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.