Three ministry examples that show how we can move beyond pure charity to equipping others to help themselves.
While middle class people often see poverty as a lack of money and stuff, a UN study that interviewed impoverished people found they perceived poverty as shame, humiliation and powerlessness to change the situation.
When offered opportunity for business training to sustain themselves, these communities show increased dignity and pride. The benefits trickle down to whole communities, informing their ability to organize for the benefit of all.
Let me share some examples that I’ve found. My background is as a missionary child and marketing and communications entrepreneur who has dedicated a significant portion of my time over the past five years to work with and support charitable and non-profit organizations.
An example of pure charity that did more harm than good was a western aid organization’s campaign to purchase treated mosquito nets. They had an admirable goal to drastically reduce malaria deaths in Africa, but their method included free distribution.
This seemingly good act caused the layoff of 600 employees from one of East Africa’s biggest textile manufacturers, mostly women who supported their families. Already competing with other textile companies, they now had to also compete with an expectation that “free” products could potentially be delivered.
“The way that we deliver aid is actually causing damage. Although charity is free, it is often bought with the person’s dignity.” – Bruce Taylor, CEO of Enviro-Stewards and The Safe Water Project
A better approach is one that begins with engaging community leaders in their own solution to better ensure project success. Good approaches also often include additional elements such as:
- A start-up grant or loan to initiate the project.
- An investment by locals either financially or dedicating time.
- Business training and coaching to ensure success.
- Boost to local economy with the purchase of locally sourced materials supporting local business.
- Professional follow up, mentoring, and support to ensure sustainability.
- Project becomes fully sustainable within 1-5 years.
Several of these models have been functioning effectively for years. Different groups use different names, such as “redemptive action” (Praxis Labs), “social ventures” or “market-based solutions.” Whatever the name, they create a vastly different environment for change.
Here are three Canadian examples.
The Safe Water Project (Enviro-Stewards)
Enviro-Stewards is an engineering firm that creates environmental and economic sustainability solutions for a wide range of businesses. They have applied these principles to TheSafeWaterProject.org to meet the needs of communities without safe water in Africa.
Water projects are initiated with donor funds that cover training to build the filters using locally sourced materials and selling the units to locals for less than the cost to purchase medication needed to treat water born viruses. The units remove waterborne viruses.
The projects are self-supporting within 5 years, providing employment to locals, building local entrepreneurial capacity, drastically improving community health, reducing medical costs, and each unit provides safe water for an average of 7 people for 25+ years.
When asked for feedback from this model, a local entrepreneur said, “You are no longer a slave to the donor.”
Enviro-Stewards (www.enviro-stewards.com) has offices in Elmira, Ont. The company is ranked in top 10% of all B Corporations and winner of the UN’s Global SDG Award.
Life Gardens (Thrive for Good)
Thrive empowers people in Africa through training and simple tools needed to grow an abundance of sustainable, healthy, organic, disease-fighting foods. Equipping communities to create Life Gardens helps those communities step out of poverty and teach others to do the same.
The Thrive model and dedication to creating curriculum in partnership with local leaders reflects their commitment to building the capacity of local leaders, systems and communities to end hidden hunger and poverty.
“After 20 years helping communities and families, I finally see God helping individuals, communities and churches. No longer perpetual beggars, they use what’s around them to have food security and end their poverty,” says Billiance Chondwe, a local leader with Thrive.
Thrive for Good (www.thriveforgood.org) has offices in Thornhill, Ont.
Stepping Stones Property Management (Youth Unlimited)
Youth Unlimited Toronto launched a new business ministry initiative called Stepping Stones Property Management project.
Through the project youth find a meaningful job, at wages that allow them to sustain themselves and give them a chance to advance in a new career path. Youth also learn valuable life skills, on-the-job trades training, and in supported placement with partnering employers.
Stepping Stones provides professional property services. Its leaders mentor, equip and challenge youth to live healthy, independent, and productive lives, while providing an opportunity to overcome any employment barriers and experience God's love, affirmation, and life-changing power.
Learn more at sites.google.com/yugta.ca/steppingstones/home.
Sustainable, redemptive action
Charities that meet immediate needs of extreme poverty and step in to rescue the vulnerable will always be necessary, but there’s more to consider:
- if development is possible to mitigate long term reliance on charity
- if adequate research has been conducted confirm that services on offer are not already available locally, and
- if solutions provide adequate training for long-term sustainability.
Many like-minded individuals have gathered around the potential impact of redemptive action to assess the potential for wider local and global applications. The model has the potential to benefit both charities through reduced costs and increased donor support, and communities served through long-term development and sustainable impact.
A redemptive approach fits with the life-changing message we’ve been given as Christians about our relationship with God who provides for all His children. As Christians our ability and calling to be part of God’s plan to redeem all mankind must include redeeming the skills of communities by confirming their importance and worth in the kingdom of God. Where possible, we should and must pivot towards a more redemptive action model that brings dignity, growth and freedom to the communities we serve.
To learn more, you are welcome to visit our website at Thoro-good-change.com.
Ruth Thorogood is a speaker, author and entrepreneur who supports Christian leaders and non-profits with her time and skills. She served as executive director of The Word Guild, has worked with Lausanne Canada and now supports the World Evangelical Alliance’s Global Human Trafficking Task Force and Women’s Commission. Top of page photo shows a first customer of the Safe Water Project (provided photo).