There is a movement afoot that is taking a look at how charity and aid might be done better at both the local and global levels. It is based on the 2009 book, "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself", by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.
The authors claim that the causes of poverty are often not truly understood, which routinely results in aid strategies that actually harm both poor people and the helpers themselves. Now, two years after the book's release, author Steve Corbett is on a speaking tour, presenting new ideas for helping the materially poor.
The suitably-named "Helping without Hurting" conference recently pulled into London, Ontario, and it attracted even more people than the organizers expected, showing great interest in this area for both secular and faith-based organizations.
At the heart of Corbett’s message is the need to:
- move more quickly from relief efforts to development efforts
- investigate what is truly needed by the people (rather than assuming we know what they need), and
- ensure that the people being helped are active participants in moving forward. As Corbett said: “Development isn't done to people or for people but with people.”
Corbett gave the example of the ongoing problems in Haiti, where he feels that relief money poured in for too long. Instead of using a work-for-benefit strategy, everything was given away for free (a very common strategy), which resulted in their local employers and food merchants going out of business. By ignoring the valuable human assets already there, the generous but misdirected aid funds actually deepened the poverty in Haiti!
In the past two years Corbett and his team has been busy, working with the Chalmers Center for Economic Development. On this site you can find freely usable new strategies for helping the materially poor.
A key element of an improved aid strategy is to recognize the importance of having helpers willing to walk together with the people in need — a process that takes time, listening and compassion. In an age where we often think that money will fix the problem, it turns out that really knowing and caring about people (and their dignity) is even more vital.
One of the groups partnering in this movement is