Good article. The design field has been pushing organizations to do more research with the folks they are attempting to create solutions for. Using human centered design methods could really help out with these aid ideas. Using design thinking in charitable organizations/campaigns has been growing over the last decade. In 2011 IDEO put together a HCD toolkit for people designing in these fields.
Interestingly there does seem to be a market for used t-shirts. (NPR: The Afterlife of American Clothes) I think the donated t-shirt problem is more like the Tom's problem. i.e. Giving away a product could take away jobs or reduce the market for those goods. This has also happened in Africa with mosquito nets. Women with small children could get nets for free from charitable organizations, which made selling nets by local merchants impractical, which meant other people in the region couldn't buy a mosquito net.
Let's hope more people start thinking and researching for the people they are hoping to help.
“In innovation-oriented work, it’s not so much about proving or disproving. It is about getting people to believe things. And belief is different than proof. Belief is about taking leaps or developing a sense of intuition about what’s next or asking, ‘Why should I do something bold when there are an enormous number of really valid reasons not to do anything at all?’” - Michael Winnick of gravityTank an except from Communicating The New by Kim Erwin.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” - Albert Einstein