Is Foreign Aid a Sacred Cow? | by Victor V. Claar

Below is a commentary written by Victor Claar and published by PovertyCure’s parent organization, the Acton Institute. The commentary addresses a letter written by leaders of the ministry and NGO world that urged the United States Congress to protect federal funding for foreign aid from budget cuts. Several PovertyCure friends and partners signed this letter. Our hope in posting this commentary is to kindly remind them and our readers why entrepreneurship, economic growth, and a focus on the creative capacity of the poor, not foreign aid, is the best path forward to realizing a world without extreme poverty.

Our aim is not to promote nor defend any particular legislative agenda. Our aim is simply to add our view to the larger conversation about the merits and deficiencies of foreign aid.

In case you missed it – understandably – in the barrage of news stories and Saint Patrick’s Day posts last week, a group of 106 faith leaders have collaborated on a letter they have signed and sent to the Democrat and Republican leadership of both houses of Congress. The letter implores Congress not to reduce the size of the U.S. International Affairs Budget, and was occasioned by President Donald J. Trump’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

Since the final passage of the Budgeting and Accounting Act of 1921, the president has been charged with delivering a proposed budget to Congress no later than the first Monday in February. Far from final, this “executive budget” usually serves as a starting point for budgetary discussions and negotiations.

In Trump’s proposed budget, he asks Congress for a $10.9 billion reduction – roughly 28 percent – of the funds currently allocated to international diplomatic and aid programs, and channeled through institutions such as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Though these numbers sound large, keep in mind that the overall federal budget lies north of $3 trillion, making the share of federal budget funds devoted to international affairs – currently around $50 billion — less than one percent of total spending. Along with proposed cuts elsewhere, the suggested reduction in the portion of the budget designated for international affairs would be reallocated to Trump’s proposed increases in national defense.

The president is not the first to suggest that cuts to international affairs spending might be worth considering. Late last year the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) specifically evaluated reductions in international affairs funds as one of several options aimed at deficit reduction over the next ten years. In their proposal, international affairs funding would be reduced by 25 percent: not far off from the president’s own proposed reduction, albeit with a different goal.

In weighing costs versus benefits of such a cut, the CBO cites a June 2016 Congressional Research Service report that concluded, “In most cases, clear evidence of the success or failure of U.S. assistance programs is lacking, both at the program level and in aggregate.” The report explains why in its summary:

… historically, most aid programs have not been evaluated for the purpose of determining their actual impact. Many programs are not even evaluated on basic performance. The purpose and methodologies of foreign aid evaluation have varied over the decades, responding to political and fiscal circumstances … Persistent challenges to effective evaluation include unclear aid objectives, funding and personnel constraints, emphasis on accountability for funds, methodological challenges, compressed timelines, country ownership and donor coordination commitments, security, and agency and personnel incentives. As a result of these challenges, aid agencies do not undertake evaluation of all foreign aid activities, and evaluations, when carried out, may differ considerably in quality.

While the Congressional Research Service and the CBO humbly confess they simply do not know whether, or to what extent, international aid results in better outcomes – either for us or for the rest of the planet’s population – the 106 faith leaders mentioned above appear quite certain in their claim that, with a mere one percent of the federal budget, “the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio.”

These are bold claims — especially given the ambivalence of the CBO and the Congressional Research Service regarding the alleged impact of initiatives like direct aid.

While many of the world’s politicians would like to take credit for cutting extreme global poverty in half in just 20 years, and the aforementioned faith leaders seem quite ready to thank politicians for their achievements, the source of this success is far simpler: economic growth. As the Economist magazine has put it, “ … the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer. That means freeing trade between countries … and within them.”

It hasn’t been aid that has lifted people out of poverty, but trade and access to markets.

And such economic growth normally occurs most easily in places that possess a few essential elements that provide a fertile environment in which economic growth can take hold: rule of law; private property; free association and exchange; access to markets; a culture of trust; and a vital network of churches, communities, and cultures that encourage respect for the dignity of the human person.

This is not to say that there is no role for foreign partners, whether private or public ones, in helping the remaining “bottom billion” forge a pathway out of poverty. For example, in an NBER working paper prepared for the World Economic Forum, Elsa Artadi and Xavier Sala-i-Martin identify some of the key factors that continue to hold back many African nations, including “low levels of education, poor health, adverse geography, closed economies, too much public expenditure and too many military conflicts.” We will need to think far more creatively, and be far more patient, as we work to overcome obstacles like these that lie along the pathways out of poverty for much of Africa.

Let me be clear: I am not arguing either for or against the president’s proposals regarding international affairs. I am merely pointing out that the faith leaders’ claim that the U.S. International Affairs Budget has cut global poverty in half grossly overstates what government aid alone can accomplish.


Header image used under Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0), some modifications made.

Victor V. Claar is professor of economics at Henderson State University, the public liberal arts university of Arkansas. He is a coauthor of Economics in Christian Perspective: Theory, Policy, and Life Choices, and author of the Acton Institute’s Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution

To Alleviate Poverty, The Exit Strategy Matters | by Peter Greer

When we engage in employment-based solutions, the benefits of employment extend to future generations. Outside a small office in Trou-du-Nord, Haiti, I saw several boys with homemade kites. Using a plastic bag, some string, and a few sticks, these three boys constructed kites capable of expertly navigating tangled power lines and two-story buildings. I could see other kids watching and learning from their example. Other children saw what was possible, and there grew a prestige factor in who could get his kite the highest.

In the same way, I’ve seen community members improve their lives, motivating other community members to action through their hard work. If my neighbors can pull their families out of poverty, why can’t I? Essentially, they are pushing the limits of what is possible, and from very little they are making kites that can fly higher and higher.

Employment decreases the need for never-ending support. There is an exit strategy for any external assistance provided. Many churches are beginning to recognize that their international assistance has built churches, trained pastors, fed the hungry … and somehow created a web of dependency from which there is no way out. They have not built the surrounding economic infrastructure to ensure the longevity of these worthy efforts.

Contrast this type of situation with Jacob Timos’ experience in Moldova. While Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with almost 22 percent of Moldovans living below the poverty line, Jacob is an example of someone using business to help both his family and community move forward. In 2004, Jacob took out a $400 loan from Invest-Credit, a local, Christ-centered organization, to buys six rabbits. Since then, Jacob has used subsequent loans to expand his business, and he currently sells over 300 rabbits a year, both in Moldova and in neighboring European countries.

Jacob uses his business to minister to others. Rather than focusing on competition, Jacob donates rabbits to other families interested in starting their own business. He builds a partial refund into his business model and asks customers to donate this amount to their local church. This surprising policy leads many of his customers to ask questions, prompting several conversations about faith. One customer heard the Gospel when she went to church to donate the refunded money—and then accepted Christ! A pastor as well as a farmer, Jacob deeply believes in the power of business to create change:

“So many believers run businesses here, create jobs for others, and provide services for the community.”

Excerpted from Created to Flourish. Download your free copy of the complete e-book to read more about how employment-based solutions are helping fight poverty.






A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School, Peter Greer worked in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and Cambodia prior to coming to HOPE in 2004. Peter is the co-author of several books, including The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (2013), Mission Drift (2014), 40/40 Vision (2015), and Created to Flourish (2016). Peter lives in Lancaster, PA, with his wife, Laurel, and their three children. Follow Peter on his blog at or on Twitter @peterkgreer.

Top 5 PovertyCure Blogs Post for 2016



As we close out the year, we want to thank our PovertyCure blog readers for reading and contributing to our blog.  If you’re a new reader we encourage you to catch up by checking out our top 5 most popular posts for 2016:

  1. Three Reasons to Stop Focusing on Children | by Peter Greer

When an organization, particularly a residential care institution, focuses exclusively on providing for children, over-extended parents are more likely to send their children away, assuming that their sons and daughters will have better access to care and opportunities at an institution, rather than in their family’s home. Parents are trying to do what’s best for their children. But studies show a disturbing trend: children in these situations become more, not less, vulnerable. The trauma of being separated from their families and the impersonal attention that they may receive at an institution can make them more likely to experience developmental delays, difficulty forming attachments, exploitation, and abuse.

  1. The Importance of Private Property | by Jonathan Moody

The rights and responsibilities of private property must be supported.  One of the crucial lessons of development economics is that the poor cannot create wealth for themselves and their families without secure property rights.  The Judeo-Christian tradition provides powerful resources for encouraging the property rights of the rich and poor alike.  It shows that private property is not an artifact of greed and possessiveness, as many believe, but rather a legitimate institution rooted in our role as stewards of what God has entrusted to each of us.

  1. Principles of Effective Compassion | by Patrick Oetting

If government were to reduce its role – or at least slow the growth of programs – in the charity sector, churches and private charities could in turn fully assume the role that they were created for – to help those in their community. Some argue that this may result in less money dedicated to the poor. But, I counter that any reduction would be offset by the targeted nature of the benefits. Subsidiarity works because locals have access to specifically local information. So, benefits are designed specifically to address the specific needs of specific people in a specific community. Simply put, local givers give more efficient gifts – especially when compared to the current, bloated, top down approach in which one size is assumed to fit all.

  1. The Question I Hoped I’d Never Hear from Someone Living in Poverty | by Becky Svendsen

One minute, I was alone … and the next, I was overrun. While I was answering emails on the last day of a trip to visit savings groups in Asia, teenage girls suddenly swarmed into my bedroom unannounced, covering giggles with their hands.

These girls—who lived at the orphanage next to my guesthouse—asked to see my clothes and touch my hair and page through my books. They called me “sister” and showed me how to wear the sari I bought that week, explaining that only married women wore saris. Whoops! They acted shy at first but were soon gently elbowing each other out of the way to have me photograph them by the window.

  1. An Inconvenient Truth about Development Work | by Peter Johnson

Occasionally, development work and development workers can be agents of social justice. Unfortunately, it was my experience both in Paraguay, South America, and later in Senegal, West Africa, that development initiatives often do not foster social justice. In fact, development work sometimes contravenes social justice precisely because the industry buys into the sentimentalized version of the world’s poor.

Three Ways to ReThink Non-Profit Marketing | by Isaac Barnes



In its short history, the modern nonprofit has shifted through a few marketing tactics. The 1980s disaster appeals used guilt-inducing shock imagery to raise funds for charity. Since the 1990s, nonprofit best practices trend toward more positive images and stories, showing happy people with at least some degree of agency. And in a more recent trend, some nonprofits communicate less about the needs of the people they serve, focusing more on stories and images of Western donors fundraising and doing things on behalf of others.

In my experience, rarely does a nonprofit’s actual marketing content—images, graphics, videos, stories, and appeal messaging—receive as much scrutiny as their programmatic work.

It’s a tough balancing act to show the oppression of poverty without exploiting those living in it or oversimplifying its complexity. Books like Walking with the Poor and When Helping Hurts have begun to challenge Christian nonprofits and churches to rethink how they understand poverty and relate to people living in material poverty. These same insights and spiritual frameworks should also shape the stories and images of nonprofit marketing. When nonprofit communications are naively positive, sensationally guilt-inducing, or exclusively reflective of Western supporters’ actions, they misrepresent people living in poverty and cheat supporters of the opportunity to mutually engage in poverty alleviation.

In my job as a writer at HOPE International, I’m still learning how to balance the need to ethically represent the families we serve and inspire and educate people—all in 50 words or less. From Instagram posts to printed reports, here are three ways I’ve changed how I communicate:

Name people and places in photos:

All too often, pictures of nonprofit beneficiaries are treated like stock photography, without a name or location to inform readers who they are or where they are. Even if a nonprofit has consent to use the person’s photo, to the reader, the person on the page is left nameless and, thus, they remain distant and unknowable. Naming someone is dignifying and, in a relational way, brings them closer, allowing your reader to feel mutual affinity and connection rather than distant pity.

Use direct quotes:

First, to get direct quotes, you must listen. The “be a voice for the voiceless” mantra has never sat well with me—everyone has a voice and will speak if listened to with respect. Prioritizing direct quotes in storytelling better represents those you’re writing about—whether supporters, partners, or people served—and elevates their voice.

Show people in action:

Pictures powerfully shape how we see our world, especially places we’ve never experienced. The style and content of nonprofit photography not only represents the people and places they serve, it also positions supporters’ responses to and understanding of poverty around the world. Portrait shots can be beautifully dignifying, but they lack the action and context that shows the initiative and hard work of so many people living in poverty. Active photography—showing people in their homes, with family, in the community, and at work—can help foster a deeper sense of mutual partnership between beneficiaries and supporters.

Better, more ethical and empowering nonprofit marketing doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality, resources, and time to build the space and systems to listen to people and retell their stories with dignity. If nonprofits are dedicated to quality programs and work, then their marketing and communications should be held to similar standards.


Isaac Barnes joined HOPE International’s writing team in 2013. Since then, he’s enjoyed telling the incredible stories of HOPE-network clients and creatively communicating about Christ-centered microenterprise development.

Attacking the “Missing Middle” With an Arrow | by Andrew Vanderput


If you have watched the PovertyCure DVD series or followed our blog for long, you have likely encountered an important issue called the “Missing Middle.” In his new book, Three Jobs: Bridging the Finance Gap for the Missing Middle, Chad Jordan reminds us of why small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are so key in leading developing countries out of poverty:

“SMEs are the universal building blocks of any economy. The United States is a prime example. Business Insider reports that 60-80% of new jobs in the U.S. come from small businesses [SMEs], and that 57% of the United States’ workforce is employed by small business with less than 500 employees. The biggest economy in the world is propped up by small business. Even further, research states that more than 51% [or higher] of the GDPs of so called “developed” countries are composed of SMEs, while only 16% of the GDPs of emerging nations are composed of SMEs.”

In other words, small to medium businesses are absolutely essential to creating robust employment levels in both developed and developing countries alike. The problem is that developing countries simply do not have enough SMEs to provide widespread employment and prosperity.

Why The Missing Middle Exists

After establishing why SMEs are so crucial to true economic development, Jordan explains why these same businesses cannot get access to the capital they need to scale and grow their enterprise. One big causation of the missing middle is the overemphasis on microfinance and the disregard for SME finance. Jordan states:

“What hasn’t received as much attention, however, is SME finance – it’s that sector wedged in between microfinance and full commercial access, i.e., the missing middle. As such, the sector’s banking capacity isn’t very developed – rates and collateral requirements are high while trust is low. Very few entrepreneurs in this missing middle finance gap can gain appropriate access to the growth capital they need, leaving them few options to scale.”

“That is why the missing middle is such a big problem. If an entire nation’s small businesses can’t access growth capital, the economy of that nation can never reach its potential, leaving the unemployment rates high, GDPs low, and small business stuck on a plateau.”

Arrow Global Capital’s Solution

With the problem firmly established, Jordan goes on in Three Jobs to describe how his organization, Arrow Global Capital, will seek to provide financing for the very companies who have the potential to produce the number of jobs that are desperately needed in the developing world. At risk of oversimplifying its promising model, Arrow acts as the bridge between philanthropic investors that possess capital, banks within developing nations, and “local accelerators” that train and identify the local entrepreneurs who are ready to scale. Jordan hopes that with access to previously unavailable capital, these enterprises will end up employing hundreds of people, not just a few as microloans commonly do.

Asking The Right Question

By targeting a key root of global poverty, lack of stable employment, Arrow is answering the question that should always be asked in the first place: How do we enable the material poor to create wealth for themselves, their families, and their communities? Arrow’s answer: Attack the problem of the missing middle by providing the previously inaccessible capital that will enable small to medium enterprises in developing nations that are primed and ready to grow and create the jobs the poor need and want. Solutions like these that recognize the creative capacities of people, are free of paternalism, rely on local partners for knowledge, and focus on employment, are the solutions that will truly transform the world.


To learn more about the missing middle, check out our video on the missing middle. To learn more about Chad Jordan’s new book, Three Jobs, click here.


Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute. Andrew comes from a diverse background in public policy, non-profits focused on international poverty, marketing, and consulting. He has long held a passion for promoting entrepreneurial solutions to poverty. He lives with his wife and two children in Grand Rapids, MI.


Changing the Perception of Work | by Chad Jordan


Let’s talk about jobs. Sure, work might not be the most thrilling narrative, but I promise to do my best to make it a little more exciting.

What’s a root cause of individuals and families not having education and healthcare access? What’s a key reason for food insecurity? Lack of stable income. And where can one find consistent income? A job. You see where I’m going with this?

Lack of consistent, stable income is one of the key roots of systemic poverty. If families had access to stable income, they could afford to pay school fees, take their children to a clinic if they’re sick, make sure they eat three meals a day.

A job is a lifeline. Though it’s a single person working that job, the effects it has on family and community members is astounding. It means the difference between sending your children to bed hungry or with a full belly.

But how do we promote jobs, employment, dignity in Africa or Central America or South Asia? Wouldn’t it be easier to focus on an education platform or a healthcare clinic or a feeding program? The answer is that it’s not easy to focus on job creation, and yes, it would be simpler to work on a less daunting program. The point here is not to take away from those great organizations working on education, healthcare, or food. They are needed and valuable to create infrastructure, but they’re not a solution to poverty in themselves.

The truth is that community transformation, national transformation, regional transformation will only come from economic engagement. Gone are the days where we can ignore the economy with our efforts to “help,” because including the economy is, in fact, the only way to make lasting progress. I believe we have to attack the root of poverty if we ever want to do anything about it, and unleashing the power of jobs is an essential way to do that.

Attacking poverty with jobs? Again, sounds kind of boring, difficult, even misguided. Go ask someone stuck in the grips of poverty what they most want in the world. Did you do it? I guarantee you the answer was “a job.” Stable employment is the way to build a better future for yourself, your family, your community, your nation.

Taking this whole crazy idea even further, we have to identify the visionaries who will help create the jobs we’re talking about for unskilled workers who might not otherwise have a place to turn. Not everyone can (poof) create jobs out of thin air. But entrepreneurs have the ideas and innovations — the grit — to create opportunity for members of their communities.

We have to identify the entrepreneurs, who when enabled to scale their businesses, can create more jobs, more security, more access for those stuck in cyclical poverty. These men and women are catalysts in this endeavor of putting people to work. They are the local heroes we can help support (read: not direct) as they do what they know how to do: business.

The long and short of all this is that we need to find ways to support business innovation, scaling, and training as a means to job creation, which is the way for families and communities to transform their norm and get out of systemic patterns of poverty.

Our team at Arrow has chosen to focus on global job creation by building an investment platform to link altruistically-motivated investors in the United States with growth-ready entrepreneurs in Central America and Africa. How will you support work, jobs, and stable income for families around the globe?


Chad Jordan is the author of Shut Up & Give?, ReThink Missions, and Three Jobs, as well as the co-founder & CEO of Arrow Global Capital and the founder of Cornerstone International.  He is a 2016 Under 30 NextGen Award winner and holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

What I Missed by Trying to Play the Poverty Hero | by Sarah Ann Schultz


At 20 years old, I made what seemed like a simple decision: I decided to take a semester off of college to live in Uganda for four months.  Brimming with evangelical zeal, I was ready to change the world. Armed with a backpack full of knee-length skirts and malaria meds, I told myself I was prepared and ready for the challenge whatever that would be.

Spiritual guns blazing, we came into the rural town where we were based eager to affect change. All my plucky self-assurance quickly deflated when I saw that poverty was far more complex than I had imagined from the air-conditioned safety of my American home.

Not surprisingly, I grew increasingly frustrated with the limited change we were seeing, frustrated that all of my prayers and relationship-building weren’t enough to change the community. My self-imposed burden of “changing the world” began to suffocate me as I saw that it wasn’t a challenge I could shoulder on my own. Four months later, I came back to the U.S. broken over the weight of what I had experienced.

Let me be clear: I do believe the world can change. In fact, I cling to the deep conviction that God has not given up on this world that He made—and neither should we. But in putting myself in the role of hero, I missed out on the dignity and worth of the very people I was trying to serve. I made assumptions about their needs and desires rather than pausing to listen.

On a recent trip to the Republic of Congo through my work with HOPE International, I entered into conversations with Congolese friends eager to listen. In setting aside what I thought people needed, I got to hear remarkable stories about how communities are changing from the inside—how Sophie, a HOPE client in Brazzaville, uses her knitting business to mentor young mothers and train them in a practical skill; how Moise continues to give of his time and resources to other farmers despite facing some hefty challenges of his own; how Gilbert started a music center as a conduit to teaching his community about worshiping God through music. What Ugandan passions, talents, and gifts did I miss out by assuming that my team had all the answers?

And more importantly, I’ve recognized that while God’s people can be agents of reconciliation on earth, we are not the saviors I once thought we could be. In thinking I could change the world, I missed out on seeing God’s redeeming power on this earth that He created.

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”-Revelations 21:5


Sarah Ann Schultz has served as a writer with HOPE since 2014, telling the stories of HOPE clients in marketing and development communications. A North Carolina native, Sarah Ann currently lives in Lancaster, PA, and spends her time traveling, reading, hiking, and laughing at her own jokes.

Want to Help Haiti in Hurricane Matthew’s Aftermath? Look to PovertyCure Partners

Haiti Hurricane Matthew

The strongest storm to hit the Caribbean in a decade, Hurricane Matthew, has now moved north but left great devastation in its wake. The power of this storm’s destructive force was felt most in Haiti and news coverage at this point has largely focused the Haitian’s plight. This has led many to ask how can they serve or help the people in Haiti.

As a country that is too well acquainted with catastrophe, Haiti has received much foreign aid and help in the last many years. In times after great natural disasters, relief has been sorely needed. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, relief will be needed again.

The problem is that NGOs and governments will likely never move beyond providing relief. Instead of supporting local entrepreneurs and businesses, these charitable actors’ ongoing efforts will very likely unintentionally harm the very people they are attempting to help.

So which organizations support local entrepreneurs and local businesses, the true hope of Haiti? PovertyCure has developed a global network of partners that adhere to the PovertyCure principles and therefore, are attempting to address poverty in such a way that we believe is the most effective and leads to human flourishing. Here is a list of many of our partner organizations that work in Haiti:

These partners, along with others, are doing the hard and slow work of building up local entrepreneurs and businesses in Haiti. Through their efforts the beautiful Haitian people increasingly see themselves as the heroes in their own story. As you consider which organizations to support in their efforts to serve in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath, we humbly submit these PovertyCure partners as good options.


About the Author:

Andrew Vanderput is the Strategy and Engagement Manager at PovertyCure, an initiative of the Acton Institute located in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Question I Hoped I’d Never Hear from Someone Living in Poverty | by Becky Svendsen


One minute, I was alone … and the next, I was overrun. While I was answering emails on the last day of a trip to visit savings groups in Asia, teenage girls suddenly swarmed into my bedroom unannounced, covering giggles with their hands.

These girls—who lived at the orphanage next to my guesthouse—asked to see my clothes and touch my hair and page through my books. They called me “sister” and showed me how to wear the sari I bought that week, explaining that only married women wore saris. Whoops! They acted shy at first but were soon gently elbowing each other out of the way to have me photograph them by the window.

Eventually all the girls disappeared except one—Anaya.* She told me how her father abandoned her after her mother died. And how despite huge class barriers, she dreamed of being a nurse. As she scrolled through photos of HOPE International clients around the world on my laptop, I explained that I sometimes traveled to help others—mostly Americans—understand what poverty is like.

Her curiosity bubbled over. “So your job is to help the poor people? People like me?”

I nodded.

“But you are one of the money people, right?”

“…I guess you could say so.”

And that’s when she asked it:

“Sometimes I feel sad and ask God why I am one of the poor people. Do you know why?”

This same question has hung in the air, unanswered, for generations before her, but I’ve only ever heard it articulated by Westerners walking away from poverty like doctors walking out of a sick room. Talk about a heavy moment.

I didn’t know why, I told her. I added that I didn’t understand many things about God, but that I knew He was good and trustworthy and loved her and loved me the same amount. She smiled knowingly and agreed.

The dissonance was heartbreaking: Anaya and I were totally equal, but our lives couldn’t be more lop-sided. There’s no explaining why I wasn’t born into her life and she wasn’t born into mine.

Honestly, I don’t often let myself feel the confusing weight of poverty in my work with HOPE.  It’s exhausting, of course. And with more and more leading voices decrying knee-jerk, short-term responses to poverty—and rightfully so—more practitioners and donors are prioritizing an analytical approach.

But hearing Anaya’s question makes me think we might have lost something there.

Sure, if emotion is our only motivation, we’ll run out of steam halfway and be of no help. But God’s Word speaks of softening, not hardening, our hearts. What if we only need to learn to harness our feelings?

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, authors Chip and Dan Heath portray our emotions as a mighty elephant and our powers of reason as its tiny but thoughtful human rider. When the elephant and rider are out of sync, disaster ensues. But when led well, the elephant becomes the powerhouse that overcomes inertia and barrels through challenges.

In economic development, emotions without reason can quickly take us off course—into things like dependency, cynicism, or megalomania. But without emotion, we might never find the momentum to get started at all.

I suspect there’s a reason, then, why empathy, compassion, and emotion are at the core of how Christ calls us to live: Love your neighbor as yourself. Anaya’s life is too precious to concentrate only on her most heartbreaking, immediate needs. But if we’re not willing to tap into our emotions as we go about the work of empowering men and women like her, we’ll never end up where we want to go.


Becky Svendsen has served with HOPE International since 2008 and currently leads HOPE’s communications team. It’s her privilege to share about HOPE’s mission, operations, and incredible clients with churches, donors, foundations, and others. One of her greatest joys is getting out from behind her computer to interact with HOPE’s clients and field staff to see firsthand how God uses meaningful work to help families break free from poverty.

The Gift of Work | by Melanie Dale


The other day I was exactly where I usually am, behind the wheel of my minivan, driving my kids wherever they needed to be. Sometimes we jam out to music, and the Hamilton soundtrack is our current favorite.


“I’m lookin’ for a mind at work, work

I’m lookin’ for a mind at work, work

I’m lookin’ for a mind at work, work

Whoa-oa! Whoa-oa! Whoa-oa! Whoa-oa!



And sometimes in my smelly minivan, on those beautiful occasions when everyone is getting along relatively well and the decibel level is manageable, I try to talk with them about important things.

So the other day I opened up a conversation with them about the privilege of work. We talked about the opportunity to work a good job and how it’s a gift. I shared how much I love my job, well, jobs, as author, speaker, mother, and advocate for Children’s HopeChest. They listened and talked about what they might want to be. Video game designer. Dog groomer. Extremely famous singer actress celebrity.

We talked about how right now their job is school, and the work that they do there will lead them to their future careers. I encouraged them to work hard, to achieve their dreams.

And then we moved to the people in this world who don’t have the opportunity to work, or receive dignity and fair wages, because of oppression and injustice. Men and women who want to provide for their families but can’t because of broken systems.

Last year with a small group of my neighbors, we learned more about the roots, problems, and hope for people living in poverty through the PovertyCure DVDs. While sipping coffee in front of my TV in the suburban U.S., we peeked into another world.

“This is the first time I’ve heard anyone talk about poverty like this.”

My neighbor spoke up as we processed the first PovertyCure session. After years of working with Children’s HopeChest, I was passionate about poverty alleviation and community transformation, but now I was sitting in a room with my friends talking about it.

As my group worked through the entire 6-DVD set, we kept coming back to what can we do. We were learning so much about economics and injustice and lack of access to the global market, but we were not the heads of a government. We didn’t run our own global organization. We couldn’t create jobs. How could a group of friends support entrepreneurs in the developing world?


Find out more about Melanie Dale’s latest book by clicking on the image above!

As we talked through what we were learning, we kept coming back to our buying power. We make purchases every day. We couldn’t approve small business loans or meet with government officials, but we are part of the global marketplace. We buy. As Americans, we buy a lot. So how could we adjust our buying to benefit entrepreneurs around the world?

A few years ago I started an endeavor to buy all my Christmas gifts from companies making a difference in the world. I called it the “Slave-Free Christmas Challenge,” because after I found out about people living in slavery making the goods we purchase I couldn’t bear celebrating Jesus’ birth with items made that way.

I had a blast, hunting for gifts and necessities that would support artisans trying to keep their kids in school and feed their families. I found ornaments from Ornaments4Orphans and jewelry from Trades of Hope and soap from B.A.R.E. soaps and so many other wonderful companies empowering local business owners around the world.

I’m just one regular person, but what if a bunch of regular persons used their buying power to give entrepreneurs around the world the gift of work for Christmas? Mitscoots socks packaged by the homeless here in America and Sole Rebels shoes made from upcycled materials in Ethiopia and the most gorgeous array of purses from Purse and Clutch. Every item with a soul and a story behind it. Work matters.

I’ve continued these conversations about work with my kids and friends. When I purchase or give something, I try to ask myself, “Am I creating a job or taking one away?”

I want to look for ways to support and encourage men and women around the world to find meaningful work that supports their families and provides stability and hope for their lives. I want everyone, not just my kids, to get to achieve their dreams.

Work is a gift, one I never want to take for granted…although my kids might disagree as they do their math homework. “Whoa-oa Whoa-oa WORK!”


Melanie Dale is a minivan mama and total weirdo who stinks at small talk. Her laugh is a combination honk-snort, and it’s so bad that people have moved away from her in the movie theater. She adores sci-fi and superheroes and is terrified of Pinterest. Author of Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends and It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose, she’s also a contributor for Coffee+Crumbs and an advocate for Children’s HopeChest. Her writing has been featured on, Scary Mommy, Working Mother Magazine, Deadspin’s Adequate Man, Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience, and Today’s Christian Woman, and she’s a panelist for MomsEveryday TV. Living in the Atlanta area, she enjoys recording her podcast, Lighten Up with Melanie Dale, and blogging at