Knowing When to Say No in Philanthropy

The Haitian Project President Deacon Patrick Moynihan (right) stands with Louverture Cleary School faculty and administration at an all-school morning prayer and meeting. (photo credit: The Haitian Project)

Patrick Moynihan, President of The Haitian Project, a Rhode Island-based Catholic non-profit which educates poor Haitians, has publicly rejected a $100,000 donation offered by a representative of Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots.

In a May 8, 2019 Skype interview given to the GoLocalProv website, and reiterated in a Providence Journal opinion piece published several days later, Moynihan stated that because Kraft has refused to denounce the sex trade and apologize for his participation in it, it was improper for The Haitian Project to accept funds from the Patriots owner.

In the Journal op-ed, Moynihan also criticizes Florida circuit court Judge Leonard Hanser for soft-pedaling Kraft’s actions, “Prostitution is dehumanizing to the point of enslavement and is potentially physically dangerous,” writes Moynihan. “[Hanser] shows shockingly little concern for the person providing the services or for public health. It is as if all he sees is a misguided old man and not the women oppressed by an abusive industry. He clearly overlooks both the magnitude of the alleged activity (hundreds of arrests were made at one location) and its very public location — strip malls.”

Moynihan says what is particularly troubling for him is that Kraft does not recognize the damage prostitution does to women and society. It’s not Kraft’s isolated “indiscretion” that roils him, but rather a very powerful man’s attempt to steamroll the judicial process and have the matter disappear. It’s telling, notes Moynihan, that Kraft apologized to his family and the team, but never to the women; these are the disposable commodities the sex trade uses to service its consumers.

Moynihan notes that he did not reject the gift outright, and instead contacted Kraft to open-up a dialogue on the matter. In the GoLocalProv interview, Moynihan says he wrote to Kraft, stating, “If you [Kraft] are serious about reclaiming your public reputation and using your platform for good, let’s sit and talk about how that would work and what it would take to make the situation acceptable for us to take the gift. We never got a response.”

And so, Moynihan faced the dilemma confronting many non-profits and charitable organizations: whether to accept money from a morally compromised individual, knowing that the funds could further the organization’s goals. Moynihan found it impossible, “We are looking at his public actions. He has yet to denounce prostitution and the sex trade,” says Moynihan, “He has left it hanging.”

In saying “no,” Moynihan keyed on the feminist aspect of this saga. In short, when “boys will be boys” somebody pays the price, usually women. This has particular relevance to the work that The Haiti Project (THP) does in supporting the Louverture Cleary School (LCS), a tuition-free, Catholic, co-ed secondary boarding school in Port au Prince.

The school’s 350-student enrollment is split evenly between females and males, and it serves academically strong youngsters from Haiti’s poorest neighborhoods. Its “Celebrate Women” and “Man Up” programs aim to empower girls and foster healthy relationships. Louverture Cleary promotes community service and provides 100 university scholarships yearly to graduating students. Its goal is to have LCS graduates remain in Haiti and constitute the professional class needed to help the country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, develop. Traditionally, many educated Haitians have left Haiti for the U.S., Canada or France, but 90 percent of LCS graduates are still in Haiti. THP has plans to develop a 10-school network to serve students in all ten of Haiti’s administrative regions.

Haiti has long struggled with the effects of its colonial past, including a degraded environment and a legacy of political corruption and authoritarianism. It has also suffered natural disasters including hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. These are huge challenges, but particularly relevant for Moynihan and THP was the history of the sex trade in Haiti, including sex tourism, in the 1970s and 80s, when Haiti was at the nexus of the AIDS epidemic. “We can’t be seen to have a laissez fair attitude toward the sex trade, because of the devastation done to Haiti,” he says.

Of course, Moynihan could have just declined the money and nobody would have been the wiser, but he has been public about why he rejected the funds. He is in line with much of feminist philanthropy in this regard; it’s not just about the cash, but the interlocking network of relationships that come before and after the donation. The Haiti Project (THP) is devoted to education, and ultimately Haiti’s development; taking money from someone who is unapologetic about participating in the sex trade would implicate THP in an impossible moral quandary.

Feminist philanthropy helps us recognize the boundaries between our moral compass and the moral compasses of those around us. This question is faced by many philanthropic organizations, including an environmental non-profit deciding whether to take money from an energy company, a medical charity accepting funds from a drug maker, or a faith-based organization receiving support from an insider trader. It is also an area where feminist philanthropy seems particularly strong in highlighting the connection between sound practice and a sound moral framework.

Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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