The first principle of aid is respect” Ernesto Sirolli

This is one of the most profound lessons I’ve learned in my adult life. In 2005, I founded an orphanage in Africa that has helped over a thousand kids to date. In my early days as a philanthropist, I was full of zeal but empty on wisdom. I was passionate about helping the poor but blind to the principle of respect.


When you violate this principle, many bad things can happen. You become prescriptive, pushy, insensitive, and dictatorial. It’s very easy to hurt others without realizing because our good motives blind us to the possibility of harm. We will say things like, “But I’m trying to help them!

The truth is that:

There are people who kill others, molest children, or betray friends fully convinced that what they are doing is good for their victims.

A good motive is necessary but not sufficient for doing good work. You can’t do good work without a good motive. However, you can have a good motive and still do harmful work.

This principle of respect is not limited to poverty alleviation. It’s true in every situation where one human being helps another.

For example, before you help your little girl who is struggling to tie her shoe laces, remember that the first principle of aid is respect. Wait to be invited to help. And if you must, ask for permission to help. If your little girl turns down your offer of help in favor of her independence, respect her desire to do so even if she is obviously tying the laces wrongly.

Before you try to fix your brother who is a drug addict, remember respect.

Many times, the best way to help is not to help.

Many times, the best way to help is not to help Click To Tweet

Human beings have the right to refuse help and even live in ways that are clearly detrimental to their lives.

We must learn to respect them and their choices. Help is not help when it is shoved down a person’s throat.