Saturday, August 08, 2009

Effective compassion for the needy

The London Free Press,
By Rory Leishman

Anyone who dares to present a reasonable challenge to some received nostrum of conventional thinking should beware: They are liable to come under vicious personal attack.

Dambisa Moyo is well aware of the problem: Instead of rationally evaluating the thesis of her compelling book Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, many critics have maligned her as a cruel, grasping and heartless conservative.

Among Moyo’s fiercest detractors is Jeffrey Sachs, professor of economics at Columbia University and consultant on economic development to the United Nations Secretary General. In the left-wing Huffington Post on May 24, he derided Moyo as “an African-born economist who reportedly received scholarships so that she could go to Harvard and Oxford but sees nothing wrong with denying $10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malaria bed net.”

That criticism must have stung. Moyo is a former student of Sachs’s at Harvard. In a polite and measured response to his personal attack, she explained that she has rejected an aid-based strategy that “hurts more than it helps” in favour of working towards “a sustainable solution where Africans can make their own anti-malaria bed-nets (thereby creating jobs for Africans and a real chance for the continent’s economic prospects) rather than encouraging all and sundry to dump malaria nets across the continent (which incidentally, puts Africans out of business).”

Sachs was unimpressed. In another rejoinder, he charged that Moyo is “unmoved by the massive suffering” of Africans afflicted with malaria.

Coming from a leading academic like Sachs, such vitriol is disgraceful. It’s also false and malicious.

In the course of a brilliant career, Moyo has served as a consultant for the World Bank and as a senior executive with Goldman Sachs. But in no way can she be dismissed as a cold-hearted conservative. To the contrary, she has demonstrated her compassion for suffering humanity, by generously volunteering her time and money to charities.

Currently, Moyo serves as a patron of ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), an agency founded by a group of hedge-fund managers in 2002 that employs over 1,200 staff to provide health and educational services to needy children in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the United Kingdom. Moyo and her fellow patrons and directors of ARK contribute expert managerial advice to the agency and defray all of its administrative costs through their personal donations so that 100 per cent of all other donations go directly to ARK’s programming for children.

Moyo also serves as a director of Room to Read, another non-governmental and non-profit agency. Room to Read constructs schools, builds libraries, operates computer labs, provides scholarships and has donated literally millions of English-language and local-language books to some 10 million impoverished children in Asia and Africa.

Executive Director John Wood is a former Microsoft executive. He was moved to leave Microsoft and found Room to Read, after witnessing the pitiful resources of a Nepalese rural school while on a trekking vacation in 1998.

Room to Read has a savvy board of directors and an experienced management team that works in conjunction with 14 knowledgeable Asian and African nationals who are employed as regional and local managers. Together, the Room to Read staff have established an exceptional record for efficiency and effectiveness in helping impoverished students. According to the agency’s audited report for 2008, Room to Read devoted 85 per cent of total spending to programming, while allocating only 15 cents of every donated dollar to fund-raising and administration.

Moyo exemplifies the meaning of true generosity: Instead of clamouring for more government spending of other people’s money on failed foreign-aid programs, she donates her own time and money to non-governmental agencies with a proven ability to help the needy overcome their disadvantages.

By this standard, it’s evident that many of us – perhaps including Sachs – are a lot less generous, compassionate and effective in helping the needy than Moyo.

(Canadians can make tax-deductible donations to Room to Read Canada through the online charity

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