Monthly Archives: January 2012

Building together again

While there are times for being alone, the true state of people is in community, doing things. From humankind's earliest days around the fire, we have continued to benefit from the joys and strengths of being and building together.

Listen to the CBC Ideas
show, Left Behind.

While we all need close friends and cohesive project teams, we also need perspective, diversity and resources to succeed. Spending too much time with just one group stifles both us and the group. Taken far enough, we can come to believe that our group is the only one with merit and the right thinking.

One of the danger signs for a group, and for society, is when some members become very successful or wealthy, and begin to withdraw from the wider community — limiting access to their skills and removing the shared assets that the group provided. This is at the crux of both the Occupy movement and the global difficulties we are experiencing today.

In the post-war economic boom of the 1940s to 1960s, there was widespread and eager participation by many types of people — sharing the possibilities and empowerment that working together brings. It was a time of immense productivity. There was not just economic growth, but the actual improvement of people's lives. Working folks worked hard, creative people designed new things, and rich people contributed through taxes, networking and building. It was a great era of shared efforts and benefits, involving a group that was wonderfully large and inclusive.

Unfortunately, the rise of the stock market and the allure of a free market ended these shared efforts and benefits. It became possible for wealthy people to become wealthier, this time without sharing the benefits. The reduction in taxes for the wealthy in recent years has further split our formerly cooperative country — it has dried up the funds needed for new improvement and research, and made it extremely difficult for the wealthy to care about or be committed to the wider community. Working folks, enthused at first by the post-war improvements, and now just fearful for their livelihoods, have been cast adrift from the shared participation of those with the money to change the world again.

We have become a society of "us and them", principally due to greed and fear no longer being balanced by shared purpose and community. With special financial mechanisms now solidly in place, the wealthy have lost the need to participate in the greater community. There's been a world-wide disconnect in the money stream, isolating the workers from the investors.

And that is sad. Because while it's probably great to have fancy food every day and to jet about, I think that the people who worked together in the post-war period had a better life. They had shared goals and exciting dreams, and they knew that their efforts were helping more than just themselves. They understood the joy of moving forward together. Today's wealthy people seem to have forgotten how invigorating and worthwhile good projects are, and no longer recognize how financial growth isn't the same as improving lives locally, nationally and around the globe.

A few of the wealthy and powerful recognize the need for a change. At the recent Davos World Economic Forum conference, the CEO of accounting giant Deloitte, Joe Echevarria, talked about developing "compassionate capitalism." Similarly, Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien says “Corporations need to engage in giving a chunk of their profits to social issues." So there is a seed of awareness about the growing inequality.

Much of the world's wealth is unused, shuffling around in virtual piles, as wealthy people wait for something good that they can invest in and be part of.

But actually, those opportunities are here already — in every corner of our world — ready to be invested in again. The opportunities are here — embodied by the universal understanding that people shouldn't be hungry, sick or denied the dignity of good work when there is more than enough of everything — we are stuck en route to a better future.

There are calls to create a new model for the future, but maybe what's needed is for us to return to the sensible ways that have helped us before — with taxes, benefits and a shared commitment for all.

Let's remember what real community is, how fulfilling our roles with courage brings dignity, and embrace the joy of building things again, together.

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A new way of helping

There is a movement afoot that is taking a look at how charity and aid might be done better at both the local and global levels. It is based on the 2009 book, "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself", by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.



The authors claim that the causes of poverty are often not truly understood, which routinely results in aid strategies that actually harm both poor people and the helpers themselves. Now, two years after the book's release, author Steve Corbett is on a speaking tour, presenting new ideas for helping the materially poor.

The suitably-named "Helping without Hurting" conference recently pulled into London, Ontario, and it attracted even more people than the organizers expected, showing great interest in this area for both secular and faith-based organizations.

At the heart of Corbett’s message is the need to:

  • move more quickly from relief efforts to development efforts
  • investigate what is truly needed by the people (rather than assuming we know what they need), and
  • ensure that the people being helped are active participants in moving forward. As Corbett said: “Development isn't done to people or for people but with people.

Corbett gave the example of the ongoing problems in Haiti, where he feels that relief money poured in for too long. Instead of using a work-for-benefit strategy, everything was given away for free (a very common strategy), which resulted in their local employers and food merchants going out of business. By ignoring the valuable human assets already there, the generous but misdirected aid funds actually deepened the poverty in Haiti!

In the past two years Corbett and his team has been busy, working with the Chalmers Center for Economic Development. On this site you can find freely usable new strategies for helping the materially poor.

A key element of an improved aid strategy is to recognize the importance of having helpers willing to walk together with the people in need — a process that takes time, listening and compassion. In an age where we often think that money will fix the problem, it turns out that really knowing and caring about people (and their dignity) is even more vital.

One of the groups partnering in this movement is
Churches Together London
, a group that I am a member of. Started in 2010, this group is a learning and support group for people looking to connect and move forward to help in their neighbourhoods.

Click here to see more photos and notes from the conference.

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