Charity Begins Abroad

April 03, 1992

The collapse of communism has Eastern Europeans and former Soviets scrambling all over the globe to study new methods for rebuilding their countries. And do they have things to learn!

A parade of Eastern Europeans has visited the Internal Revenue Service to see how taxes are collected in America. Groups of would-be capitalists tour Wall Street almost every day to get an idea about how stock exchanges are supposed to work. Others want to learn how franchises operate.

Here in Baltimore, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies has been training representatives of Eastern European charity organizations in fund-raising and organizational techniques. The 10 trainees from Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary have done some intern-like work with organizations such as Associated Catholic Charities, Chimes Inc., the South East Community Organization and Clean Water Action.

Under communism, charity organizations were as unknown as nonpartisan advocacy lobbies. The various communist parties operated a number of front organizations with official missions such as fostering "friendship" with foreign nations or raising funds for "peace" work. But contributions in time and money were mandatory -- and widely resented by the population.

Now that communism has collapsed, religious and secular charities have to tackle the multiple problems of this societal upheaval. Millions of people have to be taught that voluntarism and free-will donations are needed to do much of the work socialist governments and bureaucracies used to perform in the past.

The Johns Hopkins program is an example of the creative ways that American institutions and individuals can aid Eastern Europe's transformation to stable, democratic societies. The task is exceedingly difficult -- but the potential for long-term reward is also great.

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