My English teacher once told me “charity is not justice, politics is.” Considering I was 15 and thought donating to a Trócaire box once in a while was my gift to the world, it did not register with me at the time. But now, it all makes sense. When we think of philanthropy, we think Bob Geldof and his Live Aid; we think of Chuck Feeny and his work with Amnesty; and we even think of U2’s Bono, who has involved himself in pretty much anything to do with giving back. Except, it seems, when paying his taxes.
In 2006, Bono decided to move his tax affairs from Ireland to the Netherlands, and essentially committed tax avoidance. While you may put this down to his own personal choice, Christian Aid estimated that $160 billion is lost to the developing world when funds are moved from poorer countries to tax havens.
This is a critical element that has been forgotten about in the narrative of poverty, a one-dimensional story of poverty, might I add, that makes us believe all African children aren’t educated, don’t have TVs, and have no quality of life at all except the strive to survive. So often, people refer to Africa as if it is one country and not made up of 54 different countries with different cultural identities. There is but one story we know of Africa and it was made up by us, for us.
Don’t get me wrong – philanthropy saves lives. It creates awareness for issues that would never have made it to our media otherwise. It raises vital funds for people’s survival. It even assists in conflict resolution. These famous artists and creators that use their platform to spread an important social message is something people should always admire. The problem is it’s simply the wrong message.
If you were to think about poverty, we often imagine a lack of funds for education, or perhaps lack of resources for healthcare, all originating from a corrupt government, civil conflict, or even resulting from environment disasters. However, the most detrimental consequence to the developing world is the unbalanced wealth distribution and extraction.
“Consider the 5:50:500 rule, in which $5 billion is given in voluntary aid, $50 billion is given in Official Development Assistance and $500 billion is taken from developing countries and handed back to developed countries.”
So, no matter the good intentions of these good Samaritans, who use their time and money to broadcast live events and massive projects that conjure up millions for charities, we still remain at only surface-level solutions. How do we become better and do better?
This is the struggle. To become better global citizens, we must reflect on historical interventions of international aid. We must understand that throwing money at a problem only gets it so far. We must look at the aid that does work, like sustainable development aid, or development education programmes which provide new knowledge to these communities which our current approach is so deeply lacking.
More often than not, we decide to help people without even asking what exact help it is they need. We think that we know best for communities we know nothing about. It is ethnocentric, and it’s wrong. Worse of all, people with privilege turn a blind eye to tax fraud or the movement of people’s investments to different accounts and countries. We brush it off as a mere business choice, but pay little attention to what it is actually doing to our world. It is making sure that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor and continuously widening the gap between these constructs.
To become better, we must become global-readers and become globally aware. We must understand the danger of single-sided stories by making ourselves aware that these narratives are blocking us from recognising the true reasons why poverty thrives in our societies.
Yes, philanthropy is great. But paying your taxes is so much better.
Featured photo created using Canva
This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Rachel