*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Paul Vallely: Business can help to alleviate poverty

25 September 2020

It creates not only wealth, but also human dignity, says Paul Vallely

PA

The offices of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Munich. In partnership with Save the Children, GSK reformulated a mouthwash and turned it into a gel that can be applied to the umbilical stump to prevent the sepsis that kills 400,000 newborn babies a year in developing countries

The offices of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in Munich. In partnership with Save the Children, GSK reformulated a mouthwash and turned it into a gel tha...

YOU can get asked tricky questions when you are out and about publicising a new book. Perhaps the toughest and most personal last week was this: “How has someone who was for so long an advocate of social justice now retreated into the soft option of philanthropy?”

The call for “justice rather than charity” has, indeed, been a constant thread in my public life. It was a principle woven into much of my journalism from the developing world. It was central to my activism through Christian Aid, CAFOD, Traidcraft, the Catholic Institute for International Relations, and the year during which I was seconded to Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, which laid the groundwork for huge progress on debt and aid at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005.

It was a proud moment when, working with Bono and Bob Geldof to lobby the Gleneagles summit, I saw my slogan “From charity to justice” emblazoned across the stage at the Live8 concert, which was watched by two billion people.

But is philanthropy necessarily a retreat from that? Six long years of research and writing Philanthropy: From Aristotle to Zuckerberg (Feature, 18 September, Books, 11 September) have given me time to consider this in some depth.

When I first began writing on development, prompted by the experience of reporting from Ethiopia during the terrible famine of 1984-85, I soon perceived that there were massive issues of unjust distribution of the fruits of creation. We have a system of international trade which is stacked against the world’s poor. Yet, over the years, I came to realise that, despite the exploitative depredations of many transnational corporations in the developing world, business also had a crucial part to play in lifting people out of poverty.

Small business is not just a creator of wealth: it is a creator of human dignity. The great Jewish sage Maimonides devised a hierarchy of giving often known as Rambam’s Ladder. its highest rung is charity, which allows the recipient to become self-sufficient, “entering into partnership with him, or finding him work, so that his hand will be fortified so that he will not have to ask others”.

There is, in such giving, a recognition of the importance of mutual respect. It can be there at a higher level, too, as in the eight-year partnership between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Save the Children to combine the expertise of the business and voluntary sectors to save the lives of the poor. Together, they have reformulated a GSK mouthwash and turned it into a gel that can be applied to the umbilical stump to prevent the sepsis that kills 400,000 newborn babies a year in developing countries.

There are other examples. Danone teamed up with Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh, to develop a low-cost yogurt that provides 30 per cent of a poor child’s recommended daily nutrients.

Discovering shared values can create win-win results. It can compensate for market failures and government short-termism. It can fund grass-roots organisations to mediate between individuals and the market and the State. Critical thinking about philanthropy can make bad philanthropy good — and good philanthropy better.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Church Times: about us

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)