Sometimes I feel that personal giving is not enough. No matter how much I myself give, it’s a drop in the ocean of poverty. Even if the entire developed world gave 0.7% or 1%, no one has any idea how it can be distributed to reach the global poor. In addition, there is the problem of corruption. Government officials or militias (sometimes there’s no difference) can intercept food before it gets to civilians. It makes me think of the Think of the Children problem, in which you can’t help needy kids without dealing with their primary caretakers who can subvert the intended aid.
That’s why I’m encouraged these past few weeks to see protests around the world, local people rising up against harsh dictators and corrupt governments. I’m also encouraged that technology companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook have helped spread the ideas that better government is possible. It makes me feel better about working in tech, which can sometimes feel very disconnected from helping the poor. And I wonder if these tech companies have been more influential than traditional Christian missionaries in those countries.
There are two broad categories of social justice: relief (short-term) and development (long-term). Most personal donations fall into the relief category. Even if they go towards, say, microloans for businesses to develop sustainable income, they are still at the mercy of local governments. In the end, strong and free governments are necessary to provide a business-friendly environment that will create a sustainable economic ecosystem.
I like the Good Paper model. It provides dignified work and income for the poor and abused. But by itself it is not a complete and sustainable system — it creates products for consumption by rich Westerners through appealing to their compassion and pity. For poor countries to grow their economies overall, they must have local businesses and industries that serve themselves, not just luxury exports. I don’t know how to help this process along, so I’m glad to see locals taking charge of fixing their own governments. Are you or anyone you know actively involved?