essay contest


The United Nations established 2/20 as World Day of  Social Justice Day in order to “support efforts of the international community in poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, gender equity and access to social well-being and justice for all.”  The UN also uses the day to ask world citizens what does Social Justice mean?

Part of St. John’s Social Justice mission is to make the Social Justice dimension of research/action more explicit in various “academic” disciplines, and to  promote awareness of Social Justice issues/actions, on pastoral, academic and diplomatic levels.  Our efforts are “academic” only in the sense that we can use the time and mental-space that University life affords to explore  the “big picture” of Social Justice principles, (and what they mean), in order to enact social justice in concrete applications for our students and communities.

The  Catholic Church’s presence at the UN — the Permanent Observer Mission of Holy See Mission to the UN — tries to help to answer the question at the diplomatic level during UN deliberations; The UN Mission submits statements to help remind the  UN body that worthwhile goals of  peace and development are authentically pursued only when the means are consistent with the principles of Social Justice found in Catholic Social Teachings:

  • Respect for Dignity of the Human Person
  • Call to Participation based on the Social Nature of Humanity
  • Rights and Responsibilities of individuals, towards the benefit of the Common Good
  • Protection for the Poor and Vulnerable
  • Respect for Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  • Subsidiarity in Government (so that problems should be effectively handled at the lowest possible level of governance)
  • Solidarity
  • Care for the Environment – Stewardship of Creation

As part of World Social Justice Day, ihe UN’s International Labor Organization is promoting the “The Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization” and is calling for people to respond to the question “What does Social Justice mean to you?” There is also another local opportunity to add the collection of voices promoting Social Justice in various disciplines via the Libraries’ Applied Social Justice Essay Competition (the deadline for submitting abstracts for is this coming Tuesday 2/22). We encourage you to respond to these calls; by doing so, you can help inform the notion of social justice as is applies to the “real world.”

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Image courtesy Vatican Radio Website

Social Communication has been squarely in the spotlight this week, starting with the Pope’s message on World Social Communications Day.  You can read his message Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age” on the Vatican website, or you can listen to an interview with Archbishop Claudio Celli (who heads the Pontifical council for Social Communications) on the importance of the message on Vatican Radio. (1)

This emphasis on Social Communications  is a wonderful correlation with our call to “Be Vincentian” this week.  How is it that we reflect our Vincentian mission in our real-life and extended virtual worlds?  How can our studies, and the direction of our research, reflect a commitment to the most vulnerable, both in our local communities and around the world?  How do we use the Social Communications tools at our disposal to promote quality research and access to the information necessary to be active participants in our communities and world?

A couple of related stories bring these social communications & social justice issues to light.  Catholic Relief Service’s Fair Trade branch has posted a crowd-sourced “Request For Proposals” (via blog, Twitter and Facebook) calling on all “Solutionaries” to suggest proposals on how CRS should invest  up to $50,000 each “in action-oriented research and/or pilot initiatives to tackle the persistent questions” in development work.

Global Voices Online (a community blogging site funded by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Reuters and the MacArthur foundation among others) is reporting on the roles of, and blockages of, Facebook, and subsequently twitter during planning of “Day of Anger” protests in Egypt .  ***Update 1/28 *** Subsequently, CNET, (among several news sources) indicated that the Egyptian government shut down the mostly-state run internet service providers, and instructed all other ISP and mobile connectivity providers to suspend activity, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications.”

Image of precipitous drop in internet activity, as depicted by Arbor Networks -- click image to see graphic in original context

It also prompted Leslie Harris, president of the DC-based Center for Democracy and Technology to state: “This action is inconsistent with all international human rights norms, and is unprecedented in Internet history. ****

In an effort to answer this call to “Be Vincentian,” to be “solutionaries,” and to be “social communicators” in a positive way, the University Libraries & Friends of the Libraries are proud to sponsor the 2nd Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition, which seeks entries from among undergraduate researchers whose essays incorporate and/or inform a social justice dimension within the essayist’s chosen discipline.  In addition to encouraging these students to explicitly examine the social justice dimension of their research, with a faculty member as a mentor, the libraries are promoting the use of  a variety of scholarly resources (in both traditional and Social-media venues) which contribute to the creation and distribution of the student’s university-level research. Winning essayists receive a cash prize (1st = $500, 2nd=$300), and  the winning essays then become available as a social-web-scholarly resource to other researchers and the public through open-access publishing via this library blog. (2)

The first deadline for this year’s contest is fast approaching, this Monday Jan 31 Tuesday, February 22. If you are an undergraduate student, please consider writing or revising a paper, in conjunction with your mentor; if you are a faculty member, please notify those students you think would be interested in this contest. For application details, see the Competition posting.

(1) To discover how some other Vatican & Catholic news agencies make positive use of Social Web tools, you may want to visit this GDSJ Blog entry, or to learn more about Social Web tools in this LibGuide.

(2) We are pleased to report that the winning essays from last year garnered over 1300 blog views, and elicited many positive comments from readers outside the University community.

UPDATED:  deadline for application is 2/22, final submission due 3/15.

NOTE: DEADLINES UPDATED!!!


St. John’s University Libraries &

the Friends of the Library

are pleased to once again sponsor the

 

2010-2011 Annual Undergraduate

Applied Social Justice Research

Essay Competition

 

FIRST PRIZE     $500


SECOND PRIZE     $300


IMPORTANT DATES
:

Application and support materials are due February 22, 2011. Support materials include:

  • contact information,
  • a brief abstract of the essay,
  • a working bibliography
  • a letter of support from a supervising faculty member (Click here to access and print the Faculty/Instructor Statement of Support form.

Deadline for submission of the completed essay is March 15, 2011.

Essays should be sent electronically as an attachment (MS Word or PDF format) via the St. John’s University student email account to with the subject line “2010-2011 contest submission”:

  • Prof. Caroline Fuchs at fuchsc@stjohns.edu, or to
  • Prof. Kathryn Shaughnessy at shaughnk@stjohns.edu

Submissions should also contain a title page that includes:

  1. essay title,
  2. student’s name,
  3. student’s email address,
  4. student’s mailing address
  5. student’s phone number
  6. the name and contact information for supervising faculty

Essays will be judged by the following criteria:

  • Excellence in undergraduate research with extensive use of the St. John’s Libraries’ physical or electronic collections
  • Demonstrated ability to evaluate and synthesize library resources
  • Evidence of development of an understanding for the processes of research and inquiry
  • Cogent argument of the relationship between this research and applied social justice teaching
  • Originality of thought and depth of research
  • Clarity of the writing, organization and proper documentation
  • No more than 12 double-spaced pages (entries can be between 5 and 12 pages) using standard 12-point font
  • Properly cited and formatted using MLA, APA, Chicago or appropriate discipline citation standards
  • Research projects may be either based upon independent research or a class assignment, and must have been completed during the 2010-2011 academic year.

By submitting an essay for consideration, applicants certify that the essay is their original work, and that all sources have been given proper credit. All essays must be written in English. Essays will be reviewed by a committee.

For further information concerning the contest and submissions to the essay competition, contact Caroline Fuchs at fuchsc@stjohns.edu or call 718.990.5050

The essay competition is open to all current St. John’s University undergraduate students.

Read the 2009-2010 first prize essay, “Global Warming and Climate Change: A Catholic Perspective” by Princess Ikatekit.

Read the 2009-2010 second place essay, “Microfinance: The Path to Poverty Alleviation” by Kathryn Mordeno.

Read Kathryn Mordeno’s second place  winning essay in the First Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition


Microfinance:

the path to poverty alleviation

ABSTRACT

Despite the criticisms on and limitations of microfinance in poverty alleviation, the financial services offered by this innovative tool have powerful implications in promoting economic development among low-income population groups in the world. Based on different case studies conducted in developing countries, microfinance has been found to be a reliable and effective way of empowering the poor, most especially women, while also increasing their level of participation in the global economy. By providing the poor with access to credit, savings, mortgage loans, education loans, health insurance, among others, microfinance is able to facilitate the poor’s social mobility and enable the low-income populations to actively benefit from the financial sector. The poor can also acquire necessary entrepreneurship and risk management skills through trainings and information sessions provided by microfinance institutions, leading to an overall improvement in their human capital. Due to the positive impact effected by this poverty-reduction instrument, a greater interest has also arisen among developed nations to employ such a strategy in combating widespread poverty in their region.

INTRODUCTION

Kathryn Mordeno presents a summary of her paper "Microfinance: the Path to Poverty Alleviation" at the First Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition Reception on Aril 15, 2010

Poverty is a pervasive problem in our society. Spanning across the world, poverty exists in different levels and various forms. At the current threshold of $1.25 a day, the World Bank estimates that around 25% of the population in developing regions lives below the poverty line (United Nations, 2009). This figure translates to 1.3 billion people living in poverty, or about 20% of the global population (The World Bank Group, 2010).

As the World Bank broadly defines it, poverty is a “pronounced deprivation in well-being,” (as cited in Khandker & Haughton, 2009, p. 2). The poor are deprived of basic necessities in life, such as food, shelter, clothing, and clean drinking water. They also lack access to health care, quality education, and employment opportunities that are important in improving their human capital and facilitating social mobility. Due to the profound impact that poverty has on the poor’s well-being, efforts have been made by various multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, to address these problems and combat poverty. Through the years, different poverty reduction strategies and instruments have been developed in order to improve the poor’s standard of living and help the people break the vicious cycle of poverty.

One such poverty alleviation tool is microfinance, which has gained worldwide recognition since the 1990s and has been proven to have positive effects on poverty levels in developing countries (Hossain & Knight, 2008; Venkataramany & Bhasin, 2009; Chemin, 2008). Microfinance is the provision of financial services to the poor, aiming to empower low-income populations by providing them with access to credit and other financial services. Through microfinance institutions (MFI), the poor can obtain collateral-free loans at relatively low interest rates and use the money for creating microenterprises (small businesses owned by poor people), funding children’s education, and improving homes, among others. Aside from microcredit (small loans to the poor), MFIs have also developed numerous financial products, such as micro-insurance and micro-mortgage that are designed to accommodate the poor’s financial needs. Most of these institutions have also required their clients to open up savings accounts, which could be used for emergency and investment purposes (Carr & Tong, 2002, p. 82). Indeed, microfinance has so much to offer to the poor that it has now become a global phenomenon (Carr & Tong, 2002, p. 7).

Despite the success of microfinance in including the poor people in the financial sector, critics claim that this antipoverty tool lacks hard data to prove its positive impact on reducing poverty levels. Some researchers also question the real impact of microfinance institutions (MFI) in women empowerment, and argue that assistance from the public and private sectors must be made available to effectively improve the lives of the poor. Others are also concerned at how these institutions would be able to fulfill their social goals while trying to achieve long-term sustainability.

In this article, I focus on the key features of microfinance and outline its positive effects on poverty levels, women empowerment, and psychological benefits. I also examine the main criticisms and issues raised by other researchers with regards to microfinance’s real capability of effectively facilitating social mobility, and briefly discuss the challenges faced by microfinance institutions in industrialized countries.

MICROFINANCE: GROWTH AND FEATURES

The popularity and success of microfinance are evidenced by the formation of large microfinance institutions (MFI) across the world and the increased participation of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in this growing industry. According to Pearl and Phillips (2001), 7000 micro lenders currently exist all over the world, catering to about twenty five million borrowers, of whom mostly are women living in rural areas (as cited in Elahi & Danapoulos, 2004, p. 61). Multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and UN Development Programme, have also recognized the potential of microfinance as a poverty alleviation tool and have contributed significantly to develop its programs (Midgley, 2008, p. 470). The United Nations has also declared 2005 as the “International Year of Microcredit,” and openly acknowledges that provision of financial services to low-income populations is an important step towards realizing its number one Millennium Development Goal (MDG), which is to halve global poverty by 2015 (United Nations Capital Development Fund [UNCDF], 2005).

Microfinance’s worldwide recognition can also be credited to Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Although microfinance was not his original idea, Yunus pioneered the implementation of joint-liability groups as a substitute to tangible collaterals when borrowing loans, and emphasized the role of women in managing credit and organizing microenterprises (Engler, 2009, p. 82). He founded the Grameen Bank in the 1970s as an effort to ameliorate the destitute poverty that plagued his country. He believes that the poor possess an “entrepreneurial drive” and are equipped with “survival skills” that allow them to become successful microentrepreneurs (Engler, 2009, p. 82).  He also asserts that to develop tools and services that would greatly benefit the poor, their limitations must be carefully considered by institutions which fight poverty (Yunus, 2007, p. 20). As of now his Grameen Bank has more than 1,000 branches and 6 million members, and boasts a 98 percent repayment rate (Midgley, 2008, p. 471).

There is certainly much truth in what Yunus said about how MFIs should approach their target income groups and accommodate the limitations of the poor. For instance, most commercial banks believe that this portion of population is “unbankable” due to their lack of financial resources and assets that can be put up as collateral. And so, more often than not, the poor are excluded from the financial sector because banks are unwilling to lend out loans and offer other financial services to this population group. Most commercial banks believe that the poor entail high risks, and are more likely to default on loans compared to middle and high-income individuals.

Microfinance, on the other hand, departs from traditional banking services, which only target specific groups in the population. It eliminates the bureaucracies inherent in conventional banking by simplifying paper work and forms, and establishing banking centers in villages (Yunus, 2007, p. 20). Microfinance’s core principle lies on the assumption that the poor people are motivated to do anything to move out of poverty and better their lives (https://www.microplace.com/learn_more/microfinance).

Several key features of microfinance that differentiate it from commercial banking procedures are outlined by Elahi and Danopoulos (2004). They mention five characteristics of this poverty alleviation tool: 1) small loan size, which is determined by micro lending institutions and dependent on the country’s socioeconomic development 2) focus on women borrowers, who have little access to credit 3) emphasis on the utilization of loans to start microenterprises as they provide employment opportunities to clients 4) absence of tangible collateral, and formation of joint-liability groups to enforce payment, and 5) savings mobilization programs, which require borrowers to open savings accounts and accumulate financial assets (Elahi & Danapoulos, 2004, p. 62).

Along with these key features, training and group meetings are also essential elements in microfinance. Once an individual chooses to borrow loans from MFIs, she is required to attend these activities and participate in capacity building programs. Entrepreneurship and risk management skills, credit discipline, values formation, information on health and hygiene, among others are discussed and taught in these training sessions to equip the borrower with proper knowledge of effectively managing her small business and aid her in everyday living (Dowla & Barua, 2006, pp. 18-19). Through this approach, MFIs are not only able to provide financial capital to the poor, but they are also able to promote a sense of responsibility and drive to achieve success in entrepreneurial endeavors.

BENEFITS AND WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

Aside from obtaining access to credit and other financial services, and creating microenterprises that provide employment, the poor also gain additional benefits that contribute to their overall economic improvement and social mobility. In most third-world countries in which MFIs operate, women empowerment is one of the most important effects that microfinance generates in rural communities. By acquiring access to financial capital and starting their own family business, women increase their decision-making power in the household and are able to possess skills in entrepreneurship and financial management. They gain more knowledge in terms of running their own source of livelihood and do not remain as ordinary housewives solely tied to the responsibility of taking care of their families. They start to play important roles in their communities and receive respect from other people for proving their great capacity to effectively manage resources and organize microenterprises. The benefits that women obtain from microfinance are not only financial but also encompass gender empowerment and self-actualization. In rural areas and villages, which are traditionally patriarchal, women are given the opportunity to uplift their status in the society and prove their worth as capable members of their community.

The poor in general experience social mobility through microfinance. As they acquire access to credit and become included in the financial sector, they are able to improve their economic status and increase their participation in the domestic (or even global) market. Kathryn Imboden (2005) indicates in her research that there is a growing number of literature that can support the positive relationship between financial sector development and poverty alleviation. She notes that because financial sector development contributes to economic growth, it indirectly aids in alleviating poverty. Also, by providing access to finance, the financial sector has direct effects on the economic condition of the poor (Imboden, 2005, p. 68).

Additionally, microfinance provides psychological benefits to its poor clients by promoting a sense of “self-respect and dignity, much more than handouts and grants. . .Success, self-respect and dignity are basic ingredients in overcoming the conviction that they and their children are born losers, born to fail” (van Maanen, 2004, pp. 27-28). Knowing that they are able to take out a loan, start their own business, and repay the borrowed capital through their own efforts and hard work, the poor can convince themselves that they are capable of doing something that could certainly change their lives for the better. They do not merely depend on loan sharks or moneylenders, who charge them for exorbitant interest rates, to finance their daily needs. Moreover, they also do not have to constantly rely on welfare programs for financial support, as becoming self-employed through their own businesses allows them to have a more stable source of income. If effectively managed, these businesses could potentially grow, resulting to a higher amount of earnings for the poor’s household. And so, utilizing microloans to advance entrepreneurial endeavors makes the poor better off than simply relying on welfare and high-interest loans from moneylenders. As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Providing the poor with the right financial tools and knowledge to start a microenterprise will help them long-term and allow them to become self-sustaining in the process.

CRITICISMS AND ISSUES

Like any other anti-poverty programs, microfinance is not without any controversy or criticism with regards to its real impact on poverty levels. Despite anecdotal stories of success and testimonies from female clients and other borrowers, a number of literature argue that microfinance lacks hard, quantitative data that accurately measure significant changes in the economic conditions of the poor (Midgley, 2008, p. 472). They also indicate that although participants improve their incomes, it is not clear whether this benefit accrue to the society and positively affect other people in the community and national levels (Midgley, 2008, p. 473). Clients and borrowers may indeed acquire benefits from microfinance, but its impact on alleviating poverty at the global level is still debatable. Other critics believe that market-based solutions are still more effective in uplifting the economic status of the poor. Aneel Karnani (2008, p. 23) for instance, believes that employment and increased productivity are ultimately the most practical solutions in poverty alleviation. He also emphasizes the role of government in providing programs and services that could significantly impact the lives of the poor.

Another equally important issue on the role of microfinance as a poverty alleviation tool involves sustainability. Because MFIs usually rely on donations from different organizations, foundations and governmental agencies, their operations and financial services are clearly dependent on the frequency and amount of monetary support that they receive from donors. Since donations can be unreliable, a trend towards self-sustainability has become more evident among MFIs because this allows them to better serve their clients and keep up with the high costs associated with their operations (Husain, 2008, p. 40). The Grameen Bank best illustrates this idea of a sustainable microfinance institution, charging only a modest interest rate of about 20 percent to its customers (Engler, 2009, p. 84). Muhammad Yunus believes that this rate is just enough to maintain the sustainability of his bank (Yunus, 2007, p. 22).

The problem lies, however, on those MFIs that charge higher-than-normal interest rates to the poor. Of course, this raises the question of what is the normal and acceptable rate that can be charged to borrowers. But either way, when MFIs start charging their customers high rates in order to cover costs, and perhaps even earn profit, the customers inevitably suffer and are thus faced with increased difficulty in repaying higher interests and loans. When MFIs shift direction and aim at becoming profitable, or more than sustainable, they develop a tendency to hurt the very same group people that their institutions depend on for operations. The real aim of fulfilling social goals may be overshadowed by pure economic interests if MFIs would continue to pass on the burden of costs to their customers by charging high interest rates.

Despite its significant impact on poverty levels in third world countries, microfinance faces challenges in effectively alleviating poverty in developed countries Although it has been proven to improve the lives and increase the income of people across Asia and other developing countries in the world (Hossain and Knight, 2008; Chemin, 2008), it has faced difficulties in significantly impacting the poor in more advanced countries, such as the United States. A study conducted by Schreiner and Morduch (as cited in Carr & Yi Tong, 2002) reveals that there are two important factors which affect the performance of MFIs in the United States. They are: 1) the structure of U.S. economy, which is rather more complicated than those of developing countries and have more barriers to entry for microentrepreneurs, and 2) the small size of microenterprise sector in the country. Because of these factors, which make establishment and management of microenterprises difficult, a number of MFIs have closed down because borrowers could not repay their loans. Therefore MFIs in the United States (and other industrialized countries as well) must adapt a diversity of approaches to achieve the best structure of MFIs that can work well in countries, which greatly differ from developing nations (as cited in Carr & Yi Tong, 2002, p. 55). By analyzing the differences and difficulties faced by microentrepreneurs in various regions of the world, MFIs can become more effective in accomplishing their social and sustainability goals as they develop methods and services that can further help their clients.

CONCLUSION

Microfinance is defined as the provision of financial services to the poor, offering products that range from microloans, mortgages, insurance, and education loans, among others. It has been recognized by the World Bank and other multilateral organizations as an effective method of alleviating global poverty. A number of case studies conducted in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Africa, Latin America and other countries have already proven the positive impact of microfinance on the economic status of the poor, while recognizing its ability in empowering women, aiding social mobility, providing new knowledge through training, and contributing psychological benefits to these people.

Despite the positive benefits incurred by the poor, microfinance has its own issues and criticisms. Microfinance’s real impact on alleviating poverty at the global level is not supported by rigorous research, as critics claim. Stories of success are also not enough to accurately measure the extent to which microfinance has impacted the poor. MFIs are also criticized for charging high interest rates in the pursuit of becoming self-sustainable organizations because this decision ultimately affects their impoverished clients and borrowers. Meanwhile, MFIs in developed countries face challenges in effectively helping the people, as microfinance has not yet become the main tool in fighting poverty in these places. Because of more complicated economic structures, MFIs must adapt new approaches to be able to effectively serve and address the needs of their customers.

When understanding the capability of microfinance as an anti-poverty tool, it is important to remember that microfinance is not the only solution to global poverty. One cannot expect microfinance to singlehandedly eradicate poverty in the world as there are other variables aside from economic factors that contribute to the prevalence of poverty in our society. Just like any other anti-poverty program, microfinance has its own limitations and weaknesses, but this does not mean that efforts in promoting this financial tool must be completely abandoned. So far, it has improved the lives of thousands of families in various countries. That in itself is a great feat that is just as crucial as any other effort directed towards poverty alleviation. By empowering the poor and instilling in them a sense of self-respect, motivation, and drive to move out of poverty and achieve success, microfinance is definitely an effective poverty alleviation tool that has important implications in the future of the world’s low-income populations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carr, J.H., & Tong, Z.Y. (Eds.). (2002). Replicating microfinance in the united states. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Chemin, M. (2008, April). The benefits and costs of microfinance: evidence from Bangladesh. Journal of Development Studies, 44(4), 463-484. Retrieved from Proquest Direct.

Dowla, A., & Barua, D. (2006). The poor always pay back: the grameen II story. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, Inc.

Elahi, K.Q., & Danapoulos, C.P. (2004, Summer). Microfinance and third world development: a critical analysis. Journal of Political & Military Sociology, 32(1), 61-77. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, EBSCO.

Engler, M. (2009, Fall). From microcredit to a world without profit? Dissent, 56(4), 81-87. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, EBSCO.

Hossain, F., & Knight, T. (2008). Can microcredit improve the livelihoods of the poor and disadvantaged? International Development Planning Review, 30(2), 155-175. Retrieved from Proquest Direct.

Husain, J. (2008, December). Role of micro-finance institutions in reducing world poverty: an overview. The Business Review, Cambridge, 11(1), 38-42. Retrieved from Proquest Direct.

Imboden, K. (2005, Spring). Building inclusive financial sectors: the road to growth and poverty reduction. Journal of International Affairs, 58(2), 65-86. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, EBSCO.

Karnani, A. (2008, Winter). Employment, not microcredit, is the solution.  The Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 32, 23-28. Retrieved from Proquest Direct.

Khandker, S., & Haughton, J. (2009). Handbook on poverty and inequality. Washington, DC: The World Bank. Retrieved from http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPA/Resources/429966-1259774805724/Poverty_Inequality_Handbook_Ch01.pdf

Midgley, J. (2008, July). Microenterprise, global poverty and social development. International Social Work, 51(4), 467-479. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, EBSCO.

The World Bank Group. (2010). PovcalNet. Retrieved January 15, 2010, from http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/povDuplic.html

UNCDF. (2005). Microfinance and the millennium development goals: a reader’s guide to the millennium project reports and other UN documents. Retrieved January 17, 2010, from http://www.yearofmicrocredit.org/docs/mdgdoc_MN.pdf

United Nations. (2009). The millennium development goals report 2009. New York, NY: United Nations. Retrieved January 15, 2010, from http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG_Report_2009_ENG.pdf

Van Maanen, G. (2004). Microcredit: sound business or development instrument. The Netherlands: A-D Druk.

Yunus, M. (2007, Fall). Credit for the poor: poverty as a distant history. Harvard International Review, 29(3), 20-24. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier, EBSCO.

Read Princess Ikatekit’s first place winning essay in the First Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition

Princess Ikatekit discusses global warming and climate change "as viewed through the lens of Catholic Social Justice" at the Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition Reception on April 15, 2010

 

Global Warming

and Climate Change:

A Catholic Perspective

“Some of the scientists, I believe, haven’t they been changing their opinion a little bit on global warming? There’s a lot of differing opinions and before we react I think it’s best to have the full accounting, full understanding of what’s taking place.”       George W. Bush, Presidential Debate, Oct. 11, 2000

 

Former President George W. Bush was right, of course. The great debate (all great debates) must begin from a definitive standpoint. What is global warming? Is it a serious threat? What causes it? What are its effects? What measures have been taken to combat it? Should measures be taken to combat it? The main contributors to this debate have been: scientists, the media, environmentalists, and politicians, but more recently, a new voice has joined the fray—that of the Catholic Church. This essay will focus on the crisis of global warming as viewed through the lens of Catholic Social Justice.

We shall begin, however, in the recommended manner—at the beginning. What is global warming? The global warming hypothesis was first developed in 1896 by a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius, who postulated that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause global temperatures to rise by trapping excess heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Arrhenius understood that the earth is heated by a process known as the greenhouse effect—the phenomenon by which the earth’s atmosphere traps solar radiation caused by the presence in the atmosphere of gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane that allow incoming sunlight to pass through (much like a greenhouse) but absorb heat radiated back from the earth’s surface (“Greenhouse effect”). Later, scientists elaborated on Arrhenius’ theory of global warming and became concerned that increasing concentrations of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere were causing an unprecedented rise in global temperatures, with potentially harmful consequences for the environment and human health (Haley 12).

In 1988, the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], comprising more than two thousand scientists responsible for studying global warming’s potential impact on climate. According to the IPCC, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 31 percent, methane by 151 percent and nitrous oxide by 17 percent since 1750. Over the twentieth century, the IPCC believes that global temperatures increased close to 0.5 degree Centigrade, the largest increase of any century during the past one thousand years. The 1990s, according to the IPCC data, was the warmest decade recorded in the Northern Hemisphere since the records were first taken in 1861, with 1998 the warmest year ever recorded. (Haley 13)

Given this data, many scientists are convinced that there is a direct correlation between rising global temperatures and the emission of greenhouse gases stemming from human activities such as automobile use, the production of electricity from coal-fired power plants and agricultural and deforestation practices. (Haley 13) These scientists and other environmentalists are predicting that global warming will have mostly negative consequences for the world’s climate, based on IPCC projections that global temperatures will increase by 2.5 to 10.4 degrees between 1900 and 2100. Kelly Reed of the environmental organization Greenpeace states that, “The negative effects of global warming not only include rising global temperatures, but an increase in floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, intensified hurricanes and the spread of infectious disease.” Environmentalists have used this platform to advise the world’s governments of the importance of limiting greenhouse gas emissions immediately.

Not surprisingly, in response to these pressures, a growing band of skeptical scientists are questioning the validity of the global warming theory. According to these critics, the IPCC bases its predictions for rising global temperatures on faulty computer climate models, which exaggerate the climate’s response to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, while failing to accurately reproduce the motions of the atmosphere. Richard L. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explains, “Present models have large errors… [and] are unable to calculate correctly either the present average temperatures of the earth or the temperature ranges from the equator to the poles…Models…amplify the effects of increasing carbon dioxide.” Lindzen asserts that if models accurately represented the role of the major greenhouse gas—water vapor—in the climate system, they would predict a warming of no more than 1.7 degrees C if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were doubled. This warming is significantly less than the 4 to 5 degrees C temperature increase forecasted by IPCC models under a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. (Haley 14)

Global warming skeptics also argue that natural climate activity, rather than human activity is responsible for the past century’s rising temperatures. S. Fred Singer, perhaps the most vocal of the skeptics, and a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, states that the earth’s climate has never been steady and has continually warmed and cooled over the course of geologic time without any assistance from human activity. Says Singer, “The human component [in recent global warming] is thought to be quite small…The climate cooled between 1940 and 1975, just as industrial activity grew rapidly after WWII. It has been difficult to reconcile this cooling with the observed increase in greenhouse gases.” Singer goes on to argue that temperature observations since 1979 are in dispute: Surface readings with temperatures show a rise of about 0.1 degree C per decade, while data from satellites and balloon-borne radiosondes [miniature transmitters] show no warming—with possible indications of a slight cooling—in the lower atmosphere between 1979 and 1997. For Singer and other skeptical scientists, there should be no limits placed on the consumption of fossil fuels until the science behind global warming theory is more settled. (Haley 14)

It is now clear that an impasse has been reached by certain participants in the global warming debate about whether global warming is real or not, and whether it has been caused by human activities or by natural factors. But it is true, and obvious to everyone in different regions around the world that a drastic change has began to occur in our weather patterns: there are frequent and devastating storms, killer heat waves, flood-level rains, hurricanes and droughts, all more severe than ever before. Debating about abstract concepts no longer cuts it; we may not agree completely on some of the issues surrounding global warming, but we must deal with the situation of climate change as it is on the ground.

This is the point at which the Catholic Church makes its voice heard. The Catholics introduce a key ingredient to the debate—the human factor—which the other groups seem to forget while espousing their opinions, beliefs and research findings. According to U.S. Catholic Bishops, “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the natural environment. It is about our human stewardship of God’s creation and our responsibility to those who come after us” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). They reference themes from the Catholic Social Justice teachings to back their conclusions; we discuss these themes here in order to form a fuller understanding of the Catholic perspective on global warming.

The Universal Common Good

The U.S. Catholic Bishops point out that global climate is by its very nature a part of the planetary commons. The earth’s atmosphere is inclusive of all people, creatures and habitats, therefore the melting of ice sheets and glaciers, the destruction of rain forests, and the pollution of water in one place should not be taken to be isolated events occurring “far off,” instead we should  consider that these events can have environmental impacts elsewhere. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well being of future generations” (John Paul II no.6). Responses to global climate change should reflect our interdependence and common responsibility for the future of our planet; the Bishops continue to tell us. Individual nations must measure their own self-interest against the greater common good and contribute equitably to global solutions. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Stewardship of God’s Creation

Stewardship, as defined by the Bishops is the, “The ability to exercise moral responsibility to care for the environment.” The significant aspects of this kind of stewardship would include the right to private initiative, ownership of property, and exercise of responsible freedom in the economic sector.

Economic freedom, initiative, and creativity are essential to helping us find effective ways to address climate change. A country like the United States which is wealthy and has an impressive history of economic, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship, would not find it beyond its means to rise up and meet the challenge of global warming, if so inclined. The Bishops go on to add that, “the right to private property is matched with a responsibility to use what is owned to serve the common good,”—what they term a social “mortgage” on property—and so the United States is called to use the gifts it has been given to protect human life and dignity, and to exercise care for God’s creation.

The Bishops exhort that, “True stewardship requires changes in human actions—both in moral behavior and technical advancement.” Thus we are asked, in accordance with religious tradition, to exercise restraint and moderation in our use of material goods, and not allow our desire to possess more material things to overtake our concern for the basic needs of people and the environment. With the help of technological innovation and entrepreneurship, it is possible for us to begin to travel a more environmentally benign energy path, the Bishops assert. Changes in lifestyle based on traditional moral virtues will eventually ease the way to a sustainable and equitable world economy in which sacrifice will no longer be an unpopular concept. A renewed sense of sacrifice and restraint could make an essential contribution to addressing global climate change. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Protecting the Environment for Future Generations

The Bishops state that the common good calls us to extend our concern to the future generations. They quote Pope John Paul II, “There is an order in the universe which must be respected, and . . . the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations” (John Paul II 12). In keeping with this, we cannot simply pass along the problem of global climate change to future generations because we are undecided and self-involved. We have an obligation, as stewards of their heritage, to respect their dignity and pass on their natural inheritance, so that their lives are protected and, if possible, made better than our own. We must act now.

Caring for the Poor and Issues of Equity

In this, the Catholic Bishops emphasize that the common good requires that we “promote the flourishing of all human life and all of God’s creation” and maintain “solidarity with the poor who are often without the resources to face many problems, including the potential impacts of climate change.” We are one human family, they tell us; our obligations stretch across space and time to tie us to the poor our midst and across the globe, as well as to future generations. This is what the commandment, “Love your neighbor,” means. The poor and marginalized of other nations are our true brothers and sisters too.

Following this reasoning, all nations must share the responsibility to address the problem of global climate change. But historically the industrial economies have been responsible for the highest emissions of greenhouse gases that scientists suggest are causing the warming trend. Also, they are in a better position economically, as well as in terms of technological sophistication and entrepreneurial creativity to find useful responses to this problem. The Bishops suggest that, in order to avoid greater impact, energy resource adjustments must be made both in the policies of richer countries and in the development paths of poorer ones.

Admittedly, the current use of fossil fuels has fostered and continues to foster substantial economic growth, development, and benefits for many. However, there is a legitimate concern that as developing countries improve their economies and emit more greenhouse gases, they will need technological help to mitigate further atmospheric environmental harm. So many of the poor in these countries, as the Bishops have pointed out, live in desperate situations that often lead them to adopt environmentally harmful agricultural and industrial practices. The environmental strains will only add to the problems of the governments of these poorer countries. Developing countries have a right to economic development that can help lift people out of dire poverty. Wealthier industrialized nations have the resources, know-how, and entrepreneurship to produce more efficient cars and cleaner industries. If the wealthier nations were to share their emerging technologies with the less-developed countries and assume more of the financial responsibility that would enable poorer countries to afford them, the developing countries would be able to adopt energy-efficient technologies more rapidly while still sustaining healthy economic growth and development. This is the idea that the Catholic Bishops are in favor of and say will contribute greatly to dealing with the consequences of global warming. They conclude by saying that, “No strategy to confront global climate change will succeed without the leadership and participation of the United States and other industrial nations. But any successful strategy must also reflect the genuine participation and concerns of those most affected and least able to bear the burdens.” In their opinion, ensuring that developing and poorer nations have a genuine place at the negotiating table is a moral and political necessity for advancing the common good.

Now talk is all good, you might say, but what have these Catholic Bishops actually done in keeping with their edicts? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Environmental Justice Program was established in 1993 in response to the bishops’ call for greater attention to environmental concerns. Specifically, this program seeks to educate and motivate Catholics to a deeper respect for God’s creation, and to engage parishes in activities aimed at addressing environmental problems, particularly as they affect the poor. It carries out four main tasks: scholarship, leadership and development, public policy and advocacy, and special projects.

Under scholarship, the USCCB Environmental Justice Program sponsors Catholic scholars to do theological research covering Catholic social justice as applied to environmental concerns. These useful papers have been assembled into readers such as And God Saw That It Was Good: Catholic Theology and the Environment for use by universities, seminaries, and others.  In regard to leadership and development, the program has been involved in training Catholic leaders to become familiar with Catholic Social Justice, theology and the environment, and to assist their dioceses and parishes in establishing relevant programs. The USCCB Environmental Justice Program also seeks to influence environmental public policy in light of Catholic teaching by integrating these concerns into the diocesan policy networks. Finally, the USCCB Environmental Justice Program’s special projects include alleviating the disproportionate burdens borne by the poor and improving children’s environmental health. The program has grantees stationed in different states all across the country, for example: North Carolina, Connecticut, California, Michigan and Indiana. (USCCB: Environmental Justice Program)

A few other organizations such as the Catholic Relief Services [CRS], Catholic Charities USA and Caritas Internationalis work closely with the USCCB too, under the umbrella of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change [CCCC], to reach out and help those people living in poverty—all around the world—who are unable to respond adequately to the effects of climate change. These effects include: increasingly limited access to water, reduced crop yields, more widespread disease, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and conflict over declining resources. Caritas, for example, is active in over 200 countries and is committed to bringing relief to communities, whether it is in the form of food, medicine, shelter, emergency programming or disaster preparedness. Very recently, they were able to provide the people in Internally Displaced Peoples [IDP] camps in Darfur with solar panels, a clean and easily sustainable technology. (Caritas Internationales) Caritas members from all around the world also travelled to Copenhagen to lobby governments, in the matter of the plight of developing countries, at the key climate change meeting that took place there in December last year.

To conclude this paper, I will bring up just one more personal observation. While doing the preliminary research for this essay, or gathering my thoughts together, if you will, I decided to carry out an informal survey with some St. John’s students at dinner one evening in Montgoris dining hall. The question I posed was simple, “What’s your take on global warming?” You can imagine, I am sure, the incredulous expressions that crossed their faces as they paused with their forks half-way to their mouths. What kind of conversation starter was this? I got several answers, most of which were similar, but one girl’s response in particular stayed with me. She said, smacking her lips, and rolling her eyes, “It’s like, you know, that stuff…the ice…the world is melting. We need to recycle more or whatever. But who the hell likes to recycle anyway? Whatever, I don’t like to think about this stuff.”

If that girl’s attitude was representative of the average American’s response to issues concerning global warming and or climate change, then we have a very serious problem on our hands. Whether or not we believe the scientists who support the global warming hypothesis, it would be prudent to begin to take some preventative or cautionary measures. The first step to these measures would be informing the general public about what is going on to try and get them personally involved. We have heard from the media, environmentalists, the naysayers, and politicians, but not so much from the church or other religious institutions. Religious institutions have considerable influence over their followers, and if more of them became involved in this fight to save the earth, we would have more people making informed decisions and or volunteering their services to the poor in the most affected areas. We have underestimated the power of religious influence in the matter of dealing with global climate change; it is time that we began to reconsider that decision.

Works Cited

Brown, Paul. “Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change”.  Pleasantville, NY: The Readers’ Digest Association, Inc., 2007.  Print.

Gore, Albert. An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press, 2006. Print.

“Greenhouse Effect.” The American Heritage: Science Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. Web. 25 February 2010.

Haley, James. Global Warming: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, Calif: Greenhaven Press, 2002. Print.

John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility (Washington, D.C.: United State Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1990), no. 6.

John Paul II, On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum (Centesimus Annus) (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1991), no. 32.

John Paul II, “The Exploitation of the Environment Threatens the Entire Human Race,” address to the Vatican symposium on the environment (1990), in Ecology and Faith: The Writings of Pope John Paul II, ed. Sr. Ancilla Dent, OSB (Berkhamsted, England: Arthur James, 1997), 12.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholics Confront Global Poverty, 2010. Web.30 January 2010.

St. John’s University Libraries and The Friends of the Library are pleased to announce the winners of the First Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition.

Our first place student scholar, Princess Ikatekit, has written an essay entitled “Global Warming and Climate Change: a Catholic Perspective” under the mentorship of Prof. Sean Murray (Institute for Writing Studies). In her essay, Ms. Ikatekit focuses on global warming as “viewed through the lens of Catholic Social Justice.” Under the supervision of Dr. Robert Delfino (Philosophy), Kathryn Mordeno, our second place scholar, has addressed the issue of global poverty in her essay “Microfinance: the Path to Poverty Alleviation.”

In addition to exhibiting exemplary work in research, scholarship and writing, these winning essays demonstrated a keen ability to synthesize scholarly inquiry with the concepts of applied social justice.

We congratulate and applaud their work!

There will be an informal reception honoring the recipients on April 15, 2010 in Bent Hall 277A during Common Hour, where Ms. Ikatekit and Ms. Mordeno will give a very brief overview of their essay topics, followed by some Q & A, as part of St. John’s University’s Student Research Week. Seating is limited. Space is limited. In addition, soon their essays will be published on STJLiblog.

There were three main purposes in the formation and establishment of this competition. First, we hoped to promote and reward exemplary student research and scholarship. In addition, we hoped that it would provide another opportunity for students and faculty to engage in scholarship together. At the same time, we hoped to encourage our students to give thoughtful contemplation of social justice teachings and their potential (global) application beyond the classroom.

We would also like to acknowledge the students who submitted entries to the essay competition. Although we received many outstanding essays, we regret that we cannot award each of you a prize. We encourage you to continue in your enthusiastic endeavor of your academic studies, and wish you much luck in the future.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank the University Libraries and The Friends of the Library for their sponsorship of this competition, and particularly Prof. Joan D’Andrea for her guidance and support. A heartfelt thank you goes to Theresa Maylone, University Librarian, for her encouragement and support of this program. With her common sense and expertise, Professor Kathryn Shaughnessy has helped develop and guide this process and was an invaluable asset to the essay competition’s success. A special thank you goes to Sr. Margaret John Kelly, Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church & Society, for generously volunteering her time and wisdom. Thanks to all the librarians and faculty who helped guide our students researching and writing the essay entries—your work does not go unnoticed.  It was truly a team effort that has made our First Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Essay Competition such a success.

Caroline Fuchs, Outreach Librarian

Please note that the deadlines are swiftly approaching for submissions to the First Annual Undergraduate Applied Social Justice Research Essay Competition.

Dates to remember:
• Applicants must submit their contact information, a brief abstract, a bibliography and a letter of recommendation from a supervising faculty member no later than February 1, 2010.
• The deadline for submission of the essay is February 26, 2010.

_______________________________________________________________

 

St. John’s University Libraries

together with

The Friends of the Library

is pleased to announce 

The First Annual Undergraduate

Applied Social Justice Research Essay Competition

The competition is open to all current St. John’s University undergraduate students of any discipline 

FIRST PRIZE $500

SECOND PRIZE $300

 

Essays will be judged by the following criteria:

  • Excellence in undergraduate research with extensive use of the St. John’s Libraries’ collections
  • Demonstrated ability to evaluate and synthesize library resources
  • Shows evidence of developing an understanding for the processes of research and inquiry
  • Cogent explanation of relationship between this research and applied Catholic social justice teaching
  • Displayed originality of thought and depth of research
  • Clarity of the writing, organization and proper documentation
    • No more than 12 double-spaced pages (entries can be between 5 and 12 pages) using standard 12-point font
    • Properly cited and formatted using MLA, APA, Chicago or appropriate discipline citation standards

Research projects may be either based upon independent research or a class assignment, and must have been completed during the 2009-2010 academic year. By submitting an essay for consideration, applicants certify that the essay is his/her own work, and that all sources have been given proper credit. All essays must be written in English. Essays will be reviewed by an academic committee.

Applicants are required to submit their contact information, a brief abstract, and the bibliography, along with a letter of recommendation from a supervising faculty member, no later than February 1, 2010.

The deadline for submission of the essay is February 26, 2010. Essays should be sent electronically as an attachment (MS Word or PDF format) via the St. John’s University student email account. Send the essays to Caroline Fuchs at fuchsc@stjohns.edu or Kathryn Shaughnessy at shaughnk@stjohns.edu with the subject line “2009-2010 contest submission.” Essays should contain a title page that includes 1) essay title, 2) student’s name, 3) student’s email address, mailing address & phone number, and 4) name and contact information for supervising faculty

Winners will be honored at a library reception on April 15, 2010 during Research Month, during which they will give a short presentation on their research topics. Their essays will be published on the library blog.

For further information concerning the contest and submissions to the essay competition, contact Caroline Fuchs at fuchsc@stjohns.edu or call 718.990.5050