Beyond Good Intentions Discussion Questions
1. After reading about Tori’s journey across East Africa, have your views on international aid changed at all? If so, how?
2. A key theme of the book is the importance of gratitude, which is demonstrated in Tori’s quest to thank Ahmed. If you could thank someone for the way he or she changed your life, who would you thank, and why? (And what’s stopping you?)
3. Tori felt compelled to take action after she witnessed the injustices facing the refugees in Lebanon, and in particular after meeting Ahmed. Have you ever experienced a similar call to action? How did you respond?
4. If you were to donate to any of the organizations or individuals mentioned in the book, which would you donate to and why? What criteria do you use when deciding how to donate your money?
5. Tori was tempted to put a long list of ideas in the UNHCR “Suggestion Box” at Dadaab refugee camp. What suggestions would you put in the box after reading about life in the camp?
6. Do you believe in altruism? Is aid work ever truly “selfless”? Why or why not?
7. Osman and the rest of the “Tsunami Class” were full of hope. Where do you think that deep feeling of hope comes from, despite living in such difficult circumstances, and what effect does it have?
8. In chapter nine, Edwin confesses, “The donors still seem to have all the power. They’re the ones setting the agenda.” After reading about KARA’s struggles with their major donors, do you think the traditional donor/NGO relationship needs to change? In what ways?
9. The majority of the people living in the displacement camp after the Bududa landslide were dishonestly collecting aid that wasn’t meant for them. How did you feel when you read about this, and how could it be prevented in future relief efforts?
10. What do you feel are the pros and cons of international volunteerism? What conditions or requirements might enable volunteers to be more helpful to the organizations they’re trying to serve?
11. What do you think was the primary cause for the ups and down of Mark and Tori’s relationship? Do you agree that sometimes love isn’t enough? Also, what parallels did you notice about Tori’s search for answers about love and her search for answers about aid?
12. What conditions do you think helped promote the self-reliance Tori witnessed in Kyarumba among the people associated with the Bukonzo Joint Savings and Credit Cooperative? Do you think their success is replicable elsewhere? If so, how?
13. During her travels across Rwanda, Tori encountered an old woman begging at the window of the bus and didn’t know how to respond. What would you have done? Why?
14. The One Acre Fund set up a system in which the farmers they serve are viewed as “clients” instead of “beneficiaries.” How is that model different from traditional approaches to aid, and do you think it is effective?
15. What role do you think foreigners should play in international development? For example, how do you compare the roles and impact of the MSF doctors, the orphanage volunteers, Stan Burkey, and the One Acre Fund team?
16. Rwanda is leading the way as a model for how a country can take control of its own development. Do you think other countries should follow their example?
17. If you had the chance to meet any of the people mentioned in the book, who would you choose, and what would you talk about?
18. Tori’s mentor, Barbara Harrell-Bond, told her, “If you’re working for justice and you’re living with compassion and integrity, you are probably making a difference in peoples’ lives every day. You just might not realize it.” Do you agree with her? What are some of the ways you might have made a difference for others without being aware of your impact at the time?
19. Who are your world-changing heroes? What were their approaches to making a difference? Why were they successful?
20. Tori discovered that it’s often the little things we do that ultimately make the biggest difference for others. What small step can you take today to help make the world a slightly better place?