Despite financial woes we can be more giving

By Tim Costello
CEO World Vision Australia

It’s almost Christmas and like many other charities, World Vision is out among the hoards of ‘festive’ shoppers trying to raise money for our Christmas appeal. 

I have always praised Australians for being an incredibly compassionate and generous lot when it comes to responding to humanitarian disasters, be they floods or fires at home, or earthquakes or famine abroad. 

And historically Australians have proven to be among the world’s most generous private givers to overseas aid organisations such as World Vision. 

Yet this year it appears things are tougher than ever. There are more charities than ever vying for funds. Many people are opting for a one off donation rather than making a commitment to sponsor a child this Christmas. 

It reflects the tough economic environment many charities have confronted over the last few years as the global financial crisis, interest rates, and spikes in food and petrol prices have caused us to keep what money we have in our pockets. 

Yet apart from just the reluctance to spend as much - or give as much to charities– there is something puzzling and even disturbing around the oppressive cloud that has enveloped us as a community. 

Of course, globally we are living in precarious financial times. The crisis in Europe is almost unimaginable in its scope and severity. How can you comprehend the risk of a whole country falling to bankruptcy?

Yet the European crisis only underscores our own economic health. A recent report by Credit Suisse revealed Australia’s median wealth (at $222,000) is the highest in the world. 

Other OECD figures show that the richest 10% of households grew faster than their global counterparts. And even our poorest 10% of households have grown faster than almost anywhere else in the world. So even in our two-speed economy, many of us have done well and those already with great wealth have done the best. 

And yet recent research conducted for World Vision has shown Australians’ levels of ‘satisfaction’, ‘control’ and ‘optimism’ are plunging – in some cases being half what they were in 1995. 

We feel much less in control of our lives, we feel as if we are treading water or worse drowning under rising prices and expectations. 

Some have argued that as a nation we are now confusing ‘cost of living’ with ‘cost of lifestyle’. We feel under siege, when really our incomes have been growing, our material position has actually been steadily improving not deteriorating. 

There is no doubt that some in our communities are genuinely struggling financially; there are those who are jobless, homeless and with little hope. Yet the household income figures reflect that for many of us we are a long way from struggle street. 

So what are we to make of all this, especially during this time of gift-giving and reflection? 

I believe that in Australian culture there are two tectonic plates that are always grinding against each other. One plate is our capacity for compassion and generosity and the other is our potential to become insular, to look after ourselves and to ignore the pain of others, especially those off our shores. 

There is no doubt that the global financial crisis continues to make Australians both vulnerable and fearful. Given we are in a highly interconnected world, this fear is not unfounded. 

As the head of World Vision Australia I have been to some of the world’s poorest countries on Earth. Many of these places are not that far from Australia. In fact, there are more people living in poverty in the Asia Pacific region than in any other part of our world. 

And there is no argument that many of these poor communities have been hit much harder by rising food and fuel prices and cuts to international investment and aid than Australians could even imagine. 

Since 2008, the price of basic foods has risen by up to 200 per cent. For us it means a few dollars more for a loaf of bread, for poor families it means they don’t eat. It is little wonder that still today some 8 million children die each year of preventable causes due to poverty. 

This Christmas is a chance for us to all reflect on the year that was and the future ahead. It’s my hope that we will confront the future uncertainty with a compassion and a generosity that we can afford, rather than ignore the desperate plight of others who are facing unimaginable hardship. It is our choice how we respond to the ever increasing need around us. 

To donate to World Vision go to or call 13 32 40

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