We’ve been talking about doing a program about the ethics of aid for a while now (Trent first wrote about it here in early June). I’ve been looking forward to this one since it was first discussed at one of our production meetings, and it’s looking like the production wheels will finally start turning relatively soon; next week Krista has interviews with Katherine Marshall and Binyavanga Wainaina.

Until then, take a peek at the above video. The angle is a bit different — we’re looking for a broader international view, this video is about U.S. domestic aid from a primarily Christian perspective — but it’s still based on the same general question: when do charity and aid help, and when are they counterproductive?

UPDATE: You can now to the program mentioned in this post, The Ethics of Aid: One Kenyan’s Perspecive.

Share Your Reflection



It will be interesting to hear your show. I found it rather unsettling to hear the insinuation by these leaders that government programs might be the cause of continuing and increasing poverty, or at least they don’t conclusively help to alleviate it. Hopefully, this is not truly their premise or belief.

If they are wondering why America is second only to Haiti in levels of prevalent poverty, they should look at all of the counties that lie ahead. Countries who have grown economically over the last 50 years despite being devastated by two World Wars and a Depression. They all have in the last decades developed viable sustainable social medical and dental insurance, state run education systems, social assistance, long parental shared maternity leaves, unemployment assistance, state pension plans, etc. The list goes on and on. None of these programs are perfect, but they are all viable.

Perhaps, what these leaders should look at the collapse of the church and community, as well as the mismanagement of governmental programs, and not the discount the premise of social or universal care. The lack of regulation and accountability is, in my opinion, the root of this mismanagement and not the fundamental right for government-assisted health, employment and education plans.

You make some good points here ... I hope you have a chance to hear our program with Binyavanga Wainaina, I'd be interested to read your your response to his take on this issue.

I too, was part of the war on poverty program in the 1967 beginning as a federally sponsored “intern” with the Urban Renewal program, moving to Model Cities, then to Planned Variations (I bet few people have heard of that one!). I also led a neighborhood association in an inner city neighborhood originally populated in the 1900s by white Irish merchants who slowly abandoned it as inner cities declined and suburbs emerged, where the large houses were then broken into student apartments, then later transitioned to a black neighborhood and in the 1960s received renewed interest by young, mostly white professionals like myself who wanted to save beautiful homes and create an integrated neighborhood. A recipe for disaster, but how could we have known that? What did happen however was that a core of black leadership arose, but these leaders were not necessarily more enlightened about what to do than their vision-less and incompetent white predecessors. Lesson learned: without visionary, and very competent leadership, coupled with broad citizen participation, these efforts won’t work.
I got into politics to change things (after being fired by the City Manger for trying to change things)—and helped to elect Jimmy Carter. I went to Washington and decided to try international development work, believing that my local community development experience and lessons learned could be applied to our foreign aid programs. I tried, I married, I tried, I lived for almost 10 years in Asia, I gave up. The problem was the same: Lack of visionary, committed rigorous-thinking and competent leadership that was unable to drill down into the bureaucracy or partner with NGOs, PVOs or other governments or donors on a smart and mutually respectful basis. Amen.

I think that Wainaina is really onto an important point. Too often foreign aid agencies are focused on what their vision is and spend too little time focusing on local empowerment and leveraging what is already in place. It is very important, if programs are going to be sustainable, that local ownership and visions of progress are honored. My own agency, Episcopal Relief & Development (www.er-d.org) places a very heavy emphasis on community organizing and appreciative inquiry before we even consider outside interventions. We find that this formula can bring about real and lasting change.

I agree with Binyavanga Wainaina - successful economic systems or countries usually solve their own problems - at least the VISION comes from within. If other nations, organizations or individuals want to assist, it is better to seek the input of the country in need before forging ahead. The objective is to build a sustainable governing system - a system that can stand on its own once the donors have left. Wainaina's sleeping sickness hospital example is excellent. They did good work in treating sleeping sickness, but were not equipped to provide basic health care. In distressed African countries, many people die from basic infections because they have no access to antibiotics. If the organization that provided the sleeping sickness hospital had checked with the local authorities, perhaps they could have made arrangements to provide some basic health care services, as well and perhaps even trained individuals native to that country to care for their own people.

As a journalist, I was mildly irritated about half-way through the posted clip by the fact that the producers of the piece had not yet incorporated a female's perspective into their piece. By the end I was simply appalled, but when I saw who produced the item, none too surprised. The Acton institute is a profoundly right-wing, anti-environmental, pro-free market organization. I'm quite disappointed that Speaking of Faith would disseminate this draconian group's propaganda, without providing some context in terms of the messenger. For more on the Acton Institute's shenanigans, see this critique http://www.zmag.org/zmag/viewA... as well as this http://www.distributist.blogsp...

I found the comments on poverty and what happened due to the War on Poverty, meaning the emasculation of Afro American males to be insightful. It seems that any effort to help people ought to be guided by the principle that people want to be productive and that throwing money at a problem is not a solution. It seems that programs that work around the world help set people up in activities they generate and are enthusiastic about, whether it's learning, running a business, or health care initiatives that involve Them. Any time we come to a situation that feels wrong, we ought to first talk in depth to the people who are living the experience, understand their culture, with humility, and then find out how they perceive their dreams and ways to actualize them. They must be involved as active partners and as equals.

I worry that its easy to generalize with this video.

Certainly this has application in the developing world context....but I'm curious if that application is more limited than here in the states. At a minimum--the evidence provide in the video is limited to that context. Living on less than $2 to $3 a day--through no fault of your own seems like worlds away from what is discussed in the video.

Without clean water, health, and food people die. This is particularly true in the case of a natural disaster or emergency. At least in that context, I think there is universal support for the provision of aid--as long as its needed, appropriate, and doesn't increase dependency.

Certainly, the best way to go about addressing the fundamental issue is to provide business opportunities to those in poverty, but in the context of crisis, disaster, and emergency--particularly in the developing world which lacks some of the built in resiliancy we might have in the states. (even that might be a bit of an over-generalization)

Wow - just wow. Sexist, and victim-blaming. No mention of structural inequality what so ever. I really can't take this piece of propaganda seriously as it does nothing to get at the root of poverty embedded in American society, nor speaks to the corporate welfare. Not very radical, and pretty self-serving. Blame the victim instead of looking at the hard issues. How about a class in Social Work 101???