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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Meeting the Bishop of Botswana

I was privileged the other evening to go with Mother Crafton to a reception for the Bishop of Botswana, the Rt. Rev. M. T. S. Mwamba. The gathering was a small, informal event in the Rectory at St. Michael's Church in Manhattan, and there was ample opportunity to talk with him and other guests. These included my own Bishop, Orris Walker of Long Island, who had met Bishop Mwamba in South Africa last year.

Bishop Mwamba is a native of Zambia and has extensive education in law, theology and social anthropology. He has served churches in England and Zambia and performed administrative roles for dioceses in Zambia and Botswana and for the Church of the Province of Central Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe). He became the Bishop of Botswana in early 2005. The Bishop has also worked in the private sector; he was Head of Legal and Compliance at Standard Chartered Bank Botswana Limited from 1999 to 2004.

Botswana, which is located just north of South Africa, is a relatively prosperous place. It has the advantage of a number of natural mineral resources, especially diamonds, and benefits when commodity prices rise, as they have done recently. Its government is a stable one, independent since 1966 and fully democratic. There have been no violent revolutions, tribal wars or riots as have plagued other African countries. The Bishop explains that this is at least partly due to a societal structure that is evolutionary in nature, in which the leaders have seen fit to transition gradually from old institutions to modern ones. The leaders too have not been militant dictators, nor have they grabbed all the money income for themselves. These are relative conditions: deep poverty remains prevalent among the ordinary people, unemployment is high and the rate of HIV/AIDS infection is the second highest of any African nation.

So Bishop Mwamba is visiting in the US on an aid mission. But it is a different kind of "aid" he is seeking. He is using contacts from his banker days to approach companies, looking for strategic, long-term investment alliances. What he hopes is to bring home business arrangements that can help put his people to work and broaden the economic base of his country. Most directly, his goal is to build the church in Botswana by bolstering the financial well-being of the community.

This sounds like a sound plan to us – if we may be so bold to opine. It is an approach that avoids the burden of heavy debt even as it engages the people it wants to help, not through hand-outs, but through jobs. Many countries that have listened to Keynesian economics have used public works to put people to work, trying to jump-start their economies. Sometimes this succeeds, but often, as soon as the projects are finished, so are the jobs. The Japanese went through this several times during their trials of stagnation during the 1990s. So Bishop Mwamba's idea to go after real businesses seems promising to help build a firmer commercial foundation. Not simply a coincidence, we suspect, the Bishop's wife Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba heads a quasi-governmental business-relations agency, Botswana Export Development and Investment Authority.

Clearly, developing countries face many hurdles – that's why they are still developing. But efforts such as Bishop Mwamba's can help move them forward. We wish him and the good people of Botswana the best as they keep trying.

And we very definitely thank the Rev. Canon George Brandt, Rector of St. Michael's, for his generosity in hosting this pleasurable evening.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rogation Day Prayers

It is late in the evening of the last "Rogation Day", that time just before Ascension Day – and almost always in May – when we pray for God's blessing on agriculture, on the year's crops and on fishermen. As we noted here a year ago, the modern church in the industrial age broadened these petitions to include "Commerce and Industry" and also our own Stewardship of Creation.

This evening, then, let us offer from the Book of Common Prayer,

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And from A New Zealand Prayer Book,

God of all the earth,
you have given us the heritage
of this good and fertile land;
grant that we may so respect and use it
that others may thank us
for what we leave to them.
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Ways of the World" Has a Birthday!

This week marks the first anniversary of the "Ways of the World" blog on the Geranium Farm website. A recent query from a reader in Texas had us digging back into some old articles, especially from last summer, and we were reminded of the variety of issues we have been talking about.

The reader asked us about the Grameen Bank, the Nobel-Prize-winning "people's bank" in Bangladesh which seeks to facilitate personal growth in that nation's villages through micro-loans. They've succeeded now for 30-plus years, and we were surprised to realize that we have written about them about half-a-dozen times, celebrating that effort.

This people-oriented perspective governed our approach to the Millennium Development Goals. Our favorite foray into that world-wide topic was a "field-trip" to St. Bart's Church in Manhattan to hear Archbishop Ndungane of South Africa. He emphasized that what his people hope for in that program is not charity, but access to resources: "a hand up, not a hand out" as the saying goes.

We've talked several times about business leaders in their roles as creators of jobs and wealth for everyone and as philanthropists in the use of their own wealth. We've prayed for them, in a deliberate attempt to call attention to what we – frankly – have long perceived as a scarce element among the concerns of the Church. This isn't an appeal to a gospel of prosperity, but a recognition of these business leaders as people who have major responsibilities and very much need God's guidance and support. This topic will come up again right away next week when the Church commemorates Rogation Days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day, a traditional time of prayer for commerce and industry as well as agriculture.

We've talked about ourselves as consumers. In response to a resolution passed by last June's General Convention called "Culture of Debt", we examined the way people spend money and run up bills. We suggested that retirement planning – at any age – might help reduce people's hunger to "… Buy Things They Don't Need", the title of a marketing book we quoted. We even wrote a silly song: a new verse to "Here Comes Santa Claus" that encourages you to "Watch Your Credit Card".

The topic we became the most excited about is ecology. High energy prices got our attention and we were amazed to learn that the world is consuming more than 42,000 gallons of petroleum every second. That number still appalls: 42,000 gallons a second. There are many kinds of waste with petroleum and with other natural resources. Carbon emissions are bad. Once again and especially in the absence of a consensus in the United States on the proper role of government, our emphasis here has been on private sector initiatives. The rest of us can tackle the problem without waiting for further public policy changes. In fact, operating businesses and households in a "greener" way is becoming more mainstream every day. We ourselves have come to believe that taking care of the world doesn't really require "sacrifice", but instead different styles and practices than we're used to in daily living. It's our current profligacy, by contrast, that will bring about the eventual sacrifice.

So what is coming up in Year 2 of Ways of the World? To begin, what would YOU like to hear about? For instance, we do have a reader's question of long standing about fair-traded coffee and other goods, and we promise to get to that soon to assess its effectiveness in improving the farmers' and the producers' lot. That will lead us into the maze of globalization. Last week, we referred to government budgets as a hornets' nest, and we need to work our way around that issue. We haven't mentioned social security or health care, and we really need to go through those together. But, please, good readers, do let us know what you are interested in as well. And if you disagree with arguments we make, let us know that too. We can all grow by having more discussion.

Writing these articles is a pleasure for me and this is a good opportunity for me to thank Barbara and the supporters of the Geranium Farm for making "Ways of the World" possible. Imagine the imagination of these Episcopal Church leaders who would take in a former Wall Street financial economist and let her write articles under the heading "Ways of the World"! I think that's pretty innovative, and I hope what we're doing here is what they thought it might be.

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