Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hearts and Minds

"Working for Global Justice - Conference Exhibits Power of Collaboration"

Newly ordained Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York put the day’s events in perspective with one line. “We’ve seen here today the head and the heart of the Church”. At yesterday’s Working for Global Justice Conference, Fordham University and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) celebrated ten years of collaboration in a way befitting to their common interests and missions.

The Catholic Church and, in particular, the Society of Jesus have long had a role in higher education. Whether it is St. Xavier’s in Mumbai, the Universidad de Centroamerica in Managua or Fordham University in the Bronx, when one walks through the campus grounds you will see Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG) chiseled in the walls. What does it mean? Well literally it means “For the greater glory of God” but its significance is the life blood that fosters the success of both Jesuit schools and CRS.

The beauty of a Jesuit education goes far beyond commitment to academic excellence. It is cemented in the core concept of putting what you have learned into practice toward the betterment of the common good. In a previous post I commented on a lecture I heard by Jon Sobrino SJ at Boston College. Sobrino challenges Jesuit and Christian universities to produce people who have a moral obligation to the poor and a deep rooted sense of social responsibility. It is a goal that transcends religion and one that epitomizes the collaboration between Fordham’s graduate program in International Political Economy and Development (IPED) and CRS.

Students of the IPEDgraduate program put their course work into action as fellows or employees of CRS – an organization rooted in Catholic social teachings. CRS is a multinational humanitarian organization providing care and programs in countries all across the world and employs people of all traditions, religions, and creeds. Most importantly they operate with what I have come to learn is the most successful approach. They do not dictate terms. Instead there is an emphasis on conversation - taking into account cultural and religious sensitivities. Moreover, they seek partnerships with local field organizations and community leaders, which creates greater effectiveness and reach with programs. In my eyes, CRS has adopted the core teachings of Catholicism – that ours is a world tied by common humanity and shared wants, needs and dreams. Their goal is not conversion; it is development, solidarity and a shared sense of action.

The head and heart are major topics in western philosophy. The brain often symbolizes intellgence and thought while the heart passion and love. Decartes said "I think therefore I am". St. Thomas Aquinas said "Love takes up where knowledge leaves off". The majority of us hope our hearts and minds find a synergistic path that builds a vocation beyond our careers. Just as blood is the life line between our brains and hearts, what unites IPED and CRS is their shared commitment to the greater good - synergy at its finest.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Website Worth Visiting

A Website Dedicated to Challenge, Inform and Inspire Action

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Monday Launch Time

I will be officially launching my new website on Monday. The website will serve as a resource tool and a central hub for my work. Featuring resources, like websites and video presentations, and different ways to get involved with social and economic justice initiatives, the objective is to challenge, inform, and inspire action.

More to come Monday

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Life Project for Africa

Russell Simmons Challenges the Audience to Give More Despite the Times

“It is in giving that we receive. When we give - we get.” Sitting in the lap of luxury at the Prestigious Trump National Golf Club, an estate owned by Donald Trump, Russell Simmons found the words to convey a poignant message.

Russell’s words struck at the heart of my initial unease. The country club is an exquisite example of opulence – marble bathrooms, statues galore, myriad chandeliers, and everything Trump-like you can imagine. Yet, the evening was devoted to raising funds to create access to water, access to medication, access to education and the basic necessities – the things that really matter.

The organization running the fundraiser was Life Project for Africa (LPA), a young but successful group that understands the importance of a comprehensive mission. By building and equipping a hospital and tackling issues like education and water, LPA has begun the process of changing the lives of a population of 120,000 in Tanzania. What started out of the efforts of a Catholic Church’s parishioners, led by Tanzanian priest Fr Stephen Mosha, has grown into a separate non-profit organization with the vital mantra of “together we are hope”.

The mantra is not lost of the evening’s event. It is important to note that LPA is entirely volunteer run and operated and that the event was held at the country club through the generosity of Donald Trump. In doing so LPA was able to attract a very broad and resourceful audience. Throughout the delicious hor dourves, fine foods, and dancing the gala goers were lured into the world of people struggling through everyday life in Tanzania. Most importantly they were shown how the funds generated from previous evenings had impacted the lives of people on the ground seven thousand miles away.

Russell’s parting words put the evening into perspective. He acknowledged that he and other people in the room had lost and have been losing quite a sum of money over the past 12 months. He continued saying the circumstances do not mean they should be giving less. To paraphrase - these are the times people with resources should be giving the same as they always have and even raising the bar. In many ways Simmons challenged the audience to think deeply about what they have and how they can use it to benefit others. It is a simple message with profound implications – one that LPA has grown to embody.

There is a great video on the LPA website that I recommend watching

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life Project for Africa Gala

I will be attending the annual fundraising gala tonight for Life Project for Africa. The volunteer based and run organization seeks to address health and education issues in Tanzania and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. I will be attending as a guest of Fairfield University's Department of Religious Studies.

I will follow up with a full entry on the organization this weekend. In the mean time I invite you to check out their website and watch the introductory video.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

G20 Summit in England

The G20 started in 1999 as a response to the financial crisis of the 1990s. It is an extension of the G8, which started in 1973 after the oil crisis. Many hail the G20 because it is a better representation of the world economy post globalization. With the additions, particularly India, China, and Brazil - "the G20 economies account for more than 80 percent of the global gross national product, about 80 percent of world trade and some two-thirds of the world population.” (Newark Star Ledger) What this summit represents is an opportunity for world leaders to shape the present and the future.

Here is a short list of questions that will flow through the G20:

1. What is the future of globalization? One finance commentator on CNN put it bluntly, “Western Capitalism is on its knees”. The free market is in free fall as countries are throwing stimulus packages and propping up teetering banks and multinational corporations.

2. “Cold feet” and protectionist policies can bring the global economy to even lower levels. Countries have already started the process of banning certain imports (China in particular) or creating tariffs. If markets start closing businesses will suffer greater losses.

3. Will the off shore banks that act as accounts to evade taxes and hide corruption be forced to open their books? This has been a hot topic issue, one that G8 members point to countries like Switzerland and Luxemburg – often throwing bricks before examining in-house. It is well documented that states, such as Delaware and Nevada, have reduced regulations and heavy incentives to attract corporate accounts.

4. What will come of the bilateral and scheduled side meetings? Not often are 20 heads of state together at a summit. Side meetings set the ground work for policy and the road ahead.

a. USA and Russia
i. Agreed today to reduce number of nuclear arms
ii. Can they find common ground with engaging Iran and what about Afghanistan?
iii. Russia is attempting to establish a “sphere of influence” over many of its former soviet satellite countries (US base closings in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan). What is the diplomatic response?

b. USA and China
i. China has been financing much of how the US does business over the past decade. The stimulus package and bail outs have generated such vast amount of new money that inflation is surely to hit at some point. China has remarked that the US dollar should not be the world’s standard reserve.
ii. Trade policy, regulation, and human rights are all major issues that will be on the table when President Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao

c. USA and the EU
i. Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany) and Nicolas Sarkozy (President of France) have both been publicly critical of the US stimulus package citing the high cost of spending. What measures come out of the summit will be interesting as all have suggested that collaborating and working together will greatly expedite the recession