Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Clarity-on-charity begins at home?

Upon arrival back from Kingston,Jamaica the immigration officer said “Why where you in Kingston? There’s nothing there. Lots of poverty…” He was somewhat bemused at my insistence of millionaire mansions, private jets, sushi and jazz clubs. There’s a LOT of money in Jamaica! As well as a poverty.

This poverty has all too often become the global brand of Jamaica. What can be done of this widening gap for the poor? Simple solution! Charity work? Get the ‘haves’ to donate to the ‘have nots’?  A gut reaction which we would all instinctively agree to; It’s a barrel-child mentality that has been implemented for centuries. But, is this constantly targeting the symptoms, not the cause? Can giving be a bad thing? Let’s first remove the philanthropic blinders that prevent us from debating the ‘noble’ practice. Have you done that? Good, now we can begin. Dr Neil Levy, a researcher at Oxford’s Program of Ethics argues that, “.. philanthropic activity carries with it serious risks of changing the balance of funding from the public to the private sector, thereby exposing those most in need to the vicissitudes of the market. To the extent that private funding of essential services becomes the norm, the vulnerable become the recipients of (at best) uncertain aid, which is liable to fluctuations and constant reduction.” It also makes funding vulnerable to people’s sympathies, putting a civic responsibility at the emotional and economic whims of donors. Author and economist, Dambisa Moyo says that charity has “..fostered dependency, encouraged corruption and ultimately perpetuated poor governance and increased poverty.” Curiously, she also notes the fact, that before aid, Malawi,Burundi and Burkina Faso were actually economically way ahead of China on a per capita income.

So,if charity is a band aid on a cancer, if we didn’t give, the poor would not survive?  These people had nothing in the first place and don’t need to be patronized in short term un-reliable support. They deserve better. You can’t build a public sector service system on an independent charity; what if they change their mind? What if they are no longer interested in providing that service? Charities depend on the desires and incomes of unaccountable donors while the work of governments is subject, in many cases, to regular democratic or political review, and is thus more subject to public scrutiny and control. How much corruption could there be? What are the governments doing while the charity is trying to salvage that public sector? These governments (both parties) have become so relaxed about their responsibilities that Stockholm syndrome has set in and the public are beginning to feel it’s not the public sectors issues; Let’s go pack that pothole ourselves!

There is a place for charity. However, charity should not become a substitute for real justice, nor does it always provide the best solution and it’s benefiting the State more than the needy. Indeed charitable giving may even distract from finding the best solution – which might involve a complex rethink of the way the Government organizes its economic relationships, and large-scale government initiatives to change people’s conditions.

Also, Never forget that Profit x Philanthropy = Power. Philanthropy is the essential element in the making of power. It gives the corporate elite a priceless reputation as public benefactor which the public values so highly that power over public affairs is placed in the hands of these elite few. Philanthropy generates more power than wealth alone can provide. We see this with the Don’s in garrisons to the Uptown elite who choose their pet projects instead of their main focus being fighting the real issues. The bigotry of the low expectations.

Lobby the real leaders of change in Government for transparency; Find the urgency of a united non-partisan, all party collaborate to push for public services that are a nations right. Include in that a functioning market economy based on democracy and law. Peuvian Economist Hernando de Soto notes that no nation can have a strong market economy without the adequate participation in an information framework that records ownership of property etc. Unreported economic activities results in many small entrepreneurs who lack legal ownership to obtain credit, sell their business, expand or get legal aid. Microfinance can liberate with interest free loans, which as have found help sustain third world countries globally with incredibly low default rates.  But in so doing all of this, this would change the leverage of the poor out of a charity/feudal mindset, into a more modern market economy for ALL, which in my view is NOT what those in Government or the wealthy elite would want.

Don’t give fish, find a way to provide rods – FOR ALL.

Jane Nina Buchanan, Owner Originally from Liverpool, England she started her career as producer and presenter of the SONY award winning show “Streetlife” on the BBC. From radio she moved on to television with seasons as Entertainment Producer for the network Granada TV show,”This Morning” and later “Jameson Tonight” on Sky TV. Headhunted from Sky TV by Sir Bob Geldof and Lord Waheed Alli company at 25yrs old, she was appointed the position of US Producer for Planet 24 Productions. Based out of NYC she coordinated and produced all US strands for the controversial show “The Word” and later, Channel 4’s “The Big Breakfast”. When Planet 24 relocated to LA to produce the successful “Survivor” reality show, Jane decided to make NYC her home and continues to live and work in the media. She has held staff positions at New Video Group/Docurama (Home Video arm of A&E/The History Channel), Disney Theatrical (Lion King,, Mary Poppins and Phil Collins’ Tarzan) Maxim Magazine/Dennis Publishing, and Bad Boy Entertainment with Sean P.Diddy Combs.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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JaneNina Buchanan