As Christians, we take our calling from God to care for the poor seriously.
And Christian ministries are behind some of the most ambitious attempts at alleviating poverty out there with donation drives of all kinds and generously funding wells, schools, and hospitals throughout the world.
This outpour of God’s love is great, but sometimes it seems that the same African village that has received hundreds of fresh water wells is still stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Well, the authors of a groundbreaking new book seem to have found an answer that could give Christian charities a useful roadmap to affecting long term change.
What if I told you that alleviating poverty does not actually require poverty alleviation efforts?
Rather than focusing on easing the obvious signs of poverty, Clayton Christensen, along with Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon, says we must pursue prosperity in order to make lasting solutions.
The essence of this idea is stated in their book ‘Prosperity Paradox,’ in which they write, “alleviating poverty is not the same as creating prosperity.”
In order to carry out God’s call to care for the poor, we must learn how to do so.
Through exploring the ideas in Prosperity Paradox, we can gain tools to practically walk in obedience of this command.
Christensen’s take on poverty alleviation is a complete shift from many traditional perspectives.
We should thank God for every person with a heart for the poor who has made an effort to eradicate poverty; and for every person helped, and some even saved, as a result of those efforts.
Unfortunately as humans, we don’t always get it right the first time… or the second… and indeed we can always be better and improve.
Sadly, while many current solutions are initiated by good intentions, the results are all too often temporary. In fact, “at least twenty countries that have received billions of dollars’ worth of aid are poorer now,” according to Prosperity Paradox.
As we continue to grow in our knowledge of poverty and genuine love for our neighbors, I see God fulfilling his promise in Psalm 140:12, “I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.”
Restoration is both a promise and a process. We are invited into this mission with our loving Father, our mighty King. And though we have our failures and missed marks, God maintains His cause.
We are never meant to be stagnant, but to move forward. So, why should we settle for short-term solutions when it comes to caring for the poor?
We are slow to learn, but God is a patient teacher. Prosperity Paradox has fresh new ideas to expand our hearts and minds about how to effectively care for the vulnerable.
Christensen’s approach stems from the focus of creating prosperity.
He defines prosperity “as the process by which more and more people in a region improve their economic, social, and political well-being.”
Poverty is not simply a lack of material resources, so we must not settle for simply providing material solutions.
With this is mind, Christensen’s approach to alleviating poverty is through “market-creating innovation — which often serves as a catalyst and foundation for creating sustained economic development.”
The authors of Prosperity Paradox define market-creating innovation as “a change in the processes by which an organization transforms labor, capital, materials, and information into products and services of greater value.”
The book provides countless examples of market-creating innovations that have positively impacted countries all around the world.
Learning by example in various contexts is crucial because the way that effective innovation is pursued depends on the unique culture of the community. We cannot assume we know what a community needs.
I might believe a community needs better nutrition, so I create a market for organic vegetables. However, if the people don’t actually value healthy eating, that new business will crumble.
Markets incentivize the production of things that are valued by a society, because a business is only successful when it can attract customers by offering something customers want.
Learning the culture and value system in your place of service must come before innovation.
And there are 5 key attributes provided in Prosperity Paradox that we should look for as we consider creating new markets:
- Target non-consumption
- Utilize technology to lower cost
- Create a new value network
- Build flexible strategies
- Have executive support
The key idea is to seek out “the job to be done” in a community. Is it a lack of access to healthcare? Is it transportation? Communication? Again, this comes with time.
Once you identify the need, you fill it with something new. The people who have typically been non-consumers, well, make consumers out of them.
For example, washing machines may be a solution to someone’s “job to be done”. The only problem is, washing machines are expensive.
A market-creating innovation would be creating a new model of a washing machine that is affordable to the intended consumer, or providing capital to someone to purchase coin operated washing machines to start a laundromat.
The income from the machines will sustain the business and provide for the business owner, while also providing a much-needed service to the community.
Attributes number 2 and 3 go into detail about how to lower cost during production in order to offer affordable prices to the consumer.
This approach creates sustaining solutions to poverty symptoms by providing affordable services; it also provides jobs and grows the economy.
Another great thing about this approach is that inviting non-consumers to become consumers is so dignifying.
For those living in poverty, the lack of contribution can be disheartening. Providing affordable options for people so they can pay for what they need themselves – instead of relying on handouts – can be profound.
Every person is made in the image of God. Every person has unique gifts to offer the world and are created to use those gifts. Every person is worthy of participating in society in meaningful ways.
Creating jobs and providing avenues for the poor to participate in the economy encourages and promotes human flourishing.
Yes, we should continue to be generous to the poor. Give food to those who are hungry. Give clothes to those who are cold. But stopping there is incomplete – we are called to more.
How are you living out God’s call to care for the poor? The Lord invites us into his marvelous mission to usher Heaven unto Earth.
If you feel burdened by this, pray for a desire to participate; ask God for a sincere love for the poor.
With joy in your heart, seek ways to promote human flourishing.
God has specifically positioned you, uniquely gifted you, and intentionally instilled passion in you to live out His glorious cause.
And together, we never stop moving forward.