, cocoa, coffee and mangoes. Taharka Brothers are  a B-Corp, a Benefit Corporation, a for profit company with a charitable mission. The relationship Taharka Brothers shares with the farmers is one of mutual interests as opposed to one of donor and recipient. This is not only empowering but creates an opportunity for Haitians to be involved in their own development.

In addition, it is a  sustainable solution, as Haitians are taking ownership of their own natural resources. Apart from needing vanilla, cocoa, coffee and mangoes as ingredients for their flavours, Taharka Brothers were motivated by social cause. They attribute the fall of the African slave trade to the Haitian Revolution against Napoleon in 1804. They maintain that “black folk, as well as all Americans, we feel, owe the people of Haiti a debt and not charity. A debt.”

This idea of owing a debt instead of giving charity shifts the paradigm of development from a paternalistic obligation to mutual business interests. With this paradigm shift comes the change in rhetoric from donations, poverty, programs and needs to empowerment, social innovation, collaboration and opportunities.

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Raisa Kassam

Post-Grad in International Development and B.A. in Political Science. Interested in social entrepreneurship, international development, HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Giant classics and Harry Potter nerd.

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