By Bill O'Keefe
Donors to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) know their gifts improve the lives of millions of people in over 100 countries. Their donations build up local partners, directly benefiting children, women, and men who are poor and vulnerable. But that generosity does more -- it also amplifies the voice of so many, the poor of the world who are so often ignored by governments, corporations, and international organizations.
That is why our work is not only in the cities, villages and fields of those in need, but also in the halls of Congress, the Old Executive Office Building, and the meeting rooms of the United Nations, wherever people are gathered who have the power to address root causes of poverty, injustice, and conflict. It is through advocacy that the generosity of our donors is multiplied and has lasting and systemic impact.
Much of the advocacy we support directly empowers people around the world to confront and change government policies and practices in the countries where we operate. Twenty years ago, we made sure the needs of refugees from Kosovo were known in the countries where they sought refuge. Now we do the same for those fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq, and Central America.
Given the political polarization and transition in our own country, though, it is all the more important that we strengthen the connection between advocating for U.S. foreign assistance and the generosity of our donors.
In Catholic social teaching, responding to the causes of poverty and injustice is a moral duty. It applies to individuals and to nations. Consequently, while foreign assistance has economic and security implications, ultimately it is a moral responsibility of the American people.
For our donors, advocating for effective foreign assistance is also a good investment. The fact is that no matter how generous individuals are, private donations will not sustainably meet the human needs we face. Public donor funds are necessary and ensuring that those funds are effectively deployed to the right cause is a critical means of addressing poverty and injustice. My own experience bears this out.
I first learned about CRS from publicity around the response to the 1984 Ethiopian Famine. Only five years later, I was employed by CRS backstopping another famine response in the same country. I will never forget taking a phone call then from a donor who asked, "Why do we need to respond in Ethiopia again? I thought we already responded to that problem."
It was a good question. In fact, at the time the United States provided ample emergency food aid, but little assistance to help small farmers grow or buy nutritious food so we would not need to respond again. With the support of generous private donors, we and many other Interaction members have made significant progress correcting this imbalance through advocating for successful passage of the Global Food Security Act (GFSA).
In total, GFSA authorizes the US to expand and improve food security for small farmers so they will eventually be free of the need for emergency assistance. Combined with other US programs for which have advocated--development food assistance that is part of the Title II Food for Peace program for example--many Ethiopian farmers impacted by a horrific drought this year did not need the kind of emergency help they did in previous years.
The benefits many Ethiopian small farmers have experienced have been duplicated in many other countries. US foreign assistance contributes to those benefits and the private donors who supported the advocacy for those programs deserve real credit. Their gift keep on giving, multiplying its impacts, as our advocacy helps our government expand and improve its foreign assistance.
It is another important reason to be generous on this Giving Tuesday.
Bill O'Keefe is Vice President for Advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and InterAction, to celebrate #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement, and the series aims to celebrate how people are giving back around the world. For more information about #GivingTuesday, visit here. To learn more about InterAction, visit here. And to join the conversation on social media, use the hashtag #GivingTuesday.