30 November 2006

On giving and receiving, part two

I originally wrote on this topic back in March, after I received a copy of the proposed guidelines for donors and implementers that Eden Grace forwarded from a consultation in Uganda. That document, which I reproduced in its entirety in that March post, openly acknowledged the history of corruption that made the document useful and important. In its own way, the document acknowledged the culpability shared by donors and implementers alike.

In recent months, Friends in Northwest Yearly Meeting have been hearing a lot about the Kaimosi Friends University. On the request of one or more members of Tigard Friends Church, that church became willing to serve as a collection point for contributions for this university project. Later, a proposal came to the Board of Peace and Social Concerns of the Yearly Meeting to make this project one of the two concerns that would benefit from our yearly meeting's annual Thanksgiving offering. At the same time, wide publicity was given to a campaign to collect books for the university's library. For some time, I was receiving weekly pleas for contributions on Sundays at meeting, and was receiving parallel requests in my e-mail.

I'm using the passive voice more than normal in telling this story, both because I don't always know what person actually made a proposal (for example, the proposal to adopt this project as one of the Thanksgiving offering recipients), and because I'm more interested in discussing the principles involved than pointing fingers. I could point a finger at myself because at the crucial meeting of the Peace Board where the decision was made concerning the Thanksgiving offering, I was not present. I had made my concerns known to others in the Yearly Meeting; interestingly, the Missions Board of the YM had decided not to participate in supporting this project.

My concerns about the project are many:

  1. When I was active in Friends United Meeting administration, the University was presented as a vision of uniting the existing educational institutions in Kaimosi. At the time, not one of those individual instititutions was interested in participating in the formation of a university. I'm told that this is still true. The first classrooms will be located in a building owned by Friends Kaimosi Hospital, but that hospital itself is under Friends United Meeting management, and Friends United Meeting is explicitly not participating in the university project.

  2. I've heard no vision for how the university would help build up either the nation or the church. All I hear is how there are not enough university entrance slots for those who are qualified to enter university. What are the specialties that would be best to offer for the job market? If the job market is not to determine the offerings of the university, what criteria would be used? In fact, what definition of the word "university" is being used? What percentage of those underserved students would be willing to travel to Kaimosi?

    The kaimosifriends.org Web site says that there is a severe shortage of university entrance places, but in another place, the same site says that "New students must be Christians by faith, since the university is a Christian School. Other public and private universities are available to secular students." Are Christian students at a disadvantage in the larger educational market? Should secular students or those from other religions be excluded from the Christian influence of a Friends university? I can argue these things either way, but when was this conversation held? How is the word "Christian" being used here--referencing a spiritual community or a sociopolitical "tribe" that wants benefits for those who belong?

    I've been told that Kenyan Friends are united in support of this project. What exactly are they united about? If they are asked whether Friends should have a major institution of higher learning above the level of the current institutions in Kenya, just like the other self-respecting denominations in Kenya, they might well say yes. But have they been told the cost? Is it a high priority? Is Kaimosi the right location?

  3. Given the history of financial corruption associated with some Friends institutions in Kaimosi in the past, what are the mechanisms in place to safeguard and monitor donations? What has happened to money already collected? Is it true that some of the money donated to the university by Kenyan donors has gone into the general accounts of the Friends Church in Kenya and is no longer distinguishable or even traceable?

    According to the Web site, "The University will begin as a third campus of Daystar University of Nairobi. The Kenyan government requires an established university to shepherd the initial years of a new school to guarantee a strong beginning. All academic programs will exist under the already established structure of Daystar University. The first classes to be offered will be in education, religion and business." What is the financial arrangement with Daystar University? Do some or all of our contributions go to Daystar?

The American Friends involved with supporting this project have decided to go ahead in spite of urgent and repeated private questions. Maybe a more public conversation would bring greater clarity. This project may end up being a wonderful breakthrough effort for Friends in Kenya, but for that to be true, we must have a far greater degree of transparency and accountability than I've seen to date.

Righteous (?) links:

Corruption among Friends, of course, has not just been a problem in Kenya. One case that made my life as FUM gensec miserable for most of a year involved the National Friends Insurance Trust, and was the subject of this article and this editorial in Quaker Life. Another case of corruption affected many of the same Friends organizations that were negligent and hurt by the Insurance Trust scandal. I am not saying that the Kaimosi University project is in this league, but I am adamant that we need to bend over backwards to provide world-class accountability for the ways we label and fund our efforts. When fundraisers don't bend over backwards to anticipate and answer donor questions, they're asking donors to bend over forwards. In Kaimosi, that's happened too often already.

"The righteousness which exalts a nation": Last week, an anniversary went quietly by: the 33rd anniversary of the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern, Nov 25, 1973. Concern for creation did not have the same attention then that it does now, but for the most part, that document was an important milestone in raising a powerful vision of integrity before the American evangelical movement.

No comments: