Saturday, August 03, 2013

Your Help Is Hurting, A Response


My friend Adam recently shared an article with me via Twitter, called "Your Help is Hurting: How Church Foreign Aid Programs Make Things Worse." The article is in interview format between Forbes contributor Jerry Boyer and Peter Greer, President and CEO of Hope International.

The article is interesting, in the sense that it deals with this theme of "your help is hurting," with Peter Greer making a plug for serving developed countries through micro-loan programs instead of simply giving hand outs. Peter is not just talking about financial aid here, he is also talking about broader aid even in terms of rebuilding efforts that are a common mission trip experience.

I don't want to put words in Greer's mouth, because I think what he is doing appears to be very good work. I largely support the idea of microfinance. My wife have financially contributed previously through kiva.org to support microfinance efforts in various parts of the world, I've shared about this previously (see 2008 post, Giving: Construction Entrepreneur in Togo and 2009 post, Giving & Global Peace: Adjo Akpan).

While I found a lot of value in Greer's message, I think his message could be either off putting, encouraging, or contribute to malaise or apathy on Christian giving.

Generally, Greer is critical towards the Christian philanthropy system - he rightly says (my paraphrase) that in order to raise funds for philantropic programs it takes positive stories, but the consumers of the aid (the people being helped) do not have much say in which organizations raise funding. The effect is the organizations with "the best stories" often get the most money. This creates a disincentive for organizations to be forthcoming about lessons learned, challenges, and failures because these less-than-positive stories could hurt an organization.  

The reason I suggest Greer's message could be off putting is because in addition to being critical towards the Christian philanthropy system - he could be offensive to the efforts and work of many Christians who have passionately raised money, served, and been a part of work in less developed countries around the world. In making generalizations these "best stories" are discounted. I personally have heard many good strories and experiences from missionary friends of mine, and people who have done short term efforts that might fall into this bucket. I do not discount them, although the message of the article here does.

The reason I suggest Greer's message could be encouraging is because what he is presenting is certainly not reinventing the wheel as there is an emphasis on micro-finance outside of the Christian sphere (for example, in 2006 I shared some about Nobel Peace winner Mohammed Yunus who won the Nobel Peace prize for micro-finance work in Bangladesh). Yet it is encouraging and excited to see that Greer is mixing micro finance and his faith to create something that might provide new avenues for both the life-transforming message of the Gospel and providing and caring for those with tangible needs.

The reason I suggest that Greer's message could contribute to the malaise or apathy on Christian giving starts with my personal perception that Christian's in developed nations as a whole care less about giving than they should. I think the lack of giving or heart towards making a difference with their position of financial privileged comes from all sorts of sources (such as lack of knowledge/ignorance, a lack of recognition for true wealth we have in the developed world, and skepticism regarding the work people and organizations are doing abroad). In some ways, Greer creates a case that disregards a large majority of work that many missionaries and churches are doing. Suddenly when we give financially to work in another country Greer's case presents a suggestion that our financial giving could actually be doing harm (such as the example of the Rwanda egg producer who's business is displaced by a church who provides eggs for a short period of time to support health in the area). So, Greer can either create inspiration to do it better, but in many cases I fear this type of argument creates a skepticism that encourages people to give less to others and consume more. I completely understand that this is not Greer's case, but I think teaching giving is a challenge as it is, without creating fear, doubt, or skepticism in the heart of the giver.

Overall Take Away: . Generally, I am typically interested in the work people do internationally that equips local people to serve. Whether it's equipping local people to care for babies, raise animals, be pastors in their own community, or teach people ways to care for themselves. This requires human resources, and the answer is not always micro-finance. But it can be. 

I am interested in the work that Hope International is doing, but I think micro-finance is a great addition to the work that Christian's ministries and missions are doing, it is not an exclusive option and path for aiding the developing world.

When people do mission work or give financially there are so many different things happen - in people's hearts and lives, domestically and abroad and it can't all be measured. I think there is great value is research, transparency, creativity, and detailed evaluation of work that is being done to ensure that it maximizes benefit. But it's all more complicated than that, and often those who make the biggest impact are surly rarely applauded. But I can appreciate the honest conversation and heart Peter Greer presents in his work - I also read it with caution because this problems and hopes for the developed world are something that requires resources and creativity - and to apply a "one-size-fits-all" solution to world aid (coupled with bringing the Christian message) is surely complicated. But it is my hope that complication does detract Christian believers from being involved in attacking issues of the developed world.

Follow Up StrangeCulture Blog Post:
Photo credit: Picture above Missions of Love blog post by Lacie LaRue

1 comment:

Loren Eaton said...

Good points, RC. Greer's message definitely isn't for people who have no current inclination to give. In fact, it would be utterly damaging to them. However, I do think he's right that charitable works can sometimes create dependency -- and that also holds true for some forms of microfinance!

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