Global network seeks to unite head, heart in charity work
PovertyCure, a global organization that unites like-minded charities, is working to change the dialogue about charitable aid while addressing poverty worldwide.
“Our goal for PovertyCure is to … help promote and encourage new ways of thinking about the problem of poverty that are grounded in the Christian tradition and grounded in the creative capacity of the person,” director Michael Matheson Miller told CNA.
PovertyCure seeks to help reduce poverty by addressing humanity’s creativity and God-given dignity and is a project of the Acton Institute, a think tank focused on religion and liberty.
One of their recent projects is a six-part DVD series for colleges and churches that aims to challenge traditional ways of approaching humanitarian aid while also placing an emphasis on the person rather than the problem.
“Part of what we I think we need to be looking to is not simply trying to plan and socially engineer our way out of poverty, but instead unleash the creative capacity of poor people and stop them from being excluded,” Matheson Miller said.
Over the past several decades, aid organizations have used the same model for foreign aid and developmental aid. Matheson Miller said that although those involved have good intentions, we have inadvertently created a “poverty industry.”
“Not because people are bad, not because they have bad intentions and they want to hurt the poor; but the incentive structure has created this industry and when you have any industry, the goal is to stay in business.”
Those who have a “heart for the poor” and are moved to reach out and help those in need must also have a “mind for the poor” and ask whether or not their aid is actually helping or hurting the recipients, he explained.
PovertyCure interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs for the DVD series, who discussed just how harmful government and private aid in its current form can be for their local economies.
One interviewee, a Kenyan business woman, described how the flood of second hand clothing from the United States over the past 15 years has all but destroyed the Kenyan cotton market, obliterating cotton farms and shutting down textile factories.
Another man, a chicken farmer in Rwanda, shared how a large donation of eggs from a well-meaning church in the United States put him out of business by flooding the market with free goods.
The next year, the church shifted their aid to a different part of the world, leaving the town with no locally produced eggs.
Another issue is that what has been done in the past 50 years in dealing with development is not charity, but humanitarianism, Matheson Miller said.
“Humanitarianism is a hollowed-out, desecrated, secular form of Christian love. It has limited horizons (and) it stops at providing material comforts.”
Charity, Matheson Miller explained, is Christian love that seeks the good of the other and promotes “human flourishing while keeping the eternal destiny of the person in mind.” Humanitarianism, on the other hand, only looks at the material needs and seeks to provide them through social engineering.
In this light, “we tend to treat people as the object of our charity instead of the subject and the protagonist of their development,” he said, paraphrasing a quote from Pope Francis when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
This is evident in the fact that much aid is tied to population control, he said.
“Because we don’t see people as subjects and because we have sometimes a bad understanding of economics, we end up making some pretty serious mistakes. You combine this with secular ideology and it’s a disaster; and the big disaster, of course, is population control.”
Rather than just “signing on” to an organization that links charity with population control because there’s “nothing else” out there, Mattheson Miller said, we should create something we can sign onto without any moral reservations.
With an international network of over 100,000 individuals and more than 300 organizations, PovertyCure believes they can help those involved in charity discuss and develop a better way to approach poverty.
While the methods for each person and group may differ, PovertyCure affirms that putting “the person at the center of our economic thinking” is the first step in the right direction.
Drawing heavily from the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity and papal documents such as Rerum Novarum, the network seeks to find truly effective ways help the poor realize their creative potential.
Network members include groups that work in microfinance to grant small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries as well as human-rights groups that seek to extend private property rights and political freedom to the poor.