Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Philosophy and NGOs

Today's New York Times had 2 very interesting and pertinent articles for me. The first, "In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined" reports how students in the US are rediscovering the importance of philosophy and are enrolling into Philosophy courses in droves.

I majored in philosophy in university (I loved it so much, I went on to do an MA in the subject). At that time, many people didn't understand why. It was seen to be a flaky subject and oh, "How will you get a job? Who wants to employ a philosopher? What could you do?" Actually, a lot. It helped me head the company I was working for in four years.

Here is why: Philosophy comes from the Greek word "Philosophia" (φιλοσοφία), which means "the love of wisdom" (philein = "to love" + sophia = wisdom). In philosophy, you do not sit under trees talking about pointless things. You learn the skill of analysis, because the love of wisdom requires the analysis of arguments, which is really the analysis of thinking itself. How do you know what anyone is saying is true? You examine his/her premises and conclusion(s). Philosophy clarifies your thinking and if you are honest, forces you to come to conclusions whether you like them or not.

Here are 2 quotes from the NYT article which I think succinctly describes why philosophy is making a comeback:

David E. Schrader, executive director of the American Philosophical Association, a professional organization with 11,000 members, said that in an era in which people change careers frequently, philosophy makes sense. “It’s a major that helps them become quick learners and gives them strong skills in writing, analysis and critical thinking,” he said.

“If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy,” said Matthew Goldstein, the CUNY chancellor, who majored in mathematics and statistics. “I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow.”

I won't rip off the entire NYT article. You can read it here:


The second article is called "Your True Calling Could Suit a Nonprofit".


People looking to move to Cambodia to join an NGO should read this. It's written in a Q&A format and dishes some very good advice, such as forget about sending in your resume.

"Nonprofits tend to obtain referrals from staff members and other nonprofits, or to look to their volunteers when they hire. So consider working your way into an organization by volunteering first, either at your chosen nonprofit or one with a similar mission. Be sure to volunteer in a way that uses the skills you already have or helps you learn new ones.

One person interviewed eventually turned his back against nonprofits:

“No matter how good a volunteer board is, it’s not the same as a corporate board, because everyone has a different agenda,” said Mr. Olson, who returned to the private sector a year later to be vice president for public affairs at Video Professor Inc., a company in Lakewood, Colo., that sells self-tutorial programs. “There was a purity to corporate life I missed,” he said.

There is value, he said, to “a company just getting the job done based on the needs of the marketplace.”

I think there are only two nonprofits or NGOs I would work for: Oxfam and Doctors without Borders. These 2 organisations seem to me to be doing real good work, although I have to say I have not investigated the matter. Oxfam is not allowed to register in Singapore as a charity [ everyone knows you Brits are troublemakers! :) ] but they are here in Cambodia. As for MSF, I don't have medical training, but hey, I am trained in philosophy, so will definitely be of help, somehow.

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