Voluntary giving -- 'natural and spiritually important'

By , Education editor of The Christian Science Monitor

It was a remarkable meeting. Philanthropists and entrepreneurs came from Europe, North America, and South America. They were addressed by David Rockefeller, Adlai Stevenson III, and several Venezuelan Cabinet ministers.

They talked about global problems of inflation, pollution, population, and food shortages; they also talked about such programs as teaching literacy in the barrios clinging to Venezuelan mountains, providing basic health needs in the growing urban centers of Latin America, expanding partnerships between Latin American nations and US states, providing low-interest business loans for enterprising Haitians.

They spoke, too, of voluntary giving as both natural and spiritually important. An English-language Venezuelan newspaper, the Daily Journal, titled its article on the meeting: "To give is to believe." And it chose to summarize the speech by one of Venezuela's entrepreneurs and the vice-president of the Medonza Foundation in these words:

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"Only faith, he said, grounded in belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, who has created absolute and eternal principles, would motivate human beings with enough faith in themselves and others to motivate a world outpouring of goodwill and brotherhood. . . ."

This second conference of foundations and business leaders -- the first took place also in Caracas in 1974 -- drew together for three days of intensive discussions (and three nights of stupendous entertainment) those who have a deep interest in helping the people of Latin America with private and semiprivate funds and programs.

Many of those who attended both meetings were quick to explain that the first meeting had been one of "getting acquainted," but that this second meeting went much more deeply.

Most agreed that issues were explored in depth, but that more important still , international ties were established which are expected to grow and flourish over the next several decades.

Speaker after speaker, though, reminded one another of the need for cooperation between the "givers and the getters."

Examples were given of aid forced on unwilling subjects, when just a little more understanding would have created tenfold success.

This was particularly true, it seems, for relief aid, which often comes in a rush after a disaster but then soon disappears, drying up the soil just when the roots require the most nourishment.

That such a conference was necessary was well borne out as even fellow United States citizens -- both entrepreneurs and foundation officials -- met each other for the first time. What was even more necessary was that they not only did not know each other, but did not know of each other's common interests.

Interestingly, while many of the major speakers talked about global problems and great physical needs for the years ahead, the conference participants chose to turn again and again in their discussion to the need for individual human development.

The proverb "Give a man a fish and you satisfy his hunger once; teach him to fish, and you remove his hunger" could be called a keynote for the conference.

Business leaders, government officials, research scientists, health experts, rural developers, program officials, and philanthropists found themselves closer by both head and heart when they shared information about specific heart-to-heart programs.

For example, from Haiti: developing there is the first-ever foundation whose purpose is to provide low-interest loans to enterprising business men and women. From Brazil: a program to prepare little children for schooling while mothers are working.

From Venezuela: a package containing five workbooks and a recorder for use in a nationwide literacy campaign. Each package costs $23 (US), and one may teach five by charging $5 each. Then each of those five may purchase a package, and so on.

For each nation in Latin America: a partnership with a US state (Venezuela with Tennessee; Vermont with Honduras) whereby the "common folk" in each half of the partnership share with each other, and where each of the partnerships can contribute to any other of the programs of cooperative aid.

If I may be permitted a personal note . . . it was a grand privilege to be an observer at such a meeting. To feel the outpouring of love, concern, and, at the same time, experienced caution.

This was not a meeting of people wringing their hands over global problems; this was a meeting of people rolling up their sleeves one more notch to meet, in specific ways, those problems they feel are solvable only on an individual basis.

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