Archives For Microfinance

Photo courtesy of CNN

Photo courtesy of CNN

A couple days ago, I received a call from Port Salut, Haiti. My friend Ralph was clearly shaken as he shared about the devastating effects of the recent hurricane. “There is no place to sleep,” he reported. “Our homes have been absolutely destroyed. If we do sleep, we sleep standing up.”

He added that the bridge on a major road had also been leveled, meaning that no one—and no aid—could get in or out.

My heart once again broke at the reality of devastation in Haiti left in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Recent reports about rebuilding efforts following the 2010 earthquake had been encouraging, but we are coming to the sobering realization that the new devastation in Haiti’s southwest will inevitably cause massive setbacks. There are troubling reports about cholera, food supply, and more.

I work for a nonprofit, HOPE International, which serves in Haiti. I’m committed to the nation of Haiti and its people—friends like Ralph mean my connection to the country is not only professional, but also personal. Further, we have been and will continue to be fully devoted to the long-term rebuilding process there.

But what will you not see right now is a fundraising appeal from HOPE to raise support for Haiti, and I want to tell you why.

1. Relief is necessary—but it’s not our area of expertise.

As Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett point out in When Helping Hurts, there is a difference between relief work and development. At HOPE, we specialize in Church-strengthening microenterprise development; we simply do not have the expertise to lead relief efforts. That’s not to say we aren’t remaining involved. Our country director in Haiti, Lesly Jules, is working with churches to coordinate efforts on the ground. We are committed to praying for those affected by the storm. But as an organization, relief is not our area of focus.

2. We want to partner with those who do specialize in relief work.

After having the eye-opening experience of serving in a refugee camp during a crisis situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I can tell you, relief work is a different skill set, mindset, and approach from long-term rebuilding. I am so thankful for the Church in Haiti, as well as our friends at 410 Bridge, World ReliefWorld VisionFood for the Hungry, and other organizations with dedicated teams that are experts in strategic relief efforts. Already, these groups have all mobilized to provide food, water, clothing, and shelter in response to the hurricane. We want to point people to these groups as they use their God-given gifts to bring comfort and care to our Haitian friends.

3. We want to remain focused on what we do, so that when the time comes, we’re ready to step back in.

The outpouring of generosity that flows into hurting communities that have experienced a disaster can easily entice well-meaning organizations to step into areas of need that they’re simply not equipped to meet. These well-intentioned efforts often leads to long-term damage, and it’s never been our approach. Instead, we remain focused on the future. The long-term work of rebuilding in Haiti is going to begin again—and when it does, we will be there. Until then, we remain committed to standing with our Haitian brothers and sisters and our church partners, as well as to pointing people to the organizations equipped to meet the immense immediate needs in affected communities.

It may be the end of summer, but already, ’tis the season for planning Christmas compassion projects. From filling shoeboxes to setting up angel trees, churches and organizations around the world are thinking about how to launch these elegantly simple ways of caring for others during the most wonderful time of the year.

There is so much that is right and beautiful about these annual giving traditions.

I love that they offer a way for whole families to practice generosity together. I love that they’re an invitation to think beyond our me-centered, consumeristic desires and recognize that there are significant material needs in the world. I love that they invite us to share some of what we’ve received. And most of all, I love how they provide a glimpse into sacrificial love and service, reminding us of the story of Jesus.

At the same time, there are shadow sides to many of these projects, particularly if they don’t extend beyond one-time charity distributions. 

For those of you who might be exploring what you should participate in this year, here are three questions to ask as your church and family seek to love and care for others well by getting involved this Christmas:

1. Is it a Band-Aid?

Charity-based giving typically addresses a perceived need of the moment—a can of cranberry sauce for a Thanksgiving meal, an action figure for a Christmas stocking, a check to cover the electric bill. But ultimately, these one-time handouts fail to address the underlying issues of poverty. Food gets eaten, toys break, and there’s always a new electric bill coming. The goods that we give over the holidays will be used without a way to replenish them. We should be concerned with immediate needs, but we should be even more concerned with what happens when the tinsel is taken down and the ornaments have been carefully stowed back in the attic. Are families and communities any better off after our projects?

For a one-time initiative to have a more substantial impact, it’s critical that it be coupled with long-term efforts. Is it truly supporting a local church or organization, which will do the harder and less glamorous work, of engaging in long-term relationships throughout the year?

2. Does it truly help?

Providing gifts for people in need is an important activity – and it feels good for those who are doing the giving. But on the ground, free milk donations can put the local dairy farmer out of work, undermine families by keeping parents from providing for their children, foster attitudes of entitlement, or deepen dependency on aid.

Further, if poverty, at its core, is rooted in broken relationships, then how can we ensure we’re also thinking about relational restoration, and deepening long-term relationships?

3. Does it perpetuate false perceptions of poverty?

It’s easy to picture poverty as being an utter and total lack—that, without us, “poor people” would have nothing or would be unable to fix their problems. While God does call His followers to minister to and bless others, God has already given everyone something to give. It’s through recognizing the gifts God has already put in our hands and in the hands of others that we begin to understand how to eliminate poverty.

As you seek out organizations to partner with this year, my hope is that you will explore ways to ensure that your short-term gift is matched with long-term relationships and that the ultimate outcome of your charity will be to empower a family to become independent of their need for it.

Once again this Christmas, let’s find ways of celebrating the hope of Christ by showing compassion in ways that will let His kingdom come.

Almost from infancy, our parents teach us to share. If we have two cookies and our friend has none, we’re instructed to give one away. This idea is reinforced in classrooms, on sports teams, and especially in church, where we learn that a faith that fails to actively care for those in need is no faith at all.

Since this lesson has been drilled into us since childhood, it’s understandable (and admirable) that when a video of a hungry-looking, barefoot child appears in our news feed, our immediate impulse is to send them the food and shoes that we perceive them to be lacking. After all, sharing’s a good thing, right?

TOMS shoesIn 2006, TOMS almost single-handedly created the easiest way for us to “share” with those in need around the world. Taking the concept of “buy one, get one,” and turning it on its head, they invented a totally new paradigm: “buy one, give one.”

Suddenly, we had a way to use our purchasing power not only to buy a pair of shoes for ourselves, but to create a ripple effect of good around the world by also providing a pair for someone else. We experienced firsthand how interconnected the global economy is and how our actions as consumers in the U.S. can impact people around the world.

TOMS taught us something important: Our purchases matter.

But as the new critically-acclaimed film Poverty, Inc., reveals, for all the good that buy one, give one  accomplished on the consumer end, it had consequences on the receivers.

The film highlights how some sometimes good intentions unintentionally deepen dependency, impact local markets, and paint an inaccurate picture of poverty. Intuitively, we know that aid has never offered the lasting or dignified pathway out of poverty.

In the film, Michael Fairbanks describes this disparity between doing good and unintended negative impact, stating, “Having a heart for the poor isn’t hard, we all have that, but having a mind for the poor—that’s the challenge.”

Poverty, Inc., highlights the significant transformation that’s underway in the “industry of charity”, as it seeks to exchange aid for enterprise, paternalism for partnership.

Looking through the enterprise lens of TOMS, I wonder if the emphasis on the free shoes they give away has caused us to miss the seemingly hidden benefit of creating a thriving company. Perhaps it’s time to stop just focusing on the free boxes of shoes and broaden our understanding of impact, and celebrate other aspects of TOMS. Primarily, they are a thriving company providing jobs, delivering an excellent product, modeling corporate generosity, and constantly seeking to expand in their global impact.

1. Job Creation

TOMS seeks to create jobs, establishing over 700 manufacturing and sourcing jobs in 6 different countries and effectively empowering parents to purchase shoes for their own children. No parent wants to stand in line for charity for the rest of their lives—just like us, parents want the dignity of providing for themselves and their families. The jobs that TOMS creates are most likely far more effective at alleviating poverty than a box of free shoes could ever be.

2. Excellent Products

I love my TOMS. Even without the BOGO model, they’re a great shoe. TOMS doesn’t use their social mission as an excuse to peddle inferior products, but remains committed to offering excellent, high quality, and desirable merchandise.

3. Skills Training

TOMS has invested in the futures of thousands of men and women by offering job skills training. They’ve also initiated health training, including skilled birth attendant training. A company that cares about training and long-term empowerment of those it employs is to be celebrated.

4. Greater Generosity

While the buy one, give one model has been replicated across products and innovations, the greater impact might be on organizations that have looked to TOMS and discovered that they, too, can actively unlock both talent and funds to have a global impact. It’s both intrinsically good and good business to be known as a company that cares about responding to need, and there has been a recent resurgence of creative corporate generosity. They key is to continue to ask tough questions about what models accomplish the most positive outcomes—for all involved.

TOMS has captured the hearts of a generation well aware of the needs of the world and itching to share. Disproportionately, we’ve celebrated the free shoes and missed the positive impact of the core business.

As Poverty, Inc., shows through over 200 interviews in 20 countries, there is movement underway to shift from aid to enterprise.

At their core, both Poverty, Inc., and TOMS Shoes prove one thing: Our parents were right that sharing is good—but nobody wants to be a charity case for life.

Poverty, Inc.

 

Poverty, Inc., released this month.

Watch the trailer, preorder the film, or learn about hosting a screening event at povertyinc.org.

The Snake Oil of Charity

September 23, 2015 — 2 Comments

If anyone tells you there are easy answers to poverty, brokenness, and injustice, they’re probably selling you snake oil.

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Snake oil gained wild popularity among 19th-century laborers working on the U.S.’s First Transcontinental Railroad and desperate for relief from their muscle and joint pain. While there is legitimate evidence indicating that oil from certain sea snakes in Asia are actually effective in relieving pain, it’s highly unlikely that the kinds sold to those unsuspecting railroad workers contained it. Despite this, convincing (but negligent) traveling salesmen jumped on the bandwagon, peddling knock-off elixirs and miraculous remedies—claiming to heal everything from hiccups to hearing loss—without disclosure of what they contained or why they worked. An entire industry, based on bottled, over-hyped solutions, was born.

It might feel easy to blame these slippery salesmen. How could they possibly think that something as complex as a person’s health could be trusted to a single solution?

But the truth is, we become peddlers of our own version of snake oil when we claim that a single approach or organization offers a universal remedy to the world’s brokenness.

I discovered this anew, not through my international work in poverty alleviation, but as my family has become involved in Safe Families, a ministry providing respite care for children. The program serves as a safety net, offering parents dealing with the challenges of drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, or illness, an alternative to foster care for their children.

It’s a powerful program, and through it, we’ve gotten to know courageous parents and precious children. It’s also given us a glimpse into just how complex and difficult these situations are.

Addiction is strong.

Poverty is real.

Violence is crushing.

Sin is pervasive.

We love these kids, and when they return to their families, the current crisis might have abated yet very significant challenges remain. Our hearts have broken, and we find ourselves longing for lasting solutions.

But seeing these situations firsthand, we’ve also learned just how crazy it would be to assume there is one simple fix to all of them. When you’re up close and the problems become personal, you see the shades and the nuance. You see how sometimes there is real progress, and sometimes situations don’t seem to change. You get glimpses of hope and moments of despair. Life is complicated, and you realize there are no easy answers. That’s why we support the respite program we’re a part of, and we recognize how essential it is for there to also be detox programs, job placement training, housing assistance, local church support, and other aspects of help.

I’m passionate about Safe Families and equipping churches to serve as havens of rest for families in crisis. I’m also passionate about microenterprise development and helping families start or expand businesses to provide for their own needs. But seeing the brokenness and complexity, it’s clear that neither are perfect or complete solutions.

There are no “Three Easy Steps” to the significant problems of our world, and the complexity of the situations makes me realize how thankful I am for a hope that is secure. We trust that God is at work bringing healing and wholeness—and we celebrate the glimpses of grace breaking into even the most challenging situations. We leap even more fully into the brokenness, as imperfect people loving and serving others through imperfect solutions, but guided by our perfect Savior.