There’s certain moments that stick with us – they don’t necessarily have to be life changing or world-altering, but they are moments that we cannot shake. Cannot get out of our minds.
One of those moments happened when I was about eight years old. I was home on break from boarding school, and I remember waking up on Christmas morning so excited for all of my presents. It’s funny how it’s so hard for me to remember what I had asked for – my Christmas list seemed so important at the time. Even now, I think back one year, two years – and I can’t remember a single thing that I wanted.
It was late in the afternoon and sleepiness was setting in. Wrapping paper was all over the floor, the icing on the cinnamon rolls from breakfast had gone cold. Everyone was off in various rooms of the house – taking a nap, playing with new toys, watching a movie in the back room.
I walked outside, the screen door slamming behind me, the sticky heat greeting me (a white Christmas was something I only dreamed of). I went out to the fence in our yard and opened the gate for one of my friends, Akanchariba, to come in. I asked him what he had gotten for Christmas that year. And his response was something that humbled me. He told me, “We got a package of spaghetti noodles.”
I couldn’t believe it. I asked, “What do you mean, a package of spaghetti noodles?”
“From the market. Mom gave it to me and all of my brothers and sisters to split and eat,” Akanchariba said.
“Did you boil them?” I asked.
“No, just ate them raw,” he shrugged.
I almost cried. For real. Even as an eight-year-old child, a piece of my heart absolutely broke.
I grew up in an area of the world that’s called the 10/40 window (located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator), which is considered the most impoverished area on the planet. Poverty was something I saw every day in a very extreme way. And while not all of us have seen this type of desperation, we all have experienced or seen its ugliness in some form.
Maybe you grew up in it. Maybe you pass it every day on your way to work. Maybe you took a missions trip in high school to live among it for a week or two.
It takes many different forms - sometimes well disguised in an upper middle class family, sometimes humiliatingly obvious. But one thing is true - our Creator designed our lives for flourishing. Poverty, desperation, insecurity, panic are not part of that equation.
So where do you even begin in a society that has been marked by generations of destitution? The solution to poverty is not found in a one-time donation or a fleeting feel-good contribution. True, lasting, social impact is strategic. It is carefully designed by studying a culture, living in a culture and understanding the reality of the situation so that you can calculate a solution that works.
And lasts beyond the emotional high.
There’s a story we heard once that has shaped us as a company.
Peter Greer, president and CEO of Hope International, spoke on how a group in the U.S., following the Rwandan genocide, began to ship cartons and cartons of eggs to help feed the village of Kigwali. That’s amazing right?
Well, there was a man living in this village named Jano, and he had saved for years for enough money to start his own chicken farm. His egg business was just starting to grow, but all of the sudden, due to the influx of free eggs, Jano had no choice but to sell off his farm and supplies at a loss.
The next year, this group withdrew its egg donations and focused its attentions elsewhere on the world. With Jano out of business, this village had to start shipping in eggs from another area at a higher cost. This well-intended, generous group from the U.S. that supplied the eggs ended up have a long-term negative impact on an entire community.
Fighting poverty is about investing in a community, understanding its people, its operations, its culture. So that you have the knowledge and wisdom to develop a solution that moves from aid to enterprise, from charity recipients to business partners.
- Bono, a long-time champion of human rights and leader of campaigns like ONE said this, “Aid is just a stop-gap. Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid." Read the full article on Fox News here.
- John Coors, scion of the famous American brewing family and generous donor, states that after 20 years of fighting poverty in Africa, here's what he's learned, “I have become convinced… that philanthropy is not the right tool to bring people out of poverty and create prosperity. That’s not a philanthropic activity, it’s a business and free enterprise activity." Read the full article on Forbes here.
- “Every social need in Africa is a business opportunity…We’ve seen the poor as people to be pitied and people for handouts to be given to them. That model didn’t work. Now, the poor are not lazy; they are hardworking. And a better model would be to form partnerships with the poor and help the poor achieve their own dreams.” George Ayittay, Ghanian economist. Watch the TedTalk here.
After my friend Akanchariba told me about the spaghetti noodles, I took him into our kitchen and made him pancakes. A whole mess of them.
I watched him walk back down the path to his village, swinging plastic bags full of pancakes for his family.
My heart sank a little as I realized that tomorrow his hunger pains would return. And I couldn’t make him pancakes every day. I needed to find a permanent solution.
Until next time,