The Merits and Demerits of Aid

Back in 2011 I took a trip to Uganda. While there I was again confronted with examples of well-intentioned charity that, at the least, did little to address the issues facing Africa and at worst only exacerbated the issues of poverty. Of course, I also witness effective and innovative ways of dealing with these same issues.  I have had similar experiences while visiting Rwanda and Guatemala as well. Upon return, I read a book called Dead Aid, which discussed the limitations and even harm of celebrity campaigns to help Africa and the ineffectiveness of foreign aid in general. One quote in particular was telling:

This very important responsibility has, for all intents and purposes, and to the bewilderment and chagrin of many an African, been left to musicians who reside outside Africa.  One disastrous consequence of this has been that honest, critical and serious dialogue and debate on the merits and demerits of aid have atrophied.  As one critic of the aid model remarked, ‘my voice can’t compete with an electric guitar’.

That last line was, of course, a subtle dig at the well-intentioned efforts from the likes of USA for Africa to Bob Geldof to Bono. Now Bono is one of my favorite artists and it is always tricky to criticize the charitable efforts of others.  So it was refreshing that in a recent interview Bono acknowledged how much he has learned about tackling issues of aid and poverty, and how charity comes in many different forms:

“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.”

Bono further reveals lessons learned such as the dangers of political corruption in the flow of aid and the role of entrepreneurs in tackling issues of poverty in Africa.  It’s refreshing to see someone of Bono’s celebrity status willing to grow and learn in regards to his philanthropic efforts.

As I have stated before, these are the same lessons I hope the church can also learn as it tackles the social issues of the day.  Good intentions are no guarantee of good outcomes.  We must be wise as serpents, being willing to learn from all perspectives as we grapple with these issues both at home and abroad.

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3 thoughts on “The Merits and Demerits of Aid

  1. That is so true. Aid is important in disaster relief, but development (jobs, education, etc) is the key. I have seen so many well intentioned people come to poverty stricken communities in Guatemala giving stuff away, and it produces a “give me, give me” attitude with the locals. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions with development and growth. It’s difficult and messy and so much easier to give money than to tackle the tough questions. I think we should all give to those less fortunate than us, but always ask ourselves what the possible consequences (possitive and negative) of giving will be. Thank you so much for raising this very important question.

  2. One more thing. What many people fail to realize (I did to), is that in most poverty stricken countries, lack of money isn’t the problem. There are much deeper issues going on: corrupt governments, the powerful elite stealing from the poor, wars, etc. Until these issues are addressed, throwing money at it is like putting a bandaid on a wound that is hemorrhaging. There are things we CAN do through giving: sponsoring children to go to school, microfinancing a new entreprenure, even providing clean water and medical care can allow someone to take a step out of poverty. However, it’s important to know that these are the first steps, not a cure all. Sorry, I’m so wordy. This issue is close to my heart.

    • Kristen, thanks for your perspective. I’m always amazed how often people on the ground in these countries tell me the issue is not lack of money…or lack of food…or lack of water – whatever the case may be. Yet those things are always the first things we think of. The issues are much more complex – infrastructure, corruption, war, etc. These issues are much more difficult to tackle as a “serving project” but that is where the real help is needed most of the time.

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