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SAPP Guest Post: Nyasa Islam on international philanthropy and Amartya Sen

May 12, 2010

We are pleased that Nyasa Islam is here with us today to tell us about a recent event with Amartya Sen that we announced a few weeks ago.  Nyasa is Program Coordinator at the Chicago Global Donors Network, an organization that supports Chicago area donors with their international giving.  She invites SAPP readers to check out another upcoming CGDN event with Paul Collier on May 28th – register here!  Here are her thoughts on the recent Sen event:

(c/o Harvard)

In late April, the Chicago Global Donors Network hosted a private luncheon with Amartya Sen, the noted economist-philosopher and Nobel Laureate.  Sen’s commentary featured his most recently published book, The Idea of Justice, and also touched upon topics of philanthropy.

In his book, Sen offers a new understanding of the idea of justice.  Though dominant theories of justice in the social contract tradition identify the social contract as ideal, Sen argues that justice is actually imperfect, just as institutions are imperfect.  So justice is not about what is ultimately just, but how one can make things better when faced with two or more situations that are not perfectly just.

Sen then moved the conversation to philanthropy by acknowledging the increased debate on the effectiveness of aid.  After reflecting upon his work with Oxfam as an Honorary Advisor, Sen assured us that, if done in a discriminating way, aid can be very effective and we should not lose sight of this in the midst of criticism.

To close, Sen shared with the group what he thinks is a very worthy recipient of donor funds – the development and promotion of local media and a climate of public knowledge.  In many countries, though there are a number of good papers, foreign affairs coverage sounds largely identical because the papers use the same agencies.  A far richer discussion could emerge if other points of view were included.

Further, Sen shared the story of the Pakistani girls that were caned by the Taliban.  When grassroots video footage of the caning was released to the public, a groundswell of support emerged that ultimately motivated Pakistan to get involved in Afghanistan.  “People underestimate the role of ignorance in a calamity,” Sen remarked, and what better way to combat that ignorance and serve civil society than to support better news coverage?

Looking for a way to contribute now?  Internews, an international media development organization, was featured at the Chicago Global Donors Network’s 2009 Conference on International Giving.  The organization’s mission is to empower local media worldwide to give people the news and information they need, the ability to connect, and the means to make their voices heard.  Internews has worked in over 70 countries and trained over 80,000 people in some of the world’s most difficult environments, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Southern Sudan and Eastern Chad.

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