Reinventing the World: Give It Away

Red Hot Chili Peppers performing a classic. Sergio chose this. Promise.

The excellent article When Will World Aid Step Up To The Plate? published by The Bubble provides a truthful picture of international relief organisations’ morose state. On the other hand, international private organisations are doing pretty well. Clearly there is a lot of wealth in the world, yet a lot of need too. Both should meet.

Over the last few years philanthropy has stopped being a simple hobby for the rich, having acquired a radical new formula powered by capitalism and the efficiency of the markets; plowing money into the best ideas and withdrawing from the weakest initiatives. Leading private philanthropists like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, bankers such as Muhammad Yunus (founder of the Grameen Bank, the first bank for the poor) and the recent Giving Pledge, led by investor Warren Buffet, inviting billionaires of the world to donate up to 99% of their fortunes. These organisations represent a massive improvement in the business of giving.

Nevertheless, to maximize the gains from their giving, such leaders must overcome myriad challenges. It requires a wide and deep financial, operational, legal and political skills-set in order to maximize the available wealth to work for the greater good. However, at the most basic level, the true deal-breaker is dealing with people. The recent documentary Good Fortune presents two real cases involving different populations in Kenya in the process of, in economic development terms, being upgraded.

The first case involves the Kibera slum dwellers in Nairobi, where the UN-Habitat with the Kenyan government planned the upgrading of hundreds of thousands of households. Corruption aside, all technical requirements were in place. However a lack of communication put that entire people through terrible distress; while being evicted, they had nowhere to go until the projects’ completion. Sadly due to political instability many died in the process and others could not manage to return. The second case involves Calvin Burgess, president of the Dominion Venture Group, a very wealthy man who wanted to do something good with his money. He decided to flood and transform the Yala Swamp region into massive rice fields. Unfortunately he did not consider the villagers living in the area and the destructive effects his actions had on their subsistence agriculture and cattle.

On Friday 6th May 2011 Durham’s Centre for Social Justice and Community Action will be holding the workshop Conversations for Change: an introduction to the Ubuntu (from the Bantu languages, the essence of human being) approach to connecting communities. This is the first major programme run by the Tutu Foundation UK in our University and consists of a series of workshops delivered to participants who share a sense of “place” which is characterized by tensions as a result of inter-ethnic, inter-faith, inter-generational misunderstandings / misconceptions. The workshops are designed to create the conditions within which participants can have conversations to explore what might be done to overcome these tensions and build their capacity to identify practical actions they might undertake to build bridges within and between different groups.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, believed “[…]that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours[…]”. Such a philosophy seems to be the variable that combined with our billionaires’ efforts could result in successful international aid and improve the lives of millions.

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