At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Friday, March 29, 2013

Fighting, Creating, Transforming

Before I unpack those participles (well, they could be gerunds!) in the post's title, allow me to share a few sobering facts before we get going:

* 50 percent of the world's population of 6 billion-plus people live on less than $2 a day.

* 20 percent of the world's population lives on less than $1 a day.

* 20 percent of the world's children never reach their fifth birthday.

* 50 percent of the world's children suffer from some level of malnourishment.

Those aren't statistics pulled out of my eardrum; they come from the United Nations Development report. As far away as those matters may seem to some of us in prosperous America, they should be a sobering slap of reality against the indifferent cheeks of many.

Thankfully, there are many who are trying to stem the tide of poverty, and they are making sure it's getting done in a responsible, sustainable way. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have already detailed traditional well-intentioned but untenable methods of fighting poverty in their When Helping Hurts. One of the more exciting initiatives on the table today comes from a union of Anglican churches, an organization called Five Talents. These folks take the company's title from Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25, specifically when the master blesses the worker who made the most of his five talent share. (A talent was a unit of currency in Jesus' day.)

Five Talents has recognized there is a right way and a wrong way to fight poverty. The answer is NOT to throw money indiscriminately at a nebulous understanding that poverty exists. There's been too much of that done, both in the form of private donations and taxpayer funds. Five Talents, however, is convinced the problem goes deeper. Individual and family wealth is not the only issue; there's a clear link between that and employment/unemployment along with social stability. Little wonder that Five Talent's tagline is "Fighting Poverty, Creating Jobs, Transforming Lives."

The key initiative in the Five Talents program in microfinance. In developing world nations, no one would doubt there is much abject poverty. With high unemployment in many areas, this combines to bring the breakdown of much in society. The flip side is that if you want to fight poverty, you can! The key is creating jobs that will bring greater economic stability to others and help people provide for themselves and their families. This could seem like a daunting pecuniary task. But the good news is that intentional financial strategy can go a lot farther in those areas.

Here's an example of how this might work. A gentleman in South Sudan might want to provide more than subsistence farming and instead dreams of how he might help a lot of the farmers in his area. But how? Irrigation development might be one way. But he needs rudimentary materials, for example. Where Five Talents would come in could be in the way of giving him a $150 loan. Yes, $150. You'd be surprised how far fifteen Hamiltons can stretch in Africa. The loan, through arrangements, goes directly to the individual who wants to start this business, with the understanding that once it gets going, the loan is repaid (rates vary from country to country). And then as the business increases, more loans can be provided.

How effective is microfinance? To wit:

* An average of one job created for every $100 invested (much better return than our federal government, wouldn't you say?).

* Each job supports and positively affects nine people (ripple effect).

* Repayment success rate is 95%. Just to let you know how this compares to the average, it's downright outstanding!

You might be wondering..."Anglican church, eh? How 'religious' is this going to be?" Well, not in the Bible-thumping way. Five Talents is staffed by Christian professionals who emphasize local accountability and good stewardship. The social glue that accompanies the loans comes in the form of education and instruction. Each entrepreneur learns about "God's love, intention, and desire to transform her and her community."

Especially on today, being Good Friday, it is important to think about sacrificial giving, considering the total and complete sacrifice Christ made to secure our redemption and standing before God. There are many ways to exemplify this in everyday life, but Five Talents is one that really stands out. Consider participating today.

Again, you can get all the answers on their website, Five Talents.

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