UnitedAgainstEbola

On October 18th, Western Union’s foundation arm announced a plan to mobilize support for the ebola response in West Africa:

The Western Union Foundation is making a grant of US$25,000 to the International Medical Corps to support the organization’s response actions, which includes teams of trainers traveling in affected areas of Sierra Leone and Liberia to increase the number of trained, frontline healthcare workers equipped with the skills needed to manage the disease, and also to train communities on prevention.

Excuse me if I am not impressed with the size (of) and strategy of their response. In fact, excuse me if I am rather insulted by the size of their “response.” As someone who has spent a lot of money at Western Union as a Diaspora and also struggling to find new cheaper ways for members of the Diaspora to send money home, Western Union’s corporate social responsibility gesture towards the very community that lines its profit coffers is a bit of an insult.

Western Union is recipient to a good chunk of the $7 billion Africans pay to remit money on and to the continent. According to the company’s own Q3 2014 filings, WU’s total revenue from fees in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 1% in Q3 2104, and accounted for 16% of WU’s total revenues of over $1.4 billion in the same quarter.* Do the maths you realize WU is bringing in a healthy chunk of change off the hard-earned money of members of the Diaspora. I am almost convinced none of their customers would be surprised if their internal mission statement turned read fleece ’til it hurts. It is a good business and so far no one has forced them to lower fees.

It is because of this that I think a $25,000 donation to the people you are ripping off is an insult. It is worse than kicking the dead and dying then throwing a Tylenol at them.

But they didn’t just stop there. WU also opened up its platform for users to donate money to “international Ebola relief efforts in West Africa.” (Is it me or does the whole Internal Aid Complex need a new playbook?):

In countries where the service is available, Western Union is enabling consumers to give to the American Red Cross as part of a “no transfer fee” program using the Payments Service to support international Ebola relief efforts in West Africa. Consumers can contribute by making a no-fee* Payments transaction at participating Western Union Agent locations, directed to the American Red Cross, up to US$5,000.

It is confusing to me that an organization that makes a bulk of its money from family members sending each other money across borders and oceans would make it FREE for people to send money to international organizations, but continue to charge families sending support to their loved ones in a crisis zone! The affected West African countries are suffering not only from the viral disease, but the quarantines and lock downs are making basic life really hard.

Wouldn’t it make better sense for WU to vacate fees to the affected countries so that members of the diaspora can support their family members and donate directly to local organizations already working on the ground?

I am not knocking WU for it’s good intentions, I am knocking them for their lack of imagination. Oh wait, who am I kidding. I am knocking them for the size of their badly thought out good intentions. If you are going to brazenly charge the continent higher fees than any other remittances corridor, at least show some respect to the very people keeping WU’s margins healthy. If a rag tag group of Diaspora can raise nearly $20,000 in 3 weeks, surely you are good for $1 million. At least.

WU had an opportunity to not only lead in this response, but to revolutionize financial assistance to crisis-affected areas and has failed on both counts.

Something for WU to keep in mind, members of the Diaspora can’t continue to use your platform if our recipient family members are dead. Think about that for a second.

*I am not an economist, but I can rub two sticks together. If my conclusions based on how I read their Q3 filings are wrong, please let me know.

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