Inequality the biggest Challenge
Human dignity and freedom for all become possible when we create social structures that guarantee equal opportunities and support in solidarity. We are not born free, but are empowered by others to go our own way. Consequently, poverty is not an individual failing, but a socially caused powerlessness due to lack of resources.
In past neoliberal decades, the focus in many countries has been on personal economic freedom: We should be free to consume what makes us happy and produce what others want to consume. The IMF, an organization that for decades focused on economic freedom and minimal government intervention, concludes in recent research (Dabla-Norris, Era et al.  Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality. IMF, SDN 15/13, pp. 4 ff.) that increasing inequality leads to high social costs, too-political instability, and lower economic growth than if the bottom 20% of the population were better off.
The World Bank comes to the same conclusion (The World Bank  End Extreme Poverty – Promote Shared Prosperity. Annual Report, p. 19 & The World Bank  A World Free of Poverty. Annual Report, p. 7) when it writes that economic growth alone cannot promote inclusive prosperity. To ensure equal opportunities, greater cooperation between development partners is needed.
According to an OECD study (OECD , In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, OECD Publishing, Paris, pp. 21 f.), overcoming the growing inequality between rich and poor and promoting universal equality of opportunity requires a focus on four areas:
– Women’s participation in the economy,
– Promotion of quality jobs,
– educational efforts, and a
– tax and transfer system to redistribute efficiently.
Whatever each and every one of us does, it has an impact on the rest of the world. Accordingly, we should work for equal, cooperative interaction and ensure that accessible resources are distributed equally in the best possible way.
To cooperate means, first, to take responsibility for a reality to which all make a constitutive contribution and by which all are affected. Secondly, cooperation is characterized by the equal value and equal rights of the participants (recognition). No matter where someone comes from, no matter how old, what gender or what skin color he or she is, his or her contribution to shaping the common reality should be heard and taken seriously to the same extent. Third, cooperation means creative otherness. The goal is not to make everyone the same, but to treat each individual equally in their uniqueness. Their individual stories and their individual hopes should characterize the relationships (respect). Relationships that are responsible in the long term require compensatory mechanisms of solidarity in order to endure (reciprocity). This means that those who currently need support receive it from others. The beneficiaries, however, are aware and willing to support those in need at a later time in solidarity.
One of the great strengths of cooperation is the creation of trust. The complex arrangements ensure that everyone is given a fair place in which they can be “at home” and help to shape things. At the same time, the greatest challenge for cooperation is that it itself requires trust (pre-trust) in order to take place at all. This means that I may have to trust people I do not know or hardly know in order to cooperate successfully. However, successful cooperation in turn creates trust, which confirms the advance trust and puts it on a more secure level. Competition, on the other hand, creates mistrust and reinforces power imbalances instead of reducing them. By means of cooperation, however, the ability to act and the quality of life of all participants at the same time and that of the weakest can be exponentially improved even in the case of massive power imbalance.
Different and Equal
In the last decades there is often talk about cultural peculiarities and characteristics, which are mostly attached nationally: The American, the Indian, the Italian, the Albanian, the Chinese, the African (here it is obviously not worthwhile to distinguish too much …).
In our view, however, the encounter with others is not about so-called cultural-collective differences, but about commonality to be established on an individual basis. The stories of the people with whom we have had the privilege to meet and work have always shown us anew that we all, despite very different life experiences and obstacles that had to be or have to be overcome, in essence always strive for the same thing:
Life, Health, Human Dignity, Justice, Common Good, Freedom
There are certainly differences with regard to eating habits, clothing, music or language. However, these differences don’t matter when people with the same values meet. The neoliberal Swiss does not get along with the humanistic Swiss any more than the neoliberal Rwandan has trouble with the humanistic Rwandan. Whoever regards individualistic-materialistic economic freedom as the highest maxim of life will hardly be able to cooperate with a person oriented towards justice, human dignity and political-social freedom. And this regardless of their origin.
Access to Resources
“There is seldom any recognition of the ability of the poor to make their own productive contributions to improving their situation and benefiting society as a whole. The mere fact that the poor are alive proves that they have the capacity to survive. There is no need for us to teach them how to survive – they already can!” (Yunus, Muhammad : Defeating Poverty, pp. 133, 138).
We see the impossibility to reach certain social positions and the impossibility to access economic, social, political or intellectual resources as a central obstacle to a dignified, equal and free life. The development cooperation that COERESO conducts with its partners in Rwanda is intended to contribute to the reduction of this structural violence.
Development cooperation is a very fragile undertaking, since people have to
- establish a new and lasting relationship.
- For some, the stakes are existential and
- the power imbalance is pronounced.
- The skills to be acquired can only be built up over time and social structures can only be influenced to a limited extent.
- Historical burdens and prejudices, both traditional and actively used, can stand in the way of equal cooperation.
- Social and geographical distances can make effective communication and the resolution of conflicts difficult.Against this background, it is all the more important to be able to build trust.
To make dignity, justice and freedom possible, it is best if ideas and initiatives are developed and implemented from the community, for the community and by the community (following A. Lincoln). We do not know what people need and it is not us who have to implement, keep alive and develop the projects.
Much of the funding is made possible by COERESO and various partners. Local people bear the main burden, we create access to financial resources and provide intellectual and conceptual reflections and moral support.