Category: Poverty

alleviating-poverty“We see poverty in the developing world and we ask—what can I do?” says Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow at the Acton Institute and the Director of Poverty Cure, “But what if the question that animates our activity is the wrong one?”

What if instead of asking how we can alleviate poverty, we asked, “How do people in the developing world create prosperity for their families and their communities?” This sounds like a simple shift, but it can transform the way we think about poverty and the poorest among us because it takes the focus off ourselves and puts it where it belongs. People in need are not objects of our charity, they are subjects, and should be seen as the protagonists of their own development. Changing the question helps lead to an inter-subjective relationship.

Ask people in the developing world what they want most, and they don’t mention more aid or charity. They want jobs; they want the opportunity to build businesses; they want access to markets, to broader circles of exchange so they can provide for their families. As Ghanaian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse told me, “The people here are not stupid. They’re just disconnected from global trade.”

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Depressing statistic of the week:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a total of 101,000,000 people currently participate in at least one of the 15 food programs offered by the agency, at a cost of $114 billion in fiscal year 2012.

That means the number of Americans receiving food assistance has surpassed the number of private sector workers in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 97,180,000 full-time private sector workers in 2012.

The population of the U.S. is 316.2 million people, meaning nearly a third of Americans receive food aid from the government.

One of the consistent themes in Christian social teaching is the recognition that this world has both material and spiritual realities. As such, it is not only important that we think about the moral, political, and economic structures that contribute to set the stage for human flourishing but that we also pray for those who are suffering that they would be free to live out their callings as human persons made in God’s image.

The Friday weekly intercessory prayer from the The Book of Common Prayer from the Church of Ireland directs our attention to these populations.

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I recently wrote on the implications of “pathological altruism,” a term coined by Oakland University’s Barbara Oakley to categorize altruism in which “attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”

In a segment from the PovertyCure series, HOPE International’s Peter Greer offers a good example of how this can play out, particularly in and through various outreaches of the church:

Oakley’s paradigm depends on whether such harm can be “reasonably anticipated,” and as Greer’s story indicates, far too often the church isn’t anticipating much at all. Ship the stuff, check the box, and sing our merry songs. (more…)

Health_Shetty-MainIndia’s best-known heart surgeon was interrupted during surgery to make a house call. “’I don’t make home visits,’ ” said Devi Shetty, “and the caller said, ‘If you see this patient, the experience may transform your life.’ ” The request came from Mother Teresa, and the experience did change his life. Shetty’s most famous patient inspired the cardiac surgeon and healthcare entrepreneur to create a hospital to deliver care based on need, not wealth.

In 2001, Shetty – who the Wall Street Journal has given him the title of Henry Ford of heart surgery — founded Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH), which Fast Company magazine describes as “Walmart meets Mother Teresa.” Today, NH is one of India’s largest multi-specialty hospital chains and has created a record of performing nearly 15,000 surgeries on patients from 25 foreign countries. The hospital group believes it can soon cut the cost of heart surgery to a mere $800 per procedure.

If it can be done in India, why can’t it be done in the U.S.?

It could — maybe — but we’d need to learn the following lessons from India’s most innovative hospital:
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There are over 8 million internationally sponsored children in the world. With the average monthly sponsorship level set at about $30 (not including other gifts sent to sponsored children), the flow of resources from wealthy countries to poor countries from international child sponsorships is about $3.2 billion per year.

child-sponsorshipDespite the substantial amounts of money being funneled through these child-sponsorship charities, few empirical studies have been conducted to gauge their effectiveness. Earlier this year peer-reviewed, independent study on the viability of international child sponsorship led by Bruce Wydick, professor of economics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, found that “large and statistically significant impacts on life outcomes for children enrolled in Compassion International’s Christian child sponsorship program.”

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Wydick explains how he approached the research and reveals some of the findings:

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willow-creek-community-churchs-new-care-centerA decade ago, Virginia Postrel argued in her book The Substance of Style that we live in an age of aesthetics, a period where the way things look, feel, and smell have come to matter to all social classes. She explained why the aesthetic aspects of products, services, and experiences are not merely cosmetic niceties but tap into deep human instincts and needs.

Many corporations, such as Apple and Target, have used this insight to attract new customers and increase customer loyalty. But social entrepreneurs whose “customers” are the poor and needy have been slow in making their services more aesthetically pleasing. One prominent exception is the services provided by Willow Creek Community Church, an evangelical megachurch located outside of Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune,
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Many of you know Jay Richards from his regular lecturing at Acton University. He has a newly co-authored piece in The Daily Caller, “Enterprise is the most ‘effective altruism.’” There’s more to be said on the complex issue of helping the poor than can be put in a single op-ed, of course, but there’s some great food for thought here, particularly for those who view business and markets as necessarily part of the problem. Jay and Anne Bradley use the example of Microsoft to explain the confusion:

The Gates Foundation has saved an estimated 5 million lives thus far. But we rarely hear of the countless lives saved or improved by the profit-seeking activities of Microsoft…. One effect is the Foundation itself. To be able to start such a large aid organization, Bill Gates first had to be a successful entrepreneur. As a philanthropist, Gates is not “giving back” to the world, as if he had taken from it in the first place. His philanthropic giving is possible only because he first “gave” as an entrepreneur.

… Microsoft succeeded only because they provided value for hundreds of millions of people. Gates had to meet the needs of his customers … And to stay ahead, he had to invest wisely rather than consume or give away all the profits.

Many thanks to Ancient Faith Radio for graciously sharing its podcasts of the Conference on Poverty at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. The May 31-June 1 event was co-hosted by the Acton Institute. The conference was offered as a tribute to Deacon John Zarras, a 2006 alumnus of the seminary who earned his M.Div. degree over a period of several years as a late–vocations student. Deacon John, who fell asleep in the Lord last year, also served as a member of the Board of Trustees and the president of the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Foundation.

VoicesFromSVSWhat follows are four separate audio feeds, including Q&A follow up, from the Poverty Conference. Ancient Faith is broadcasting these as part of its regular podcasts by the Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir’s. But first listen to Fr. Chad’s May 24 broadcast, in which he addresses negative reaction to Acton’s participation in the conference by some associated with the seminary. He reminds listeners that Acton, on the issue of poverty, can provide a fresh and different approach that’s effective.

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From Ancient Faith: (more…)

Last night in Dublin I was having a conversation with a 65-year-old man who was ranting about the high unemployment rate in the European Union, which in the 17-nation currency area rose to 12.2 percent in April. The current unemployment rate is a new record since the data series began in 1995. My new friend was very open about being an outright socialist and said that Europe’s problem is that people are not being treated fairly.

Capitalism, he explained, promotes a culture where people do not share their resources because it encourages inequality. To solve the European unemployment crisis, my friend suggested that Europe “needs a dictator” to come in and simply tell everyone what to do so that there will be true equality. The problem, however, my Irish friend confessed, is that when someone gets in a power “they get carried away with it,” and people end up being taken advantage of. He did not seem able to connect the dots that countries that have tried socialism and dictatorships are countries where the poor are worse off in the long-run. Therefore, his proposal will not work.

The conversation raised several questions for me. To start, I wondered why this 65-year-old man drinking a Smithwick’s beer, sitting next to me drinking a pint of Guinness, did not see that we were both experiencing equality thanks to the free market, property rights, and the rule of law. I also wondered why he thinks that something like socialism would be the best way forward given the fact that a form of it is currently not working in the European Union.
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