A Visit to the Dominican Republic – Final Thoughts

Before moving onto the addendum, I say a genuine word of thanks to our partners in these three visits: Maestro Cares, GOYA and Altagracia Apparel.  Without them the trip could not have happened.  More importantly we will deepen these partnerships as Catholic Charities celebrates our Centennial and launches our next century of providing help and creating hope.  Above all, I salute and recognize the excellent work of Catholic Charities’ Director of Government and Community Relations, Luz Tavarez, who organized, coordinated the whole trip so effectively and also documented it in video, audio and photo. Special thanks to Catholic Charities Communications & Marketing team, especially Paul Costiglio and Fanny Gomez, for their hard work to make sure these visits were well documented and posted. Gracias!

Now to an “addendum” that are my broader musings – not very definitive or fully developed.  They do seem to me worth sharing to continue much needed conversation and dialogue about important topics of family, work, business, charity, etc… A diverse trip like this re-enforces some, modifies others and above all surfaces new questions and complexities and hopefully spurs renewed energy to positively deal with them.

These visits reinforced to me the importance of “good businesses” for the betterment of the lives of individuals and families.  Catholic Charities gladly would reduce our footprint if more businesses created decent jobs that diminish the need for the extensive range and amount of help that Catholic Charities provides.  Without casting blame, the reality is that our economies and education systems are not producing sufficient decent jobs and trained and prepared workers.  Therefore, of necessity not desire, the work of Catholic Charities expands to providing the help needed to solve the problems that confront many families when they cannot adequately support themselves.  The problems can be straightforward, such as not having enough money for both food and rent.  Sometimes the residual effects of poverty are complex and far reaching, resulting in serious problems touching both physical and emotional well-being.  Sometimes the problems are international when conditions such as violence, poverty and persecution pressure movement to the United States in search of both dignity and basic necessities. What I experienced in speaking with these families was the mutually reinforcing positive impact of jobs and families.  These jobs fostered stable families and the stable families reinforced discipline and support that fostered solid performing employees.  These reinforcing values become part of the environment in which children develop and are nurtured to make their way as the next generation of strong family members and good workers.

But these decent jobs only happen because of a commitment to make it happen – and with sacrifice.  My next sentences reflect only a rudimentary sense of business/market economic s so please take them with that disclaimer.  Business is business and costs are costs. Consumers are consumers – whether they are individuals or wholesale buyers. Paying workers a fair wage, and providing benefits, increases production costs. These increases most likely result in a combination of higher consumer prices and lower business profit margins. While re-engineering might reduce these impacts, it is unlikely they are able to totally eliminate them. While I am not an expert in manufacturing and plant management, I think there will be trade-offs.  Businesses need to make long-term profits to survive, but the level of profits and the distribution of those profits over time are critical to the level of wages, benefits and working conditions that companies are willing to provide.  And consumers also need to make rational decisions as to how they spend their limited dollars. I don’t know how all this gets figured out in each industry and how one deals with the inevitable uncertainties and unexpected events that occur.  But here’s what I saw five years ago and today. At the very least I saw an example of a company willing to try and make those tradeoffs so the lives of hundreds of families, and a community, is significantly improved.  Families live in dignity and are respected and live with hope for a decent future for their children. 

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