Mentally Overcoming the Holistic Nature of Poverty: The ONE Focus

The last problem I mentioned, that is, the tendency to be overwhelmed by the holistic nature of poverty, can lead to inaction and an apparently lackadaisical attitude.  This is issue is one of compartmentalization, where an individual is unable to focus their attention on just one aspect of poverty.  When I first arrived at ONE, I was simultaneously excited and overwhelmed by the vision of the organization, which at first glance seemed to be ‘end poverty.’  ONE presents its volunteers, employees and the general public with an extremely holistic vision–the elimination of extreme poverty and preventable disease–that would overwhelm the operating capacity of the organization if ONE didn’t compartmentalize itself.  While organizations need to look at extreme poverty as a comprehensive problem that affects all aspects of life, (education, health, housing, policy, socio-economic status, and self-perception), focusing organizational resources on particular aspects of development ensures efficiency and effectiveness.  Despite the overarching vision, which of course represents the ultimate goal, ONE actually focuses its efforts on a particular aspect of development: accountability.

Every year, beginning in 2005, the ONE campaign has issued the DATA Report, which monitors the progress of monetary commitments that several countries made to Africa at the G8 Gleneagles Summit.   The G8 countries include Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.  The report publicizes the original commitments each country pledged to Official Development Assistance (ODA) in Africa in terms of percent of Gross National Income (GNI) and projects the percentage of that commitment each country will have actually given to Africa by the end of 2010, when the commitments are due.  The overarching purpose of this report is, of course, to hold countries accountable to their commitments and to make recommendations for commitments to be made in the future, particularly at the upcoming G8/20 Summit in Ontario, Canada from June 25-27, 2010, and at the United Nations Summit in September, 2010 to review the Millennium Development Goals.  For example, between 2004 and 2009, the United States promised to give $3.784 billion in ODA to Africa, which represents a modest portion of GNI.  The DATA Report Estimates that by the end of 2010, the United States will have given 158% of their commitment, or $5.384 billion in real dollar amount.  The report then recommends that the United States set a more ambitious target as part of a comprehensive national strategy on global development.  On the other hand, Italy set an extremely ambitious target, committing 0.51% of its GNI to ODA by 2010. The report projects that Italy will not only fail to meet that target, but will also renege on their original commitment, decreasing ODA by $235 million to -6%.  As the report highlights, for ONE, and for donor and African countries, accountability is a key component of global development.  Existing and donor commitments must be tracked to maximize transparency, results orientation and clarity, while African leaders must be held accountable to their citizenry with regard to public promises concerning improvements in health, education and agriculture, which have thus far been only partially kept.

I had the privilege today of attending a conference held in D.C. regarding the ONE DATA Report, led by the CEO of ONE, David Lane (who is also a UVA grad, WAHOOWA!), former President Bush’s Chief of Staff, Joshua Bolten, and the head of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Pearl-Alice Marsh.  All three leaders commented on the need for increased accountability and transparency among both donor and African countries.  Mr. Lane also described the “Bono moment,” which references the moment the co-founder of ONE and lead singer of U2  realized that greater acknowledgement of African policy is a key part of the development process.  On a political level, this calls for G8 countries to support good policy coming from African governments, rather than imposing G8 crafted policies on African countries, or treating Africa like a basket case in need of western salvation.  Mrs. Marsh also commented on the need to reinforce good policy, and challenged the audience to consider this process atechnical issue, rather than a moral one.

This statement is concise and profound, especially from a theological perspective.  When I heard Mrs. Marsh’s challenge, my initial thoughts revolved around the simplicity of the statement, even to the point where I heard myself whisper, “obviously” to my co-worker sitting next to me.  But upon reflection, it hasn’t always been obvious to Western governments that policy making is a collaborative and intricate process that needs to occur alongside African countries, rather than apart from them.  The U.S. Farm Bill of 2002, which directed approximately $16.5 billion dollars toward American agricultural subsidies per year, is a perfect example of policy created in the West designed to provide aid to Africa that ended up devastating individual country’s economic and agricultural progress.  Likewise, it wasn’t always obvious to Western individuals that African individuals are just as moral (or alternatively, prone to sin) as they are.  Let’s not forget that for 300 years, westerners considered slavery an acceptable and moral institution, justifiable by the fact the African individuals were treated as biologically and morally inferior, and therefore deserving of forced enslavement.  If, as a Christian, my initial response to Mrs. Marsh’s profound statement is “Obviously,” then I obviously have some mental adjustments to make.  How many times a day do Christians judge people based on a false sense of moral superiority, and then retreat to an insular Christian community to stew in cultivated suppositions?  For many Christians, these judgments have become second nature and are made unconsciously.  But in order to participate in the world, as we have been biblically instructed to do, we must refrain from judgment and acknowledge the collective sinfulness of humanity.  Far too often, in an effort to live in the world, but not of it, we cultivate a sense of piety and retreat to what is comfortable.  But when one examines scripture, particularly Romans 12:2, there is a clear call to participate in the world.  In Romans, Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  A renewed mind means an agreement to love one’s neighbors and enemies equally, and is not a command to form exclusive Christian communities.  In order to test and approve God’s will, we must hold ourselves accountable to our mental iniquities, which will hopefully translate into an action oriented accountability and participation in the regeneration of the global community.

For a full PDF of the DATA Report, please visit: