Monday, July 23, 2012

Development aid for the wealthy

 Development dollars understandably target the poorest people in countries like Honduras. It's human instinct to want to provide help where the need is most intense.
But the more I get to know the scene here, the more I think the country needs a project that targets wealthy Hondurans. I just don't see how there will ever be enough development dollars to lift this country out of its problems unless the rich people and the government here shift their thinking.
What do rich Honduras...
What makes the rich people of the world assume some responsibility for helping the less fortunate? Some just have big hearts, sure. But mostly they pony up either because they're taxed as a condition of living and working in a particular country, or because they see a benefit from donating.
In Honduras, there's little evidence that eitherof those motivations exist. In a country that essentially operates as an aristocracy, rich Hondurans tend to be connected people who are much less likely to have to pay taxes than their impoverished counterparts. There's no system for charitable tax receipts; even the system for ascertaining charitable status for an organization seems a bit suspect.
...owe to the poor?
And if there's peer pressure among rich Hondurans to give to the less fortunate - or even fund community projects - it's low-profile to the point of invisibility. Every now and then you read of somebody forking over a donation to a hospital, but you don't see the big gifts of parkland, theatres, memorial classrooms or grand bequests like you do in the U.S. and Canada.
So what you end up with is the rich living up there in the creamy layer, with their mansions and their Hummers and their armed guards, while down below the big aid organizations from developed countries in lands far away dole out hundreds of millions of dollars a year so that the nearly 70 per cent of Hondurans living in poverty can eke out the most pathetic of livings.
Something's really wrong with that picture. Thank God for development dollars - in many cases literally, seeing as much of the development work in Honduras is done by faith-based non-profits operating on funds from Christian aid organizations in Europe. But surely foreign aid is meant to be an add-on to a country's own efforts to set itself right, not the sole source of development funds.
 How can more rich Hondurans be encouraged to engage in the work of bringing Honduras out of  chronic poverty? It's galling to see foreign countries doing all the heavy lifting with so little help from the people who have done very well in Honduras.
I think it's best if rich people talk to rich people about things like this, so in my dream project I'd gather the wealthy philanthropists from other countries to create a strategy for engaging the big earners in Honduras. Let's start with a committee made up of a few of the people that Barron's lists as the 25 most effective givers. They've clearly got it going on.
Of course, you can't just show up in a foreign country demanding that rich people give more money to charity. The plan will need to be highly strategic and long-term. But wealthy philanthropists are all about strategic and long-term. I'm sure they've all thought long and hard about their own motivations for giving, and could be invaluable in crafting messages and incentives that might pry some lempiras out of the hands of Honduras's millionaires.
Meanwhile, democratic governments in Canada,  the U.S. and Europe can do their part by applying a little friendly government-to-government pressure.
They do it all  the time when the mood suits them, sometimes by threatening to withhold aid money (not that I'm in favour of that, seeing as the only ones who get hurt are the poor sods at the bottom of the economy), sometimes by making noises about emerging markets and the need to have exemplary partners. What would be so wrong with using a little international bullying to get the Honduran government to tax its wealthy citizens as well as its poor ones, and to ease up on the free ride it gives to the country's most powerful corporations?
For one thing, it's only fair. No country should get away with heavy reliance on development dollars from other countries while its richest citizens are free to pocket enormous wealth without so much as a guilty second thought.
For another, a country trying to climb out of the hole solely based on project dollars from foreign donors is doomed to failure. Short of revolution - and we all know how touch-and-go that can be - how can a country ever stabilize its economy and build a better future without engaging the people with all the power and money?
A development project for the rich and powerful. Now there's an idea whose time has come.


Anonymous said...

Yes, the only way Honduras will get out of the hole is to start raising money through taxation. They need to improve both their public school system and their infrastructure. They also need a more effective police force and judicial system.
Unfortunately, Mexico's efforts to combat their drug gangs has driven many to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
There are people in Honduras who recognize the problems, and are working to solve them, and need our support. The best thing we visiting gringos can do is to help them educate the very poor, so that politicians cannot pull the wool over their eyes.
The presidency of Mel Zelaya was a disaster, and his removal by the Congress and Supreme Court, (misslabelled as a coup)caused much hardship, and the country is still struggling.

e.a.f. said...

That dream project is a perfect dream. Unfortunately the multinational corporations are busy trying to turn the rest of the world into Honduras.

It is very strange, I've known people from countries such as Honduras, who were wealthy, and they just don't see there is a problem. Many of them were devote Catholics but when I raised the issue in that context their response was the poor will always be with us. They did not understand or wish to.

I expect much of is it based on racism. Many of the wealthy have anglo/european names & look much more caucasian. I found that amongst some of the "elite" there was a real issue about looking "european". Those who did not were considered some how less.

Janice said...

Yes...don't see a problem and don't even know there is a problem. When I was teaching in the 1980's, a new student came from South Africa. I suggested that perhaps she could lead a discussion on apartheid as a project. She looked confused and said, "What's apartheid?"