Chi-Dooh Li’s life changed forever when a visiting preacher commented that the amount of money being spent on fighting communists in Central America could be used to buy all the land in Central America and give it to the poor. In his book Buy This Land, Li describes how the comment became his inspiration for setting up the organisation known as Agros International to buy land in Central America on behalf of the poor.
It is a remarkable and compelling story. A child refugee from China when the communists came to power, Li lived in Sydney, then in Taipei, then for 6 years in Guatemala and Colombia, as his father was given diplomatic postings in those countries. Li subsequently went to college in the US, became a Christian, married and settled in the US, and began his career as a lawyer. His life was already busy and full when he heard God’s call to help the poor in Central America.
As anyone with significant experience in serving the poor will attest, helping people out of poverty is a lot more difficult than it seems. Effective poverty relief requires changes to the systems which keep people poor, and it requires the active participation and enthusiasm of the people who are being helped; money alone is ineffective. Agros International has found an effective way of addressing poverty because it changes the system of landlessness which has kept people poor, and it motivates the poor to work for land of their own.
The book describes how Li’s dream of buying land on behalf of the poor led to an initial experiment in Guatemala, and then to gradual expansion in other countries. In a typical project, Agros buys a large parcel of land and provides technical expertise to numerous smallholder farmers who gradually pay for their own portion of the land out of the profits they make on their crops.
This is an inspiring story, showing how a person with a God-given vision can overcome numerous obstacles and make a significant difference in the lives of many. Chi-Dooh Li’s dream has grown into a large organisation with a multi-million-dollar annual budget, but he still has not given up his day job, continuing to work as a lawyer in Seattle.
Sooner or later, almost all attorneys realise that speaking in public is part of the job, according to Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter in their book The Articulate Attorney: Public Speaking for Lawyers. Most lawyers do not particularly enjoy public speaking, and most are not particularly good at it; but anyone who is smart enough to become a lawyer is smart enough to become a proficient and polished presenter, given appropriate technique and sufficient practice.
We don’t do our churches any favours by being wimpy and indecisive; identifying and celebrating our quirks is not the gateway to communism or being un-American, and autocratic leadership is not as evil as it’s made out to be, according to John Voelz in his book Quirky Leadership: Permission Granted. We can celebrate creativity, diversity, freedom and permission, but we don’t have to be afraid of well-defined boundaries, preferences and styles.
The book discusses why church leaders should lead according to their own personality and sense of calling, rather than trying to conform to the generic leadership stereotypes advocated by the leadership literature. The author recommends setting “plumblines”, which are general principles setting out what the leader thinks is important, and which are used as the basis for decisions, so that everyone can understand the organisational philosophy.
In my opinion there is a great deal of wisdom in the book, and many usable insights for church leaders, even if they subscribe to different leadership styles. On the other hand, there is a danger in going too far with quirky leadership. As the author clearly states, church leadership is primarily about following Jesus. It is not about big-haired self-obsessed leaders developing their own cult following.
As serious philanthropists know, the results of philanthropic giving are often significantly less than anticipated. Philanthropic organisations have to decide whether it is more important to make donors feel good about themselves (in which case “results” are reported merely in terms of inputs such as amounts disbursed and number of people “helped”) or to maximise the achievement of their mission (in which case it is necessary to do the hard work of measuring and evaluating the actual outcomes such as the net benefit or detriment of a program to a poor community). The book The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving by Michael Weinstein and Ralph Bradburd describes one technique for valuing and comparing the relative effectiveness of different types of philanthropic endeavours.
Many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ, according to Thom Rainer in his book I am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us; and we don’t like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies.
The book is a journey of rediscovering the privilege and joy of church membership, a journey through six pledges which are about the joy of being last instead of first, the joy of being a unifier rather than a complainer, the joy of being a servant rather than being entitled. The six pledges are:
To be a functioning member, giving cheerfully and abundantly, and serving without hesitation.
To be a unifying church member, avoiding gossip and negative talk, and promoting forgiveness and unity.
To avoid insisting on personal preferences and desires, and to put up with associated inconveniences.
To pray for church leaders every day, including for protection and physical and mental health.
To lead one’s family to be healthy church members, worshipping together and praying together for the church.
To treasure church membership as a gift, rather than treating it as a legalistic obligation.
The book is a very short one, at around 80 pages, easy to read and inexpensive. I found it quite inspiring, and by the end I was feeling eager to commit to a higher level of church membership. The problem with passivity in churches is usually diagnosed – probably correctly – as a leadership problem, but it is also a followership problem, and this book is a great way to open the eyes of ordinary believers to the importance of their role as fully participating members of the body.
The US provides substantial food aid at times of crisis to many countries around the world. According to current policy, the food is purchased from US farmers. This has the advantage of helping the US farmers, many of whom are struggling to make a decent living, like farmers in many other developed countries. However, it also has significant disadvantages, including the logistical challenge of transporting the food aid and the adverse effects of imported food aid on local markets in recipient countries.
Unfortunately, when food aid is imported into a recipient country and distributed free of charge, local farmers are no longer able to sell their crops, because they are unable to compete with free. If the food aid continues for long enough, there will be a disincentive for local farmers to plant the next crop because they know or suspect that they will be unable to sell it, and accordingly the delivery of food aid can actually cause long-term food insecurity, as has happened in Ethiopia.
According to a recent New York Times article, the Obama Administration is seeking to change the food aid policy to give preference to buying food in developing countries, rather than buying it from US farmers and shipping it to the recipients. The change should enable the US to provide significantly more food aid at lower cost. The change in policy is being opposed by organisations with US farming and shipping interests, who stand to lose hundreds of jobs.
Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who was inaugurated yesterday, faces some awkward moments in handling the country’s international relations. Kenyatta is one of the three Kenyans currently being tried by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed after the 2007 Kenyan elections, and his election campaigning used anti-Western rhetoric, the argument being that the ICC and Kenyatta’s main opponent were tools of the West.
Now that he has become president, Kenyatta needs to decide whether to court or antagonise Europe and the US, bearing in mind the extent to which Kenya relies on those countries for funding and as major export markets. India and China are the main sources of Kenya’s imports, but they both receive no more than a tiny proportion of the country’s exports. The US, UK and private foundations contribute 100 times as much to Kenya’s health and education sectors as does China.
If Kenyatta decides to cease cooperating with the International Criminal Court, it is likely that Western countries will start imposing sanctions, at significant cost to the Kenyan economy. The country is already facing considerable financial challenges following lower than expected revenue and numerous unexpected expenses in the current budget year, and the level of private investment has been low for some time in anticipation of the elections.
Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe’s thirty years of economic outrages have not been enough to keep him satisfied. He now plans to shut down the Standard Chartered Bank and some other foreign-owned firms because they have failed to comply with his demand that it hand over 51 percent of its ownership to “indigenous Zimbabweans” (usually meaning relatives and cronies of the incumbent president).
Uncle Bob Mugabe has never been one to submit to the logic of economists, and presumably he has not noticed the link between expropriation of foreign-owned assets and the reluctance of foreigners to invest in his country, or alternatively he has ceased to care about such trivia, having presided over one of the greatest economic declines in the history of the world, reducing his country from one of the wealthiest in Africa to one of the poorest.
Standard Chartered Bank has been operating in Zimbabwe for 120 years, the first financial institution to be established in that country, according to the bank’s website. It currently has 29 branches including a special Robert Mugabe Branch, on Robert Mugabe Avenue in Harare, and employs 700 people in Zimbabwe. The bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British company Standard Chartered PLC.