Lasting change comes from the process, not just the results

June 15, 2015

Talk of ‘capitalism’ paired with charity is still very popular. The buzzwords are plentiful: ‘social enterprise,’ ‘conscious capitalism,’ ‘sustainability.’

It is a valuable movement and a conversation worth supporting. However, a focus on a particular model, concept or approach to serving an impoverished world without real application to families and communities can be distracting at best, destructive at worst.

U2’s Bono is perhaps the most widely known face of global rockstar celebrity humanitarian activism. After 30 years of “righteous anger activism,” as he calls it, mostly focused on aid and relief, Bono has been more recently quoted as saying, “A humbling thing for me was to learn the role of commerce” in philanthropy. More than once in the last few years he has called job creation and innovation “key,” and aid “just a stopgap.” Quite plainly, he has said, “Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism, takes more people out of poverty than aid.”

Bono’s efforts demand respect. He is one (no pun intended) celebrity among millions of non-celebrities with a desire to see real change. Clearly, we don’t all have the platform Bono can leverage. So, what does a capitalism-for-the-poor movement mean to you and me? Should compassionate souls of the world simply mark a box in support of capitalism in developing countries? Respond with a hearty “Amen!”? How does all of this talk about ‘model’ and ‘concept’ translate to impact in the lives of people actually suffering through extreme poverty?

And by capitalism, I don’t mean capitalism as a broader economic system or government systems of policy. I mean capitalism at the household level: the pursuit of personal property through risk/reward and production.

Recently, a man asked me this question: “How would you sum up the difference Just Hope wants to make in people’s lives who are suffering through extreme poverty?” He wasn’t looking for a concept. He was asking about people.

Obviously, it would be wonderful to snap our fingers and raise the quality of life for people all over the world in such a way that they would continue in their new life indefinitely, never to return to their former situation. This helps make the point. In all the hubbub about ‘capitalism’ and its outcomes, we can miss the truth and reality: it’s a process.

We begin with good intentions. We want to give to others. We want to make things better. And, we want to get to the good part. So, it is easy to skip ahead to try to transfer only the results of the process to others – money, for example. But in reality, it is the gain from the process itself that is a lifelong treasure that can never be taken away. This is a key to empowerment. And, dignity.

Let’s consider ourselves. What is more valuable to us: a paycheck, or the ability and opportunity to earn a paycheck? The trade term is ‘capacity.’ It includes skill, experience, perspective, access, opportunity. If we consider successful musicians or athletes, we easily recognize that they have worked hard to develop their skills and abilities. They did not ‘arrive’ overnight. It would be ridiculous to think that their abilities, which society values and admires so greatly, could just be handed to them.

If we cherish the value of our own capacity born out of a process over time, and we love others as ourselves, why would want anything less for someone else?

To answer the man’s question, Just Hope’s aim is to walk with incredible people facing extraordinary difficulties to pair their interests and motivations with our access to resources of all sorts. By this, we believe they will not only achieve the end result of household food security and income, but they will be empowered to do things for themselves in the process. This is ‘impact that lasts.’