Piggies and Plea Bargains
Excerpt from The Arizona Republic, September 23, 2010
“UNITED NATIONS – President Barack Obama unveiled to world leaders on Wednesday a new plan for distributing U.S. aid to struggling nations, promising to ‘change the way we do business’ by putting a new focus on self-reliance and market forces to create a path out of poverty.”
“The United States’ aim is not to simply dole out aid but to create ‘the conditions where assistance is no longer needed,’ Obama said in comments at the United Nations. The program will reward countries willing to cooperate in their own improvement, he said.”
The idea of helping countries become more self-sufficient is great, but as they say in Mexico, “Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho” (It’s easier said than done). Effectively providing foreign aid requires an understanding of the culture and leveraging non-profit organizations.
Understanding the target culture is essential in providing foreign aid. Misconceptions, misunderstandings, and misinformation all contribute to failed efforts to help those in need, which is why foreign aid necessitates much more than reading a textbook about the country in need, or simply asking a native’s opinion. A paradigm shift is crucial to our comprehension of the unique way of life which will be affected through our philanthropy.
Legal systems give us an idea of the vast differences that exist between cultures. The U.S. legal system is very unique, and differs greatly from those in Europe and Latin America. Consequently, legal terms such as “plea agreement” simply do not have a cultural equivalent. There is no concept for “plea agreement” in Spanish, and thus we can’t adequately convey (in Spanish) this commonplace negotiation between the lawyers, judge, and defendant. Besides law, there are many untranslatable topics such as food, expressions, and lifestyles. The result of this inability to communicate ideas brings confusion and misinterpretation.
Due to these cultural differences, it’s essential to work with pre-existing groups within the target country. Unless the purpose of the foreign aid is purely political in nature, the U.S. should deal with charitable organizations and churches to achieve the desired self-sufficiency.
There are two advantages to working through trusted in-country organizations. First, they understand how to market to the target culture, and secondly, they know how to reach the correct population. In the same way that Wal-Mart or McDonalds adjusts its marketing strategies from country to country, foreign aid projects must be adjusted according to cultural factors. For example, which local residents hear about the job skills workshop, and do they have the transportation to get there? There may be facilities available, but if the event is far away, unappealing, or unknown, then the aid money is being misused.
A perfect illustration of working within an existing institution, or program piggybacking, is the Perpetual Education Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is a program designed to improve the lives of members of the church through education and better employment. Basically, young adults who are active church members can apply through the local clergy, obtain an education, and repay the loan. This is a great example of how the church implemented a project within their existing infrastructure.
In summary, we must understand the culture and piggyback existing programs in order to maximize our foreign aid efforts. Through these methods we can hope to achieve self-sufficiency for as many as possible.
The Perpetual Education Fund