Category: Effective Compassion

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 2, 2005

There’s a new venture, Kiva, that according to the founder Matthew Flannery is “a startup focused on connecting lenders with micro-businesses online. We provide the world’s first and only online micro-lending opportunity and just opened to the public 3 weeks ago. We have now started over 30 businesses in Uganda and are scaling at a rapid pace.”

The effort still looks to be in its infancy, but as of October 11 Kiva was officially out of “beta” testing. This means “we spent 6 months testing our software and our processes and we no longer consider this whole thing to be a ‘test’.”

Simply put, this is a great concept that can have real, concrete, positive effects in the lives of those living in the world’s poorest nations. Access to capital is a huge problem in many of these areas. Banks often cannot take on the risk of providing low-interest loans with terms long enough to spark development because of governmental, monetary, and economic instability in these countries. Now those of us who are concerned and live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world can charitably take on that risk.

One of the great things about the microloan solution is that it attempts to find solutions that really work and address problems that arise in the real-world economic systems. These kinds of answers are an excellent alternative to economically misinformed campaigns like the “fair trade” movement.

Of course, not only for this particular venture but for all such efforts, effectiveness, transparency, and stewardship are key elements. Read more about Kiva’s due diligence process here.

The good news? “Due to the recent overwhelming interest in Kiva,” there are currently no businesses listed still looking for loans. The bad news? The need is great in the developing world, but it is difficult to bring these entrepreneurs to light. There is a lot of infrastructure work that needs to be done. Kiva is pursuing this in partnership with the Village Enterprise Fund.

HT: Seth Godin’s Blog

Real estate mogul and reality show guru Donald Trump made a guest appearance on the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” last week and, in a real stretch, he played himself. The brief cameo was in the context of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Horton Foundation, a charity based in the fictional town of Salem. The dialogue between Trump and Mickey Horton gives us some insight into Donald Trump’s view of economic success and the resulting responsibility:

Donald Trump

Mickey: Thank you very much, Mr. Trump, for your generous contribution to the Horton Foundation on its anniversary. And I can assure you that it will be put to very good use.

Donald: Well, I’m glad to do what I can, Mickey. I’ve always believed that with success comes a responsibility, and that responsibility is very important — helping those in need. Your foundation’s been doing a great job for a long time. Happy 40th anniversary, and keep up the great work.

Mickey: We’ll try. I want to thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come all the way up here to Salem.

Donald: I’ve been hearing so much for so long about what you’ve been doing, and I really had to come up and see the place for myself. It’s great. It’s really terrific.

Now of course in many ways this view might be an artifact of the need to find some device for Donald Trump to appear on “Days”. But this season of Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”, gives us some other clues in this regard.

On his own show, the reward for the winning team in Week 3 was to “give back to the community” by “distributing tens of thousands of dollars worth of free electronics to kids in the hospital.” This is in distinction to past rewards, which include jet-set getaways and expensive jewelry and gifts.

Joy to the World: Mark enjoys his time with hospitalized kids during Excel’s Santa Claus moment. (Week 3: Tech Expo)

(Kevin T. Gilbert/Blue Pixel)

“It puts everything into perspective,” said Josh. “You can’t really quantify the value of giving a gift and a smile to a kid.” Added Mark, “It was like being Santa Claus.”

And on Martha Stewart’s version of “The Apprentice”, for which Trump serves as executive producer, the Week 2 reward again was “an opportunity to give back to New York City. The corporation banded together with New York Cares to help the Hudson Guild community organization create a garden in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. They transformed a dingy dirt patch into a beautiful oasis of flowers outside the Guild’s new recreation, arts, and children’s center. Working alongside volunteers and neighborhood children, the candidates of Primarius [the winning team] were touched by the joy of giving.”

These are just some of the most recent examples of compassion coming to the small screen. The newest show this season is NBC’s “Three Wishes”, hosted by Christian musician Amy Grant. I’ve discussed before the issue of mixed-motives in the commercialization of compassion, especially with respect to ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”. I’m still inclined to give such shows the benefit of the doubt…whatever the motivations, there is good being done. And even if there is duplicity and the motive is purely that of economic self-interest, this merely attests to the foundational reality of mutually beneficial exchange at the heart of the market system.

This post has been crossposted to Blogcritics.org.

The 2005 Samaritan Award Grand Prize winner was announced today! If you are unfamiliar with the Samaritan Award, or the Samaritan Guide, information can be found here, here, here or here. The winner of the $10,000 award was the Lives Under Construction Boy's Ranch Residential Treatment Program. This program, based in Lampe, Missouri, takes in boys with serious behavioural problems and turns their lives around. The program teaches the value of making right choices, emphasizing the importance of good work and instilling a sense of self-worth in those who feel that the whole world is against them.

The program features physical job training (carpentry, animal husbandry, welding, mechanics, housekeeping, cooking...) as well as educational assistance. An 11 minute video presentation ( - 20Mb) gives a brief but concise description of this amazing organization.

Samaritan Award Honorees were also announced and include the Washington City Mission, Washington, Pa.; Panama City Rescue Mission, Panama City, Fla.; Promise of Hope, Inc., Dudley, Ga.; Hearts of Christ Youth Outreach Ministry, Memphis, Tenn.; Citizens for Community Values of Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.; Good Shepherd Shelter of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Calif.; Samaritan Inns, Inc., Washington, D.C.; Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, St. Paul, Minn.; and Knox County Christian Women’s Job Corps, Knoxville, Tenn.

Please read the official Acton Press Release for more information. Also, please visit the Samaritan Guide for more information about these individual programs.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I received an email today from the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an independent outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. It seems the iniative is facing rising program costs due to legal battles over the legitimacy of its Christian makeup. And constant critics of the program, like Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, seem rather incredibly cold-hearted to the plight of today’s prisoner.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is one of the few elements in prisoners’ lives that has the ability to give them hope. And this hope is not just hope for release from physical bonds, but hope for release from the spiritual bonds of sin and corruption. Here are some of the key facts about the initiative:

  • The corrections system in America is broken. More than 600,000 people will be released from U.S. prisons and jails this year, and 52% of those ex-inmates will be return to prison within three years.

  • Departments of Correction are seeking help, asking for proposals for values-based prisoner rehabilitation alternatives.
  • The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a biblically based, round-the-clock prison program works. An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that only 8% of prisoners who graduated from our IFI program in Texas were reincarcerated within two years of their release.

This final point gets at the heart of the prison problem in America. For a system that is supposed to be based in large part on “rehabilitation,” recidivism rates are disturbingly high. This remains the case because the root issues are spiritual, and the state is spectacularly incapable of addresses such concerns. Johnny Cash, a Christian who had to push to record Gospel albums, recorded a hit song in 1968, “Folsom Prison Blues.” The lyrics of this song attest to the spiritual nature of criminality (emphasis added):

I hear the train a comin’; it’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.
I’m stuck at Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin’ on.
But that train keeps rollin’ on down to San Antone.

When I was just a baby, my mama told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy; don’t ever play with guns.”
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin’ I hang my head and cry.

I bet there’s rich folk eatin’ in a fancy dining car.
They’re prob’ly drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’, I know I can’t be free,
But those people keep a movin’, and that’s what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine, I bet I’d move on over a little farther down the line, Far from Folsom Prison, that’s where I want to stay, And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Friday, October 14, 2005

For a succinct article on governmental processes versus private processes, see this nice little report by Bill Steigerwald. It focues on responses to Hurricane Katrina by private companies and by the city, state, and federal governments. Stories like these need to be circulated more widely.

The Samaritan Guide is NOW Accepting Applications — for the 2005 online Guide.

The Samaritan Survey is the entry point for the October 1 — November 30 application to the 2005 Samaritan Guide.

Note: 2005 Samaritan Award applicants need NOT re-apply.

Application deadline is November 30, 2005 at 11:59pm

Eric Schansberg ponders the lessons that we can learn from the aftermatch of Hurricane Katrina. One of Schansberg’s biggest questions in light of the government’s failure to effectively manage the disaster is this: if the government, both local and federal, failed at all levels to deal with Katrina before, during, and after it made landfall, shouldn’t we be looking for other options rather than trying to depend more on a system that obviously failed? Schansberg suggests that while the government does play a role in the welfare of the nation, private organizations, charities, and local community groups are much more capable of dealing with the emotional and physical care of those displaced in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Private charitable activity is always better. Charity is always preferred ethically because people are engaged in voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange with others. Charity is always preferred biblically because it fills the biblical mandate to love others, especially those who are the most vulnerable. Charity, if done well, is preferred practically, because it is more effective, more efficient, and can focus on the spiritual as well as the material concerns of the needy. Again, if government is ineffective, shouldn’t our response be less dependence on government and more encouragement of private activity?

Read the full commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Also from last week’s McLaughlin Group, Mort Zuckerman from U.S. News & World Report makes the important point that rising costs of gasoline greatly impact the poorest and most vulnerable populations.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: …It is very difficult in America to really cut back on gasoline consumption, because people go to work and go shopping in their cars. We do not have public transportation in the way that Europe does.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we need that for the macroeconomy and the microeconomy.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, we do need — absolutely, because it is the sole means of transportation both to jobs, to schools and to entertainment. So it is –

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Forget the means. I’m talking about consumption, consumption, consumption.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I’m talking consumption, yes. But the other part of it is when gasoline prices go up, if they go up by 50 cents a gallon, people use 20 gallons a week. Okay, that’s $10 a week or $500 a year. And for a couple, that’s $1,000 a year. For the poor people or the people earning relatively…It really hurts a lot. So it really disproportionately hits the poor.

So while prices go up and the market adjusts and people will make decisions based on that, some of us don’t have all options to choose from that a large amount of disposable income allows. If you struggled before when gas was $1.50 a gallon to afford what it takes to commute to your job, imagine when that cost is doubled. Certainly there are still general possibilities for off-setting some of this burden (such as carpooling or relying on what public transportation there is), but especially the short-term effects when the costs of a commodity like gasoline rise as they have, as Zuckerman says, it “disproportionately hits the poor.”

So while on the broader economic level it is best to let the market work, at the same time churches, charities, and community groups should be acutely aware of this, and attempt to address these individual situations as best they can.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, September 27, 2005

If you haven’t heard of this story yet, read about what Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis did this past weekend. His expression of compassion for a dying boy, 10-year-old Montana Mazurkiewicz, transcends sports. Weis honored a promise to Montana despite the fact that he is a first-year coach in the big business of college football, in what might be the most scrutinized and storied programs in the country.

In a personal visit to the boy last week, in addition to promising to honor Montana’s wish to call the first play of the game, Weis discussed his daughter Hannah, who has global development delay, a rare disorder similar to autism. Weis had his own brush with death recently, when in 2002 while an assistant coach with the NFL’s New England Patriots, he underwent gastric bypass surgery. Complications from the surgery kept him in intensive care for 2 weeks.

Montana died last Friday, before the game could be played, but Weis honored his pledge and called a “pass right,” even though the Irish were backed up on their own goal line. Click here to view an ESPN SportsCenter segment on the story in ESPN Motion.

“Pass Right”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 26, 2005

The Remedy, the Claremont Institute’s blog, links to an article in the Los Angeles Times by Richard M. Walden, head of Operation USA, that raises concerns about how the Red Cross spends the money it receives for specific disasters.

Walden levels some important and serious charges against the Red Cross, and may or may not be convincing depending on if you approve of the Red Cross’ fund-raising precedents and other activities. But Walden is undeniably right is when he raises the question of accountability and donor awareness. “Asking where all the privately collected money will go and how much Red Cross is billing FEMA and the affected states is a legitimate question — even if posed by the president of a small relief agency,” he writes.

In other Red Cross news, the group is planning to add a new symbol to the established Red Cross/Red Crescent pairing. Reuters reports, “Planned changes to Geneva Conventions governing the rules of war will allow use of the crystal – a diamond-shaped red frame on a white background – as a new protective emblem stripped of any religious or political significance.”

The final phrase is the operative one, as the intent is to make clear that the bearer of the symbol is “a neutral humanitarian player,” not one engaged in relief work because of any specifically religious convictions.