Adam Carter on Helping Charitable Trusts Identify and Fund Projects

In Chapter 10 of 13 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, micro-philanthropist Adam Carter answers "How Are You Learning to Apply Your Passions in New Ways?"  Carter talks about how he finds value in a liaison role between charitable trusts and the social impact areas they seek to affect.  Carter gives local assistance to global non-profit organizations, helping them identify, design, and implement projects in areas such as Brazilian favelas and shanty towns. 

Adam Carter is a micro-philanthropist currently living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He is the founder of the Cause and Affect Foundation which raises small amounts of financing to provide direct-to-source project funding for individuals and communities in need across the globe.  To date, Carter has traveled to over 80 countries.  He earned an MA in International Development from George Washington University and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan.


Erik Michielsen: What did doing your recent micro-philanthropy project in India teach you?

Adam Carter: Well, I’ve spent a lot of time in India over the years, and it’s a place that has always attracted me. It’s something about the combination of the millennia of history and culture. It’s always kind of been that real exotic place in the world, and even now after having been to, I don’t know, 80 plus countries, I’m still drawn back to India time and time again. This recent trip I was in Calcutta in the eastern part of India and I think the most—what it really taught me, I guess, as far as a lesson is, I would say, the importance of communication, and the reason I say that is because I was working with a project called VAANI which is an amazing project, that’s kind of an award-winning project, really, really dynamic director, and what they do is they work with deaf children in the slums of Calcutta.

So as you can imagine, not a pretty place, a very, very rough place to live, to grow up, and for a lot of these families, you know, they have a lot of children, and often one of the children has some kind of deformity, or whether they’re born with some condition. Unfortunately, they don’t have the resources there to act upon that, and in the case of this project, what we’re working with are deaf children, and unfortunately, many of these families that have deaf children, first of all, a lot of them don’t even really realize that their kids are deaf. They haven’t really fully been diagnosed, so they kind of have this idea that, oh, well, he doesn’t really understand, he’s a little slow, this or that. And even if they know, that, okay, my kid can’t hear. They don’t know the resources that are out there, which is really a shame because these kids grow up, basically, kept at home, not going to school, and kind of ignored by their family, and these kids, their mind is perfectly functional. I mean, it’s horrific to imagine really being trapped inside your body where you can’t communicate with your family, and nobody knows what you’re saying, what you’re thinking.

So thankfully this project, first of all, they send social workers out into these neighborhoods to look for these children and to tell the families, “look, there’s an answer here. We’re gonna help your kid, and you’re gonna see that your kid is just as smart as all the others, and he can actually participate in a regular school setting.” So it was incredibly heartwarming to see these kids now that are getting one-on-one education, educational help from a trained practitioner, you know, that works with deaf children. They’re learning how to do sign language. They’re learning how to speak a bit. Some of them that don’t have complete deafness are getting the hearing aids that they need to be able to hear more and more. The mothers are brought in with the kids, so they’re both there, and they’re both learning sign language because it’s important for them to communicate. This is the bridge that’s gonna allow this kid to communicate with his parents and with his family.

Erik Michielsen: How did you get involved in that project?

Adam Carter: I knew I wanted to go back to India, so sometimes I focus on an issue. Sometimes I focus on a place. In this instance, it was kind of a combination of the two. I knew I wanted to go back to India, and I was speaking with my mentor. He had mentioned how he had come across some—a project helping some deaf people in Asia, and I thought, well, that’s a group that I don’t know much about, I haven’t worked with before, personally, but I think we can all understand it’s a pretty black and white issue. So I started to do some research before I went about to see if there were any organizations that were addressing this on a local or national level. There’s a project called VAANI, which is the first kind of nationally—it’s based in Calcutta, but they’re planning to expand it nationally. They now have projects in West Bengal which is the state of Calcutta and up in Assam which is further up in the northeast, and so I communicated with them. I did some research on the organization and found out that it has an amazing reputation. And, so, I met with them and I visited all of their projects, and then I sat down with the director and with a few other of the staff and we talked about what would be the most effective ways of improving the project, and what we came up with was—is wonderful because these kids are coming in so if you have a deaf child that’s coming in, let’s say, twice a week, with his mother for this training. They have different ways of teaching them. They have a lot of educational materials, and then a lot of it has to do with the teacher one-on-one. 

The only kind of gap in this process is the fact that when the kid goes home, until he comes back later in the week or the next week, he’s kind of at a standstill.  Sure he and the mother could practice what they’ve learned, but the problem is he has to leave the educational materials at the project because they need them for the next kid.

So what we came up with was, well, why don’t we improve this process by producing more of these educational materials, producing kind of like, you know, sets of them like booklet sets, so that the kids can take them home with them, practice it over the course of the week with the rest of their family, the father who may be working, the brothers and sisters who are in the house. So we’re creating really nice, heavy laminated, very durable materials that will be able to really improve the interpersonal communication, which is so important.