A 2008 UNDP-sponsored study showing 4 billion people cannot improve life for themselves because they are excluded from the rule of law rocked my world. The authors, including Madeleine Albright, indicated billions of dollars in relief and development are wasted in countries without good, enforced laws and fair courts. The poor remain poor without legal empowerment.
"Charity is no substitute for justice withheld," said St. Augustine around 400 AD. So perhaps this is nothing new. But, then I ask myself, should we stop work in places where judges, police, and other authorities are corrupt?
From an efficiency perspective and objective evaluation, we must answer yes. The link between aid and functioning public justice systems was brilliantly argued in a 2010 Foreign Affairs article by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros. Charities, foundations, and international development agencies need to change.
However, then we look at the wider definition of justice: a balance or equity of right relationships, proper use of power/influence, and a well-ordered community so that all flourish. Also, we can't stereotype an entire country. There may be pockets of justice and community-led reform that need our help. These truths mean we must answer no. Development and reconciliation projects should happen anywhere there is a felt need.
Perhaps the answer is to be aware and balanced. To work towards just legal structures as well as "neighborly" living conditions.
But for me the key piece is that we engage in justice efforts with local partners that desire and DRIVE the collaboration. Getting to common ground and assessing motives is difficult. The outsider is perceived to have unlimited money and power; this initially can attract the wrong people. But there are ways to find good partners through asking great questions. By finding people already doing the type of work you're trying to 'establish'. This cultural intelligence (CQ) piece is crucial. If a local/national leader makes the key decisions, controls distribution of the money, and is bought-into the results, then the work can have a long-lasting impact. When Westerners come set up an office or project and then just hire locals, it's efficient in the short-term and likely to fail in the long-term.
While sitting in The Justice Conference last week, I was reminded how culture-bound the Western view of justice is. Although "minorities" in the USA (i.e. first nations people/Native Americans, or blacks) might understand the breadth of justice, the culture I come from hasn't. First, we think of justice mostly as laws, punishment, or lack of corruption. That's a crucial slice of the justice pie, but there is more and it's based around restoring relationships so all flourish. Second, we look for theories and discuss solutions. For most people, including the Dalits I lived and worked with in India, they simply were engaged in justice daily. Because so much injustice existed, in the mere effort to move ahead with their lives, they instinctively dealt with justice issues. No time to think and plan. Just dive in.
Are both approaches needed? Sure. Can we help each other? Definitely. But it depends on clear conversations, examining our motives, and finding great partners as we tackle foundational issues like legal empowerment. That takes hard work.