“When I was a child, I listened to stories from a pastor who would visit our school each year to tell about the poor children in Suriname,” Karen Kammeraat said. “So I donated year after year, and still I kept seeing pictures of poor children.” So she decided something had to change.

Kammeraat studied at TU Delft, where she majored in Industrial Design Engineering. After finishing her studies she started out working for a company where she helped build a database containing rules and regulations for exporters and producers in developing countries. Her affinity with the developing world has only grown since then, working as a freelance consultant in Tanzania and for Oxfam Novib.

Kammeraat wanted to understand why poverty continued despite the large amount of charity. What she found was that there was a vicious cycle. The big corporations only paid a small amount to the actual producers, far too little for these producers to lead a decent life. “We have to change, because we live at the expense of others,” she explained. “I do not want to contribute to this anymore.”

Kammeraat decided to do research, to be more selective about what she spends her money on. “It is not easy to figure out exactly which companies pay a good price to producers.” Food and drink were the first products she focussed on, before moving on to clothes. “For clothing it was much more difficult to find out, as companies can be misleading.” Though it might seem like a tough task, Kammeraat is convinced change is possible. “By myself I will not be able to do much, but together we can make a difference.”

Karen Kammeraat“At a certain point I was starting to wonder how it is possible that after donating money for so many years there still is poverty,” said Karen Kammeraat. For the freelance consultant, it was obvious that simply giving money to charity was not going to cut it.

Born in Vlissingen, Kammeraat enrolled at the Delft University of Technology where she studied Industrial Design Engineering. From there, she started working for a company where she helped work on a database with regards to regulations, standards and issues for exporters and producers in developing countries. From then on the rest of her career always had ties with the developing world, including a spell working in Tanzania as a freelance consultant as well as working for Oxfam Novib.

As part of her job Kammeraat is regularly in contact with local producers, thus gaining first-hand knowledge of the situation. This has also provided her with valuable insight into the effectiveness of charities and incentivized her to continue further research into the economic performance of developing countries. “I read a lot about international trade and found that for a large part the way we conduct trade with developing countries is unfair,” she said.

If money makes the world go round, then for Kammeraat, making sure that money is well spent becomes all the more important. Especially when the goal is to eradicate poverty. “Right now we buy a lot of products that are made by people who are exploited and not paid nor treated decently,” she explained. “By choosing wisely and responsibly how we spend our money we can make the world a better place.”

Interested to hear how Karen Kammeraat thinks we can all help fight poverty in developing countries? Then come join us Sunday 20 March for the next TEDxDelft salon at Theater de Veste.