The world has changed and is changing. Many commonly held assumptions are either obsolete or soon will be. This is true in many areas of life. It is particularly true in the world of international relief and development.
In the past it was assumed that the way to help countries at the bottom of the global economic ladder was to give them aid. More and more people who represent the people receiving aid and thoughtful people who sincerely desire to help are saying that more often than not giving aid does not help. There is mounting evidence that aid programs actually increase poverty and hardship for the people it is intending to help. Aid causes dependency, steals ambition, and stifles creativity. Aid tends to increase corruption and hinders entrepreneurship.
Simultaneous to the growing awareness of the dark side of aid programs is a growing awareness of opportunities for both business development and ministry among indigenous leaders in their own contexts. People are stepping forward within their own communities all over the world. They are taking risks with the hope of making their lives and the lives of people around them better. As they succeed, they break the cycle of poverty and begin positive economic development. They also become more open to consider alternate ideas, including the gospel.
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As we seek solutions to the world’s greatest problems, we must confront the problems’ causes.
Everyone from the United Nations to the street vendors in the world’s poorest cities recognizes and complains about what is probably the most pervasive cause of human suffering – corruption. The United Nations recognizes the problem as governmental leaders enrich themselves, their friends, and their families with seemingly little regard for their citizenry. Their behavior indicates that their prevailing concern is to get as much as they can as quickly as they can and to hide it as securely as they can. In many countries, this grab-it attitude pervades the entire system right down to the people who struggle at the bottom of the economic ladder. Even the poorest people are extorted or choose to pay bribes to get things done.
Corruption isn’t a neutral issue. Its not a quaint cultural reality that should be simply accepted or winked at. Corruption always results in human suffering. On the national level there is a strong negative correlation between corruption and economic development. Corrupt governments are not respected by their citizens and do not have authority to govern. There is a high correlation between corruption and the abuse of human rights.
Corruption in the private sector has an equally devastating effect. Extortion and bribes put a huge drag on the economy. Not only is the money misused, but the time and energy invested in negotiating these extra payments are nonproductive.
Probably every reasonable person agrees that corruption is bad. Yet, no one seems to be able to fix it.
I am in favor of governments attempting to clean up corruption in their countries. This is governments’ responsibility. However, a governmental top-down strategy will never fully work because the root of the problem is not in societal structures. The root issue is individual human hearts. Real change, real transparency, real accountability will only come with real change of heart. Corruption will continue to destroy people, communities, and nations as long as and to the degree that people act out of prideful greed.
Peace, prosperity, and freedom will characterize the communities and nations whose people humbly seek to serve God and other people.