Tuesday, October 26, 2010

World Food Prize winner David Beckmann speaks in Chicago

Last night, I took advantage of a great opportunity to see and hear David Beckmann speak in Chicago. Rev. Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World- a Christian anti-hunger advocacy group – as well as this year’s World Food Prize winner. He spoke at the beautiful Fourth Presbyterian Church on Walnut downtown..a beautiful venue I’ve always wanted to take a peek into. It was a great chance to gather with other poverty fighters and hear reflections from someone who’s been doing this at least 4 times as long as I have.

Overall, Beckmann gives us a hopeful message. In this time of recession and frustration, he put into perspective how far we have come in fighting poverty around the world. Here are some highlights from his talk.

Reflections on Mozambique: In his travels to Mozambique he went to a village where he was greeted warmly by 50 people singing praises to God. This was a village where people raised only cassava on their small plots and ate the gooey food from it to survive. The village had no cars and only bikes. It was clear that they lived in extreme poverty, but not clear how any foreign aid had provided help. One of his colleagues asked them “How have they improved their lives in the last years?” The answers were highly significant: We have peace. We have a school now and even the AIDS orphans go to primary school. People with AIDS have access to retroviral medicines. We have information about AIDS and how to prevent it, no longer assuming it was a cause of witchcraft. Beckmann was struck by the reach of the US government to strongly impact their daily lives and by the work of the people at the local level & Mozambique government. Mostly, he was profoundly encouraged by the progress there, which in fact can be repeated many other places.

World progress against poverty: 26,000 kids die EVERY day from preventable causes, ½ of those from hunger related causes. But in 1960, 55000 kids died each day. This is remarkable progress made just in the last 2-3 decades. He sees this as evidence of God moving in our time. A God who liberates people in a great exodus from poverty. This is happening NOW.

“Give-a-damn”: Our progress has been sporadic. We did cut global poverty in ½ around the Johnson-Nixon eras. In the 1990’s it was cut by ¼. But it was not sustained progress. The difference between the times when we progressed and when we did not was “Give-a-damn.” We haven’t had a presided since Johnson that made poverty reduction a priortity.

Why politics and policy?: Why do we have to use the government instead of charitable food banks? Beckmann says you can’t food-bank your way to the end of poverty. We tried that. Food banks are a good thing and almost every church and synagogue has food collection for the hungry. But we are still hungry as a people. All our efforts result in food banking results in $5 billion worth of food for people per year. The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit (credits for low-income Americans) are worth more than twice as much as all the food banking done in a year.

Tax Credits: All the national talk and debate is about tax credits for the wealthy, but there are two credits for the working poor that may expire at the end of the year. The Earned Income Tax Credit should be a no-brainier. Conservatives like it because it rewards work. The more people work, the more they get. It is one of the biggest anti-poverty programs the US has today. If this reauthorization for EITC and the Child Tax Credit is not approved, then 1 million more kids will be pushed into poverty.

Biblical Examples of Policy change: Jesus cared about the effect of policies and law. He resisted laws that marginalized people, like the Sabbath law that prevented healing. St. Paul used his Roman citizenship for the purposes of God. Moses went to Pharaoh to change slavery.

Consequences of Inaction: 1 in 4 American kids live in a household that runs out of food. Permanent damage is being done to these kids that they (and we) will see the effects of for the next 50-60 years.

What can we do today?: It is time to call the faithful off the couch. The chances of getting things done are actually better than they have been. This is what we can do today, especially with the election right around the corner
1) Drive someone to the polls who couldn’t normally get there
2) Pick a candidate good for poor people and send them $50
3) Join Bread for the World and get engaged in citizenship on behalf of people in poverty. It’s not easy, you’ll have to use your head AND your heart.

Successes of Bread for the World:
1) In the last 10 years, we’ve tripled the development assistance to poor countries. The benefits are most clearly seen in Africa where 17 countries have cut poverty by 1/3. The work was done by Africans, but when they were organized and ready, we have the money available to help them
2) Foreign aid reform: Bread has been working on foreign aid reform for a few years pushing for effectiveness, responsibility, coordination, etc. When Obama took office, the administration was clear with Bread that it was not a priority and they couldn’t take time for it. So, Bread and its allies went to Congress with a foreign aid reform bill, which passed the Senate foreign relations committee. At that point, the administration took notice and said “Wait, give us a chance to do this.” And three weeks ago, Obama announced a clear, coherent policy of foreign aid. It’s a GOOD plan incorporating Bread’s ideas and some of the administration’s own.
3) Sustaining WIC programs to provide food for pregnant women and infants. Beckmann shared a touching personal story of finding out how Bread’s fight to sustain these programs when they were under attack during Reagan’s administration helped his own family. Long after that fight was over and won, he discovered that one of his adopted sons was born of a mother who struggled in poverty and was able to care for herself during pregnancy only because of these programs that Bread had fought for. His son is bright and strong, but may not have been if the mother had no access to government assistance.

Beckmann’s talk was inspiring and moving. To hear more about his account of how Christians are called to change the politics of hunger, pick up his book (available now on Amazon.com) “Exodus from Hunger” and if you are so moved, go to www.bread.com to join Bread for the World

Monday, October 25, 2010

Grameen Foundation in Chicago, Nov 1

From the Grameen Foundation...

In continuation of its support of Bankers without Borders®, Grameen Foundation’s volunteer initiative, the organization is hosting a presentation and discussion on the impact of microfinance. The event, titled “Does microfinance reduce poverty? A dialogue on the social impact of microfinance as a development tool,” will explore the effect of microfinance on the lives of the poor. Microcredit has been successful in increasing access to capital by the poor, but does it actually reduce poverty for the people it intends to help?

The discussion will be framed around the recently released white paper, Measuring the Impact of Microfinance: Taking Another Look, authored by Kathleen O’Dell, Assistant Professor of Economics at Dominican University’s Brennan School of Business. The discussion will feature Alex Counts, President, president, CEO and founder, Grameen Foundation, and Beth Houle, Chief of Staff, Opportunity International.

Please join us on Monday, November 1, at 12 pm. Please RSVP by Thursday, October 28, to trobinson@grameenfoundation.org.

Date: Monday, Nov. 1
Time: 12- 1p.m.
Location: Chase Auditorium, Chase Tower, 10 S. Dearborn St., Chicago
RSVP: By Thursday, Oct. 28 to trobinson@grameenfoundation.org