Alcohol and Development:

Yesterday Nick Kristof, visionary journalist with the New York Times, posted a blunt and incisive story about alcoholism in the developing world.  Read it here. The crux of the problem is that globally poor families tend to spend about 2% of their income on education, while spending 4%-8% on alcohol and tabacco.

This is a big problem.  And Uganda is far from immune; in fact it’s up there among the highest alcohol per capita countries in the world.

This challenge affects us personally.  At least one of the Ugandan women we work with has a husband who’s an alcoholic, and drinks through his family’s money even as they’re trying to pay for school and healthcare.

And to be honest, we’re not sure exactly what to do about it.  We pay our women through their individual bank accounts, so they hold the purse strings.  We take every opportunity to train the men along with the women in things like personal financial management, savings, and expense forecasting.  But he still gets his hands on the money, and would rather drink than come to a training.

There are shining examples of success, too.  Another woman we work with sat next to her smiling husband and described how they came together often to plan their finances.  They are thriving.

The truth is: not everyone is going to benefit equally.  Development is not immune to issues of character, shortsightedness, and addiction.  In fact it might be uniquely susceptible, as escaping poverty is a hard business.  Our job is to keep pouring into people and communities, keep believing in the power of hope and empowerment, and keep building opportunities for people to thrive.

And as Kristof rightly points out, keep learning how to mitigate the challenges.