“The Opposite of Poverty is Dignity”, reads the headline of Jacqueline Novogratz’s latest piece in Medium’s month-long series on how the world tackles poverty. Novogratz is the Founder of Acumen, a booming non-profit global venture capital fund that has invested over $90 million in businesses that have directly impacted 125 million people—and that’s just in the last year. The piece invites us as a society, or rather pleads with us as a society, to change our narrative about the way we approach poverty and philanthropic work.
Writes Novogratz, “Defining our success not by the income we amass but by the dignity we cultivate — in ourselves and others — thus presents the greatest hope for the future of our species and our planet.”
The suggested approach is quixotic, pie-in-the-sky—and it works brilliantly.
Just ask Chantal Carr, the Co-Founder of Hope Arising, a nonprofit organization based in Dera, Ethiopia that everyone, including her professors while completing a Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management, told her not to start. “There are so many organizations out there already,” they told her. “Just join one.”
Carr had spent previous years working with organizations throughout Africa, and didn’t have plans of starting her own until she visited the Dera region in the mid-2000s. “When we got there, it was unbelievable—they hadn’t had water for five years,” recalls Carr. “It was a desperate situation; the government was trucking in water to keep them alive.”
Prior to creating Hope Arising, Carr had witnessed, time and time again, the ways that so many well-intentioned organizations miss the mark on being truly helpful to the communities they serve. An important lesson? “You cannot help people without meeting the hierarchy of needs,” she says. “If there’s no water, you can’t talk about sending kids to school, because everyone is dropping out of school to go find water.”
One of her greatest wake-up calls came while working in a region where “an NGO came through and did malaria nets in the area, which was great, because there was a lot of malaria,” says Carr. “They took the malaria nets around to everybody, told them about them, then left and went to their next area. The problem was that the people were starving, and they ended up using these insecticide-soaked nets to go fishing because they were so hungry. They didn’t keep seeds to grow food, they ate seeds to survive.”
In organizations where the money drives the program, versus the need driving the program, “the tail wags the dog,” says Carr. In starting her own program, Carr knew that she had to build Hope Arising with this in mind. It wasn’t long before she came across The Forever Young Institute, a training program for nonprofit leaders that adopts Arbinger principles in development, implementation, strategic planning, accountability and achieving results.
“It was the perfect solution to keep our mission on track and incorporate professional skills while retaining the humanity of mission that originated the organization,” says Carr. “It shaped our whole culture, so we’ve been able to be flexible in our program. You do what the people need, not what your program’s ideal is in your mind.”
The Institute provides frameworks that encourage nonprofit leaders to continually consider whether they’re measuring input or measuring impact, requiring organizations to be deliberate and outward in all they do.
Hope Arising, which provides microloans to women in the Dera community, takes an approach that some outsiders might find intensive (but you guessed it—it works brilliantly).
“There are very hands-on, weekly trainings so that the women can be successful, rather than ‘Okay here’s your money, go start your business.’” says Carr. “Instead it’s, ‘Okay here’s your money, and this is what starting a business looks like, these are the principles, here’s how you do it, here’s your support group to do it in, and come back next week and we’ll see if you did it.”
“Once these women have access to knowledge, they just explode. They have potential, willingness, they are smart—they just haven’t had access to the resources and knowledge. And once they have their businesses, they’re the ones paying for their kids to go to school, they’re the ones budgeting and saving money, they’re the ones getting themselves to the health clinic. They aren’t reliant on us, in fact the money that they pay their loan back with goes to start a new group, to support a new woman. Everyone who finishes the program becomes mentors to the newcomers.”
“That’s where dignity, sustainability, lasting, long-term impact comes,” Carr says excitedly. “In knowing we could walk away tomorrow and they would keep going.”
Chantal’s story of developing an outward mindset is featured in The Arbinger Institute’s upcoming book, The Outward Mindset. Preorder your copy today. To learn more about Hope Arising, visit www.hopearising.org. To learn more about The Forever Young Institute, visit http://foreveryoung.org/charities/institute/.