When I worked for a relief and development organization, I became convinced that lack of resources was not the primary cause of poverty. I came to see that the root cause of poverty–and the cure of poverty–lies in a peoples’ worldview.
Are human beings merely animals to be fed, or are they the image bearers of God? Do people merely consume wealth or do they create wealth? Do resources come from the ground or from the mind?
Our answers to these questions will reflect one of two fundamentally different paradigms: an Atheistic worldview and a Biblical worldview.
Many parties in the development community–both NGOs and government agencies–function from an atheist/materialist worldview: “People cannot help themselves; we must send money.” The result? Brokers and bureaucrats are personally enriched, local producers are undercut, and very few poor people are affected at all.
If you doubt that, you would well to listen to Kenyan economist James Shikwati. For years, I have looked for voices in the developing world who understand that the solution to poverty lies in free men and women creating wealth. Shikwati is one of those voices. His candid interview, entitled For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid, is electric and refreshing.
I became aware of another welcome model–Poverty Cure–on a recent trip to Asia. This is a one-year-old-and-growing international network of organizations that champions the creative potential of the poor and seeks to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of the developing world.
The folks at Poverty Cure understand that the questions we ask determine the answers we get, and the solutions we craft. (How tragic to ask the wrong question and spend a lifetime creating the wrong solutions!) Poverty Cure astutely states:
Instead of asking what causes poverty, we begin to ask, what causes wealth? What are the conditions for human flourishing from which prosperity can grow? And how can we create and protect the space for people to live out their freedom and responsibilities?
Go here to see a short, hard-hitting video that makes the Poverty Cure argument.
Kris Alan Mauren, Executive Director of the Acton Institute, has written a very clear article, What’s Behind Poverty Cure. Here are a couple of paragraphs:
Floods of Western aid serve not to lift developing countries out of poverty, but only to poison their homegrown industries, to promote unrest within their borders, and ultimately, to strip away the dignity of their people. At the risk of sounding trite, the solution to Africa’s problems is Africa; its people — not neocolonialist U.N. bureaucrats — are best equipped to solve the crises of hunger and disease the continent faces.
In the battle of ideas, there are some hard lessons to be learned from the global War on Poverty. Billions upon billions of dollars have been spent to aid developing countries (almost $50 billion by the United States in 2010 alone) and yet, when we look for results, we find little fruit. U.N. diplomats, the Department of State, and Hollywood, can present tantalizing figures as “the amount of aid that would end hunger forever,” and there’s a great deal of emotional pull in that argument. But, inconvenient though it may be, feelings don’t alleviate poverty, and neither do the hefty but seemingly blank checks we’ve been writing for years.
One of the leaders of Poverty Cure is Lord Brian Griffiths. Lord Griffiths taught at the School of Economics from 1965 to 1976 and was a director of the Bank of England from 1983 to 1985. He was appointed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to serve as a chief architect of the government’s privatization and deregulation programs and was responsible for domestic policy-making.
More recently, Lord Griffiths was vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, and serves with Poverty Cure. We published this post about Griffiths a few months ago.
In his book, The Creation of Wealth (IVP), Griffiths demonstrates that poverty’s cure is found in wealth’s creation, not its redistribution. The book was instrumental in my own thinking.
Here’s another item on the same subject from the folks at Q: The Shift from Alleviating Poverty to Creating Prosperity.
Ask people in the developing world what they want most, and they don’t mention more aid or charity. They want jobs; they want the opportunity to build businesses; they want access to markets, to broader circles of exchange so they can provide for their families. As Ghanaian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse told me, “The people here are not stupid. They’re just disconnected from global trade.”
We have written about wealth creation in the DNA books Discipling Nations and The Forest in the Seed. Griffiths’s chapter, The Theological Dimension, (from The Creation of Wealth) is very worthwhile reading as well.
- Darrow Miller