HONG KONG, September 9, 2010 - America is facing a crisis of virtues and values, of which the global financial crisis is merely a symptom, according to John Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of non-profit organisation Operation HOPE.
In an address at Asia Society Hong Kong, Bryant exhorted America to rebuild its relationships and reaffirm its place as the global economic and moral leader. He added that America would need to act with humility to regain trust and respect from its international partners.
"Relationships matter," Bryant said. "You don't do business with companies, countries or communities—you do business with people. One could argue that during this global economic crisis we [America] have treated people as transactions and not as relationships. And if we had treated them as relationships, we wouldn't have had a crisis."
In the previous century, Bryant argued that Americans profited from innovation and creating products with social value. Today, however, he said that attitude has shifted toward an obsession with creating wealth for its own sake. "Before, financial gain was the by-product, not the product. But over the past few decades, the focus has switched."
Bryant said that the change in values has created a new civil rights crisis. Financial illiteracy has led to a widening gap of economic inequality. Today, more than racial inequality, the divide between rich and poor has become the defining social issue. "Back then [in 1960s America], 22 million people didn't have the right to vote. Today, 40 million Americans don't have a bank account."
Bryant challenged banks and financial institutions to use the global financial crisis to change their modus operandi. "Banks have played the upper middle class card as far as they can take it."
He urged others to strive for "a world where diversity is a strength, where relationships are key, where dignity is at a premium."
Operation HOPE aims to effect policy changes that will lead to greater financial literacy around the world.
Reported by Natali Pearson, Asia Society Hong Kong Center