By Lawrence Fuell
According to the 2011 Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances of the Hudson Institute, U.S. Official Development Assistance amounted to $28.8 million in 2009. In that same year U.S. corporations contributed $8.9 billion to international relief and development causes, including cash and in-kind contributions such as medical supplies and equipment.
Why do businesses engage in philanthropy? Is it about making money or about altruism (unselfish regard for the welfare of others)? What kinds of philanthropy do they engage in, how much, and where? These are a couple of the questions that we hope to explore at a series of evening discussions at Shoreline Community College on Feb. 8, 15, 22 and 29, with representatives from area companies: Theo Chocolate, Pura Vida Create Good, Microsoft, and Boeing. More details about time and place can be found here.
My own take on this issue, based on my previous work oversees, is that it is a little bit of both — profits and altruism. You have to make money before you can spend it (unless you are the government, but that is another subject). Some argue that taking a tax deduction for charitable giving is not philanthropy. Others argue that donating training or equipment overseas by the private sector (we call this “market development”) is not true foreign aid.
Who benefits when U.S. wheat producers provide technical assistance to flour makers in countries like Guatemala who learn how to process the raw material better? Both: It increases the likelihood that Guatemala will continue to import wheat from the U.S., but it also benefits millers when handling local or third country wheat. Similarly, Peruvian vegetable and fruit growers benefit when U.S. produce exporters provide training to local grocery store managers that results in less waste and spoilage. These are examples of how commerce can serve development.
I think the relationship between commerce and charity is best summed up by Richard John Neuhaus, whose volume, “Doing Well and Doing Good” (1992), inspired this symposium.
“It is often said … that we must make a choice between doing well and doing good, between concern for business and concern for people. …Far from these interests being opposed, they may actually need one another.”
I hope that you will join us in discussing how four local businesses, two small and two large, “do good.”
Dr. Lawrence D. Fuell, who lives in Edmonds, is Director of the Global Affairs Center and teaches Political Science at Shoreline Community College. From 1984 to 2003, Larry worked for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service and served at U.S. embassies in Peru, China, and Guatemala. He traveled extensively in these and neighboring countries, and negotiated food aid agreements that generated over $250 million in development assistance.