The fatal charity of Renee Bach and the importance of vetting non-profits

Obstacles

An American woman, Renee Bach, made the news last year after the non-profit collective No White Saviors revealed that she had been running a clinic in Uganda with no medical background. 

No White Saviors is a collective of people involved in development and advocacy work, mostly comprised of women and East African people. The collective is passionate about revealing the “white saviour industrial complex” -- the notion that people in developing countries need to be ‘saved’ by white people - and how it hurts more than it helps.

The story has since resurfaced after a Ugandan charity that provides legal aid to local women, Women's Pro-bono Initiative, filed a civil lawsuit against Bach for causing the death of two children.

The woman in question, Renee Bach, is the Founder and Director of the non-profit organisation Serving His Children (SHC). As its name suggests, the foundation is based on Christian missionary principles and it has been active since 2009 in Jinja, a city in Uganda that has been overrun with non-profit organisations and voluntourism.

Voluntourism and missionary work were how Bach first stepped into the third sector in Uganda. Upon returning to the US from her nine-month stint as a volunteer/missionary in an orphanage, she decided to go back to Uganda and found her own non-profit. Serving His Children started out as a feeding centre for malnourished children but quickly turned into a clinic that also provides medical services.

Bach, a foreigner with no medical training or experience believed it was her place to ‘save’ Ugandan children. According to Roanoke Star, a local newspaper from Bach’s native Virginia, US, she was heard saying: “Some people say I am so young and do not have the training to undertake such a mission, and they are right. Maybe someday the Lord will send a nurse to us, but right now He has me.”

The prime example of the white saviour complex and entitled delusion, Bach with no experience in either non-profit management or medical work has run her charity in Uganda for over nine years and according to various sources has been seen practising medicine on children countless times.

In posts from her since-deleted blog, Bach constantly describes herself performing medical procedures that should be solely reserved for people with medical training (Several pages of Bach’s blog can be read via the Wayback Machine). 

In the No White Saviours piece written by another American aid worker who was working with malnourished children in Jinja same time as Bach, recounts a time when the organisation she worked for was made aware of the malpractices in SHC. Along with poor follow up procedures, which proved to be deadly in several cases, former volunteers and employees of the charity claimed to have witnessed Bach engage in high-level medical procedures.

The recent civil lawsuit filed against Bach reiterates this statement, the two mothers whose children have died at the hands of Serving His Children say that they were led to believe that  Bach was a medical professional and SHC was a legitimate institution; according to several witnesses Bach was often seen wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope.

As the writer of the No White Saviours piece states, “Good intentions are not good enough”. Running a non-profit organisation, let alone one that provides medical attention, especially an organisation anywhere other than one’s local community is not for people with no training and/ or experience. 

 As it’s clear in this case, a charity that feeds malnourished children in Uganda might seem like a good place to donate to or volunteer with on paper (or on your screen), the charitable sector is far more complex than just good intentions.

That’s why it’s imperative to assess non-profit organisations before blindly hopping on their bandwagon. And that’s what we do here in Kinder. We analyse charities based on a framework our researchers developed along with scholars from Erasmus University Rotterdam and Duke University. Our framework has four main stages and many questions between them, but in short: we value transparency, accountability, and effectiveness. We believe these organisations are responsible for all of their actions and for explaining them to their stakeholders and the public.

"Good intentions are not good enough"

Renee Bach’s missionary charity Serving His Children has not passed the first stage of our vetting framework which is a prerequisite for us to continue on with the analysis and for the charities to have access to our donation tools. Of the five conditions needed to pass the first assessment, Serving His Children failed four.

  1. Information on key staff: We believe people should have easy access to key members of an organisation such as directors, board members, managers, etc. SHC seems eager to publicise their Ugandan staff field workers but there is no information to be found about higher up, managerial members.

  2. Financial statements: As organisations usually depend on fundraising, they are responsible for making their financial decisions public. Donors have the right to know how their donations are being spent. SHC has no publicly available financial statements.

  3. Strategic plans: Charities should have strategic plans on how they plan on conducting their work and improving impact, these plans should be publicly accesible. SHC does not provide any strategic plans, past, present, or future.

  4. No controversy: Obviously SHC fails this step immediately with the Renee Bach scandal, however, the organisation would have failed this step even without the scandal since we consider trying to convert people religiously a controversy. Religious conversion has no business in philanthropic work.
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