Thursday, August 9, 2012

Giving is at its best when it encourages other people to give

I established the Gitelson Award for "Human Values in International Affairs" at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) a number of years ago. Originally it was interpreted by the SIPA awarders as a prize for human rights scholarship and action. Nonetheless, I maintained that the core concept went beyond just "human rights" and was applicable in all fields when people treated others from different backgrounds in a humane way. It was essential, moreover, to consider human values in economics, finance and other areas where the emphasis is usually more on profit and cost-benefit analyses than enhancing other peoples' lives.

As the award has evolved through the years, the winners have really come from a variety of disciplines. Lately, the prize has gone to collaborative groups in workshops often traveling to other countries on thoughtful missions. This year (2012) the award went to a workshop project on "Avoiding the Resource Curse in Uganda" under the supervision of Professor Jenik Radon. Eight students from Canada, India, Norway, the US and elsewhere worked in Uganda with Members of Parliament and others to emphasize that the revenues from newly discovered oil should not be concentrated among the elites, as happens in so many Middle Eastern, African and other countries, but rather should be distributed widely for the benefit of people throughout Uganda. They could find models, for example, in Canada and Norway.

When I met the awardees and their parents at the SIPA commencement in May, it was obvious that they had formed close bonds with each other and with the people they had met on their Uganda workshop. So much so that the eight recipients decided rather than keeping their prize money for themselves, together they would give all the funds to build wells in Ugandan villages so that the people would have easier access to essential water.

It is thrilling to know people who have taken what they have received and given it joyfylly to a project where it can make a difference. They demonstrated that they are likely to continue giving effectively to others in the future!

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