Posts tagged with: povertycure

Bono, foreign aid, development, capitalismBono, lead singer of U2 and co-founder of charity-group ONE, recently offered some positive words about the role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

The remarks have led to relative hype in “pro-market” circles, but I’d remind folks that these are brief statements made to a small group of innovators and entrepreneurs. ONE has plenty of wrinkles in its past, and Bono’s primary legacy in this arena consists of promoting the types of ineffective, top-down social engineering that groups like PovertyCure seek to expose. When Bono continues to claim that foreign aid, as he understands it, is still a “bridge”—even if just a bridge—it’s reasonable to assume that his orientation toward “bridge-building” has been left largely unchanged by his newfound appreciation for markets.

But although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.
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Too often, aid for the poor looks like this: A person, organization, or government notices a problem, decides upon a solution for the problem and implements it, with varying degrees of success. One step that is typically missing: no one consults the poor about the problem. No one asks, “Is this really a problem?” or “What do YOU think should be done about this problem?” Instead, an outside entity does it all.

Rose Molokoane, a South African woman, is sick and tired of it. She told an audience in Brazil just that last year: “We are sick and tired of becoming the objects of development. We want to build our own destiny.” With the help of  Slum Dwellers International, she is getting that chance.

With 34 affiliate countries, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) explains its work as this:

In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate organizations come together at the community, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies. SDI’s mission is to link urban poor communities from cities across the South that have developed successful mobilisation, advocacy, and problem solving strategies. Since SDI is focused on the localized needs of slum dwellers, it has developed the traction to advance the common agenda of creating “pro-poor” cities that address the pervasive exclusion of the poor from the economies and political structures of 21st century cities. Further, SDI uses its global reach to build a platform for slum dwellers to engage directly with governments and international organizations to try new strategies, change policies, and build understanding about the challenges of urban development.

SDI believes that the only way to manage urban growth and to create inclusive cities is for the urban poor to be at the center of strategies for urban development.

Diana Mitlin, a researcher who has worked with SDI, commented on the model of putting the poor in control, “All successful urban initiatives have been ones that have placed people’s knowledge and people’s action at the centre of the process. That doesn’t mean professionals are not needed, but it means professionals acknowledge the limitations of their role.”

Rather than objectifying “the poor” as a problem to be solved, SDI embodies the notion that the poor have the same capacities to solve problems, tackle issues and influence society in a positive manner. As the Rev. Robert Sirico asserts,

It’s so often the case that when people come from the developed world to the developing world and they see the wretchedness of poverty in such close proximity, they experience a kind of a guilt about their own prosperity and translate that guilt into policies that fail to recognize that these people are made of the same stuff as the people in the first world, that they have the same capacity that enabled the developed world to be so prosperous in the first place.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

A few days ago, a documentary entitled: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a portion of which is devoted to depicting the situation of violence against women in Sierra Leone, aired on Public Broadcasting Station (PBS). Not portrayed in the documentary, but also a factor that puts women in the country at a disadvantage is little or no right to private property. An INRN article states, “…the vast majority of women in Sierra Leone live under traditional land tenure structures that do not recognize a woman’s right to own property.”

These structures have prevented women from owning land, which is vitally important for business operation and personal livelihood. Escape from this land system is nearly impossible. Many of the provinces in Sierra Leone are governed through a legal system run by heads of ruling families, known as paramount chiefs. The article goes on to explain, “Paramount chiefs, the “custodians of the land,” are generally men and most ethnic groups do not allow women to inherit land and property.” (more…)

Speaking at a conference at Bethel College, Acton’s Director of Media, Michael Miller, told the audience that while good intentions are necessary in the fight against poverty, they simply aren’t enough. Miller spoke directly on the topic of foreign aid to developing nations:

Western countries providing financial aid to developing nations seems to make sense, but there is no correlation between the extent of aid and economic progress in those countries, Miller said.

Much of the aid goes to foreign governments and helps subsidize corruption, Miller said. “It’s not actually going to the people,” he said, referring to that system as “crony capitalism.”

And some of the aid goes to subsidize Western companies, which enter poor nations and provide goods or services instead of promoting the ability of residents to establish their own businesses, he said.

“People are saying, ‘We don’t want any more aid. Stop helping us,’ ” Miller said.

Miller, leader of the PovertyCure initiative, noted that free markets offer the best hope for developing nations and their economies. Allowing the people in the developing world to take responsibility for their own economic progress shifts the focus from foreign aid to local businesses, creating sustainable jobs.

Read “Speaker questions providing aid to poor around the world” in the South Bend Tribune.

Alan Duncan, an aid minister in the UK, says his government is “forced” to hand over large amounts of money to the EU’s foreign aid budget, but has no say in how the money is spent. The problem is that much of the $2 billion+ “aid” money (one-sixth of the British budget) goes to projects such as making a Moroccan water park more eco-friendly, an art project in St. Petersburg, and building a hotel and leisure complex in Barbados. Britain’s International Development Committee reports that only 46% of the “development” donations go to “low-income” nations.

Some are urging that the British government “redefine their official development assistance (ODA), through which the relevant EU aid is spent“, with the British Development Committee warning that the situation will “devalue” the concept of aid in the eyes of its citizens.

Oxfam policy adviser Claire Godfrey stated, “If aid is not about helping the poorest then it is not worthy of the name.” Peter Bone, a Tory, had this to say about the money given to wealthier nations:

The Government has been saying for the past two years that this money’s been spent brilliantly. Alan Duncan is right to say the money is being wasted, but wrong to say there’s nothing we can do about it. There is: all you have to do is stop paying the money. It’s no good just crying crocodile tears about wasted money. If we stop paying, what will the EU do: sue us for not funding water parks in Morocco? Come on!

It is good to recall what Robert Woodson, a poverty activist in the U.S. has said about this type of situation:

There is a poverty industrial complex. You’ve got huge numbers of people who profit off our differences. You see, if you are problem oriented, you can write about the problem, you can lecture about the problem, you can consult on the problem. You can do everything but solve the problem.

Clearly, some in the British government are becoming aware of the fact that transparency, accountability, and outcome are absolute necessities in foreign aid and transferring money from one government to another. It remains to be seen if the UK government will take action, or will write, lecture and consult.

Read “EU Squanders Our Aid Millions” and “Most EU aid ‘goes to richer nations‘ “.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Very often in charity and foreign aid work, we forget that the people to whom charity and aid are given are quite capable, smart and resourceful but are simply caught in difficult situations. I recently had a chance to speak with Mary Dailey Brown, the founder of SowHope. She shared with me her organization’s method of meeting with the leaders of villages and areas that SowHope is interested in helping, listening to what they have done and wish to do, before SowHope makes any suggestions. In this way, SowHope follows the lead of those who know what is needed and what assets are already in place, rather than coming in and saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do for you.”

The poor are poor. They are not lacking in dignity or capability. Latifah Kiribedda from Uganda, has written a compelling paper entitled, “When Helping Really Helps: How to Effectively Help Without Hurting the Poor at the Bottom of the Pyramid in Developing Countries“, while a student at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She outlines seven principles she believes should guide development work while preserving the dignity of the poor.

  1. Be aware of the global view held by the people in the local community, it can heavily influence their ability to break out of the cycle of poverty.
  2. Address underlying factors that perpetuate poverty.
  3. Before you offer help in a local community, evaluate whether it is relief, rehabilitation or development aid.
  4. Be cautious of the “Savior Mentality”.
  5. Start with the assets and not just what is lacking in the community.
  6. Ensure that the local people are active and full participants in the planning, designing, implementation and evaluation of the projects.
  7. Build relationships that can forge trust between you and the local people in the community you intend to help.

Kiribedda states, “The people are the number one resource, not money. When people are empowered as full participants in the process, they can teach others, improve existing structures, and expand the momentum of what they want to see in their community.” Viewing the poor as fully capable peers in development instead of mere recipients of charity will not only give appreciation to their dignity as God’s children, but allow their voices to take the lead in the progress to alleviate poverty.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, September 18, 2012

“Petty” bribery is an accepted way of life in much of the world. A person simply understands that he or she will need to “grease the palms” of certain officials in order to get a business license, a work contract or help with a legal matter. In Rev. Robert Sirico’s book, ‘Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy‘, he recounts how economist Hernando de Soto decided to see how long it would take the average person to set up a small business in Peru.

He [de Soto] and his colleagues decided to test the question by establishing a two-sewing machine shirt-making business in a Lima shanty town, and he took himself out of the equation by sending out four students under the supervision of a seasoned lawyer to do the work of trying to comply with all of the legal requirements. “I’ve discovered that to become legal took more than three hundred days, working six hours a day,” De Soto writes. “The cost: thirty-two times the monthly minimum wage.”

This type of corruption is a leading cause of poverty. While many times the amounts of money may seem small – therefore “petty” – the cost is enormous when viewed more globally. Eduardo Bohórquez and Deniz Devrim, of Transparency International, Mexico, have studied “petty” bribery and concluded that this type of corruption not only hampers economic growth, but is truly devastating to the economies of developing nations, calling bribery a “regressive tax on the poor.”

The Index on Corruption and Good Governance suggests that while Mexican households with an average income spent 14% on bribes in 2010, households with the minimum income spent 33% of their monthly income on corruption, a percentage that by no means can be considered to be “petty”. The survey on experienced corruption in the Western Balkans confirms the finding that the average number of bribes paid is higher among lower income groups than wealthier citizens.

Further, Bohórquez and Devrim conclude that bribery doesn’t simply cost the poor money; it weakens their trust in public officials and institutions  and undermines struggling democratic underpinnings of government. In fact, they state, “Calling corruption in public service delivery “petty” minimizes its devastating effects and the high damage it has on the development of societies. Therefore, the term “petty bribery” needs to be banned from the anti-corruption vocabulary.”

Read Bohórquez and Devrim’s ‘Cracking the Myth of Petty Bribery‘.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Friday, September 14, 2012

Yesterday at Mashable.com, a leading social media site, an article entitled ‘5 Fun Games With a Higher Purpose‘ was featured. The article noted that these types of games attempted to combine fun with some sort of societal impact. One game, Darfur is Dying, allows the player to simulate life in a Darfuri refugee camp for a family. If one family member leaves to get water and is killed or captured, the player must choose the next family member to send out. The game prompts players to make donations to humanitarian organizations.

Another game, Survive125, challenges folks to survive on $1.25 a day, with choices like sending one’s young daughter into a factory job or selling her to a prostitution ring. At the end of the game, the player is once again enjoined to make donations to various charities.

While the main purpose of these games seems to be to heighten awareness of global issues that plague much of the world’s population, there is something decidedly distasteful about playing at poverty. Every human, in every living situation, has dignity, and their lives are not games. Despite living in a refugee camp, a woman has dignity. A man trying to support his family on mere pennies a day has dignity. The image of a person casually punching their smartphone while playfully dodging bullets or sending a daughter off to a life of prostitution – real occurrences in some people’s lives – leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth…and perhaps a callous on one’s soul.

These games don’t do a darn thing, except provide a form of vulgar entertainment. A person may or may not be moved, at the end of play, to make a donation to an NGO or charity. If a donation is made, will it make a difference? What stands in the way of that donation and making a difference in Darfur or another place in the developing world? Corruption, lack of rule of law, lack of private property rights, lack of adequate education….the list goes on. The donation of money to foreign countries is not, and has never been, the answer to these issues. One need only look at Haiti (note this post and this one) to see that foreign aid not only doesn’t help but often hurts.

Such games foster the illusion that a person playing a game, who knows nothing of what it means to live in war-torn country or eke out an existence on a sub-standard income, is more able to alleviate and solve the issues in the developing world than those in the developing world themselves. What the people in these circumstances lack is not donations from the players of Darfur is Dying. What they need are the tools to create a safe, sustainable existence for themselves, supported by those with the capacity to offer real partnership. Games don’t solve poverty; hard, dignified work done by real people with creative minds does.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Subsidiarity, the idea that those closest to a problem should be the ones to solve it, plays a particular role in development. However, it can be an idea that is a bit “slippery”: who does what and when? What is the role of faith-based organizations? What is the role of government?  Susan Stabile, Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law, has written “Subsidiarity and the Use of Faith-Based Organizations in the Fight Against Poverty” at Mirror of Justice blog and has a succinct view of subsidiarity:

Faith-based organizations have tremendous advantages over the provision of direct benefits by the federal or state governments, being capable of steering a course between welfare as an entitlement for all and state based determinations as to what general criteria make one worthy of receiving governmental assistance. The fact that they are closer to the problem allows them to better tailor aid and solutions to the situations of those they serve. The fact that they are community-based allows them to better facilitate the full development of the human personality of those who they touch. The fact that they are faith-based allows them to capture benefits of attempting to address some of the behavioral contributors to the difficulty of improving the lives of those they serve.

However, subsidiarity emphasizes action at the level most suited to address a problem, not merely action at the lowest level. It is thus important that subsidiarity not be used as an excuse to merely devolve responsibility downward without assurance of effectiveness, that it not be used as an excuse for the federal government to abdicate responsibility to provide for the social welfare of its citizens, viewing social welfare as the responsibility of states and localities, aided by private actors. Doing so would be inconsistent both with the concerns underlying the principle of subsidiarity and with subsidiarity’s context within the broader body of Catholic social teaching, and would be little more than merely a ruse for simply reducing federal expenditures. It is thus important to recognize that the effective provision of social services requires multiple actors. While it is desirable that faith-based organizations play a significant role, the federal government must also retain a significant role both in enabling faith-based organizations to do their job and in doing those things that can not be done effectively by such organizations. Ultimately, the government must remain the ultimate backup to ensure that no one is left behind.

Ms. Stabile goes on to say that, “…addressing people’s spiritual needs, helping change their lives rather then just providing for their material needs, empowers them.” By focusing on the empowerment of people on the local level, both those in poverty and those trying to alleviate poverty, we remain centered on the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, with creative power to serve and solve.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.

You have to hand it to Theodore Dalrymple: he doesn’t mince words. In an August 2012 piece in The Telegraph, Dalrymple let it be known that British plans to continue international aid to India are a, well…bad idea:

…our continued aid to India is nevertheless a manifestation of the national administrative, mental and ethical torpor, as well as incompetence and corruption, that is leading us inexorably to economic and social disaster. It is high time we stopped such aid, and not only to India.

Dalrymple knows whereof he speaks. His collection of essays, “Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass and Our Culture, What’s Left of It”, stemmed from his experiences with the mentally ill in Birmingham, England and their struggles with poverty. He continues in The Telegraph:

Aid is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of the economic development of a poor country; there is no country that has been lifted out of poverty by aid, which is a form of international social security for corrupt governments. I saw this in Africa, working on a project that enriched an inefficient British company and its personnel, and those local government officials whom it bribed, while the country remained poorer than ever, a kind of tropical Merthyr Tydfil. The economic growth that Africa is now experiencing is thanks to higher commodity prices and somewhat wiser government policies, and has nothing to do with aid.

Foreign aid creates a myriad of problems, and does not, unfortunately, do what it is intended to do: create wealth. Worse, as Dalrymple points out in The Telegraph article, foreign aid perpetuates paternalistic attitudes and corruption. Let’s keep repeating Mr. Dalrymple’s words: “It is high time we stopped such aid, and not only in India.”

Read The Telegraph’s ‘India is heading for Mars: it doesn’t need British aid money to pay the bills’ here.

This piece was cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.