Monday, October 31, 2011

A new Acton Institute initiative seeks to empower the poor by making them self-sufficient

By Christina Darnell

(WNS)--In a poor village overseas, a church group handed out eggs. They thought they were providing helpful aid to a community of people struggling to survive. But a few houses away from their egg distribution center, a man was running a small egg business. It was his means to make a living and support his family. The well-intentioned group giving out free eggs put him out of business. When they left, the village had to import eggs from somewhere else, at a higher cost.

Charitable aid is the most common means of poverty relief provided by governments and nonprofits, but it’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. PovertyCure, an Acton Institute initiative launched earlier this month, uses a different approach. As an international network of organizations and individuals fighting global poverty, they seek to implement strategies that shift the focus from aid to enterprise by empowering the poor to provide for themselves. Already the initiative includes more than 125 partners and has a Facebook following of more than 30,000.

PovertyCure doesn’t offer just one solution to alleviating poverty. Instead, it provides a framework of Christian values, economic principles and the advancement of entrepreneurship through which to approach the poor. Its goal is to move from aid to enterprise, from paternalism to partnerships and from dependence to empowerment.

Michael Miller, research fellow and director of Acton Media, spearheaded the project along with a team of experts. While in the brainstorming phase, the team decided to leverage the knowledge and experience of organizations already in the trenches, searching out others who agreed that the focus of poverty relief needed to shift from aid to enterprise. They interviewed more than 100 people, including the director of Harvard’s Center for International Development, and will use the interviews to create a six-part curriculum, available next year.

“We don’t agree on everything,” Miller said, “but we found common ground by working on partnering with the poor.” Secular organizations have even joined PovertyCure, which clearly states its Christian values, because they agree with the program’s underlying philosophy.
PovertyCure’s purpose is to change the way people view poverty.

“When we look at the reality of poverty, we are called by God to do something,” Miller said. “We are called to have a heart for the poor. At the same time, we need a mind for the poor.”

People who want to help the poor need to understand economics, Miller said. Countries that have risen out of poverty, didn’t overcome through aid - they overcame through enterprise.

“We have to change our focus from what causes poverty to what causes wealth,” Miller said. Instead of poverty alleviation, PovertyCure trains people to focus on wealth creation, viewing people as a source of enterprise instead of as burdens. That approach spreads the message that human beings are made in God’s image with a capacity for creativity, Miller said.

PovertyCure also addresses the lack of the political, legal, and moral framework necessary to create wealth and prosperity in poverty-stricken areas. The biggest problem poor people face is the lack of access to markets and exchange, Miller said. Without the ability to own property, which many cannot, people have no guarantee that their enterprising efforts will result in prosperity for their families.

Before partnering with PovertyCure, Tom Davis, CEO of Children’s HopeChest, which ministers to orphans and rescues women and children out of sex trafficking, was frustrated with the lack of long-term change he saw among the people his organization tried to help. He didn’t want to use the same ineffective programs for the next 10 years, he said. Davis is now developing plans to empower children to overcome the cycle of poverty, an approach rooted in Christianity.

“Every person has dignity,” he said. “What gives dignity is to help people have dominion in their own context and lift themselves out of poverty.”

Using the research and curriculum developed by PovertyCure, Children’s HopeChest will serve as a case study for implementing its anti-poverty strategies.

“In the non-profit world, you are so wrapped up in everything, your strategies become very much the same,” Davis explains. “The great thing about PovertyCure is that they are economists, they are academics, they are thinkers. They know what best in practice looks like.”

Miller hopes PovertyCure’s principles will give poverty-fighting activists a new vision for their communities.

“People are not the problem, they are the solution,” he said.

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