Global poverty and its alleviation are often subjects of heated debate. Join us for an AU Online lecture series that explores the theme of human flourishing as it relates to poverty, globalization, and the Church in the developed world. The Globalization, Poverty, and Development series is scheduled for December 6 through December 13, 2012. Online sessions will be held at 6:30 p.m. EST on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Visit auonline.acton.org for more information and to register.
PovertyCure’s six-episode DVD series on human flourishing is now available for purchase. This high-energy, 152-minute documentary-style series challenges conventional thinking, reframing the poverty debate around the creative capacity of the human person. Listen to the voices of entrepreneurs, economists, political and religious leaders, missionaries, NGO workers, and everyday people as host Michael Matheson Miller travels around the world to discover the foundations that allow human beings, families, and communities to thrive.
There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life. I do not share that view. I believe that life is not private, but rather it is public and universal. If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private …
When Jackson prepared to run for president as a Democrat, he dispensed with his pro-life position. I’m convinced this was a grave error, but I sympathize with Jackson’s dilemma. When I was in college, I was frustrated at having to choose between politicians who defended the rights of the unborn (usually but not always Republican) and, on the other hand, politicians who supported abortion rights but who seemed ready to do so much more to help the poor.
I eventually came to see a couple of things that resolved the dilemma for me. First, I realized that a prudential judgment to leave more charitable work in the hands of private initiative was not morally equivalent to choosing not to protect the life of the unborn—was not morally equivalent, in other words, to viewing the matter as “above my pay grade,” as President Obama put it. That is, I came to realize that the decision to neglect the government’s core role of protecting the life of some of its citizens (the unborn) was vastly worse than the decision to push for less government involvement in helping the poor.
The other thing that helped me resolve my love-the-poor/love-the-unborn dilemma—and this came into focus only as I began to connect my good intentions with a study of economic history—was this: The well-intended government poverty programs from the 1960s and ‘70s have had many unintended consequences, consequences that have done much to hurt poor communities over the long-term—whether in inner cities or in places like rural Appalachia. If you believe in the sanctity of all human life, including the life of the unborn, but you hold your nose and support pro-choice candidates who support current or even increased government levels of federal spending on welfare programs, I urge you to watch this six-minute video featuring experienced Christian poverty fighters. It’s entitled “How Not to Help the Poor.”
Watch it. Pray about what you see and hear. Then allow whatever you find insightful there to inform and guide you as you discharge your duty as a citizen of a nation dedicated to the proposition that all humans are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
Jim Shaw at the Catholic Herald has written a provocative piece that suggests one of the best ways to fight poverty is to support Catholic religious orders. He writes about his experiences in Africa: the lack of rule of law, the petty corruption that eats away at the poor, how lack of infrastructure obstructs progress for farmers and other businesses. The density of these issues seem insurmountable.
The sheer intractability of these problems should serve as a warning against utopian solutions to world poverty. It may also remind us of the true basis of solidarity between human beings, which is spiritual and personal, not technical or economic. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, we cannot help the poor if we regard their problems in exclusively material terms. Lack of bread and abuse of power are real and must be addressed, but they arise in a human – that is, a spiritual and moral – context.
If we try to fix material problems in isolation, Pope Benedict argues, without recognising the “ordering of goods” which places God at the centre of human life, we will end up replicating the dystopian nightmare of Marxism or the relativistic nihilism of the contemporary West.
Shaw then goes on to suggest that one group of people has remained a fixed and steady influence for progress against poverty: religious orders.
Religious orders’ vows of poverty protect them from the tendency to make a good living out of helping others in distress. Most fundamentally, the fact that their work arises out of, and is constantly renewed by the sacramental life of the Church, means that the poor are not seen as a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be exploited. From the point of view of Catholics living in the West, the missionary orders offer virtually unlimited opportunities to participate in their work.
This piece is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
Everyone agrees that during times of natural disaster, people need help. With “Superstorm Sandy” pummeling the eastern third of the U.S., it is easy to see that many people will need aid in the form of food, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, and we are obliged to help.
But we should be smart about it.
Brian Fikkert, author of “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…or Yourself”, gives three reasonable guidelines for helping in these situations. First, he says, help must be immediate. No one should have to wait for crucial needs and services. Second, this type of help should be temporary. Why?
It should only be provided during the time that people cannot participate in their own recovery. Determining when to stop relief is never easy. We can make the mistake of ending our relief too early, but we can also err in creating unnecessary dependency by extending it too long.
Finally, Fikkert says, relief requires partnership. This is a key element in the aid of any sort. When relief turns to pity, a situation of paternalism and not partnership is created, and that is unhealthy for both parties. As Michael Fairbanks, co-founder of The Seven Fund has said,
…you create that parental relationship. I’m helping you. You should be guided by me because I have a bag of money. The responsibility for your future is actually on me, not on you because I have the resources to develop you. It’s patron-client; it’s master-slave; it’s donor-recipient. It’s all broken.
Fikkert reinforces this:
Experts say relief is typically needed only for a week or less before you should transition into a rehabilitation development strategy, working with people to help them move forward rather than merely doing things for them. As you do this, look for opportunities to form relationships. As we walk with people over time, we can address the deeper issues of life and what it truly means to be a fully restored human.
As we continue to examine how we can best help our fellow human beings, whether it is in time of naturall disaster, on-going entrenched poverty or personal crisis, it is good to remember that forming relationships is always better than simply dropping supplies into someone’s lap and moving on to the next big problem.
Read Brian Fikkert’s “Help Without Hesitating” at the Gospel Coalition.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
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.
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.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.