Many of us have been exposed to human suffering around the world — whether while traveling, reading the news, or watching documentaries. When face to face with desperate hunger or sickness, the urge to immediately give all that we have is painfully overwhelming. For years though, we’ve wrestled with what the best way is for us, as outsiders, to actually help?
There’s no easy answer, but we think it begins with trusting that we don’t have all the answers, and that people are experts in their own lives. If we humbly recognize that, we begin to create change by asking “How can I help?” and listening to the answers.
Investing in People
In our first few months living in Peña Blanca, Guatemala, we knew so little — about the community dynamics, culture, or about life in poverty. An academic understanding can only go so far. After eight years of listening, we’ve seen more and more families explain that they didn’t want to rely on donations to meet their needs — they wanted the opportunity to support themselves longterm. For some, this meant higher education so they could become nurses or lawyers. But many families were stuck in a cycle of using every paycheck to cover basic needs, with no money to invest in job growth or savings. For those families, just a small loan (averaging only $320) could set them up with a business that offered regular income.
We’ve since partnered with Whole Planet Foundation to distribute microloans to women in the community so that they can start their own small businesses, build stable income, and take the lead in addressing their families’ needs. There will always be short term needs, especially after disasters or emergencies, and microfinance services are not a silver bullet to poverty alleviation. But they are addressing a specific need for financial services, and giving people a hand up, not just a hand out.
How to help alleviate poverty is a complex question, and we encourage you to continue to research, to ask questions, and to strive to measure the impact of your actions. Here are some places to get started.
- Read: The Long Game: How Developing Countries can get Microfinance Right [Forbes]
- Read: Portfolios of the Poor [Daryll Collins & Jonathan Murdoch]
- Listen: How To Fix Poverty: Why Not Just Give People Money? [NPR]
- Support: Micro-loans in Guatemala [Whole Planet Foundation]