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Convening to Flourish | by Jonathan A. Moody

Convening to Flourish

When was the last time being with a group of other individuals inspired you?  Was it a conference?  At Church?  On the golf course?

PovertyCure values local knowledge. We’d even go so far as to assert that the best way to solve problems is to connect people and ideas in conversations that apply to a local context.

This is why the “freedom of assembly” has intrinsic social value. Societies that don’t enjoy this basic liberty suffer from more than unfulfilled community potential. If people can’t gather and communicate their thoughts on a problem, it’s simply harder to do anything useful about it. Many of us take for granted the ability to convene around what we believe in, whether it’s our faith or our support for principles of freedom and entrepreneurship.

I’m writing this bog post while in Accra, Ghana, where I’m thrilled to convene with leaders in in business, entrepreneurship, academics and the church.  This week I’m at the Africa Liberty Forum – a fantastic conference cohosted by the Atlas Network and IMANI.  Among other things, I’ll get to take part in the Ghanian premier of Poverty, Inc. and co-host dynamic discussions on how the ideas in that tremendous documentary can be applied by development organizations and businesses on the local level. It’s powerful stuff – these are moments that can change the course of communities all over this amazing continent.

The good news is that you don’t need a plane ticket to Africa to be part of the conversation. You can pick up a copy of Poverty Inc. on Amazon.com, the iTunes store, and soon it’ll even be on Netflix!  You can convene your own “think tank” with your own circle of influence – and we’ve got some great tips on how to start right here: www.PovertyInc.org.

Next week I will join nearly 1,000 people from 60+ countries at Acton University – or as we like to call it, AU – in Grand Rapids, MI. Nearly 70 of the world’s foremost scholars in the fields of economics, theology, philosophy, sociology and much more, will be present. Attendees will gain a better understanding of the connection between their faith and economics. Many will leave with both charged hearts and changed minds.

In fact, I’m sure many of you will be there – please find me and say hello! If you’ve never been to AU, you may want to sign up now for next year. It always fills up fast – so it’s never too early to make plans. You can find out how to register here: www.university.acton.org.

It’s true that the digital age offers incredible opportunities to learn from almost anywhere. Still, there’s an invaluable benefit from interacting with others in-person. While Acton University boasts more than 200 different courses, for me the greatest inspiration comes from hanging out with the nearly 1,000 people from across the globe – all of whom want to see more humans in more places, flourish. I’m grateful for the example the Acton Institute sets.  They put their money where their mouth is and gather individuals from around the world to connect, in person, around the truth.

We recognize that the global movement around free and virtuous societies and enterprise solutions to poverty requires individuals to connect, share local knowledge and agree on ways to make an even greater impact. So, this year PovertyCure will to convene a special series of breakout sessions that will include guest speakers Bob Lupton, Magatte Wade, Joel Hammernick, and Chris Horst.  And we’re blessed to scholarship 35 PovertyCure Fellows from 4 different countries 17 American states.

And we want to hear from you!  Please share in the comments below – what gatherings have inspired you?  What problems are you helping to solve in your community?  Will you be at AU? Let us know!

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Jonathan A. Moody is the Managing Director of PovertyCure, an Acton Institute Initiative.  

Poverty, Inc.: The Global Poverty Industry |By Russ Debenport

The room was packed, occupied by some of the most inspiring Christian leaders I’ve met from across the continent of Africa. I began my afternoon presentation in Ethiopia with a movie trailer for a new documentary, Poverty, Inc., that seeks to reveal some of the pitfalls of the global aid system.

At one point in the movie trailer, an entrepreneur in Haiti states, “No one wants to be a beggar for life.” The room immediately erupted in applause! I knew at that moment this documentary would be important in the dialogue of how we partner with the church for children in poverty.

  Poverty, Inc. is a projectinc by PovertyCure and Acton Institute, and was directed and produced by Michael Matheson Miller.

In early 2015, Compassion invited Miller and his colleagues Jonathan Moody, Managing Director of PovertyCure, and Simon Scionka, director of photography for Poverty, Inc., to provide an early screening of the movie and to engage Compassion in a conversation about what they’ve learned and what it means for Compassion.

The film provides a critique of the system of aid that began as a response to the global needs following World War II,  and     shows how those same financial solutions are often misapplied to a wide variety of holistic problems facing the evolving global economy.

 Poverty, Inc. asks the probing question, “Could I be part of the problem?”

The documentary cites the impact of food tariffs and subsidies between USA-based rice producers and Haiti that have undermined local food production and ruined aspects of the Haitian economy. Subsidized rice from the USA has become so cheap that it now dominates the diet and has supplanted other indigenous foods.

Other examples of aid that can do more harm than good include: mass clothing donations to Africa, one-for-one giving models that are not locally sourced, and solar power hardware donations.

Poverty, Inc. labels this system of aid “the global poverty industry,” and it distributed over $134 billion (USD) in official development assistance in 2013 alone.

The main players in this industry, according to the documentary, include the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. From these organizations, foreign aid flows directly between countries and is also routed through a complex web of grants to NGOs, consultants, and multi-national corporations.

So what’s the film’s answer to this powerful system that continues to promote solutions that seem to be keeping people in poverty instead of releasing them from it?

The solution it promotes is a local market-driven approach that honors the God-given potential in each of us to be agents of human flourishing for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

As I’ve heard my friends in Africa often say, “The future is trade, not aid.”

A key element of this approach is the importance of access to markets so people can work for themselves, earn a living for their family, and produce value. One of the documentary’s featured local business owners puts it this way, “The people here are not stupid. They are just disconnected from global trade.”

At the heart of the film’s solution to the global poverty industry is a historically Christian social principle called “subsidiarity.”

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that states social problems should be solved at the most immediate local levels possible without interference from centralized authority.

This belief undergirds many of the statements that Christians make about the role of the church in solving local problems as opposed to the role of the state.

As I watched Poverty, Inc. I continually asked myself two questions:

  1. How does Compassion measure up to these ideas?
  2. What can Compassion learn from this documentary?

First off, I have viewed this documentary multiple times and have engaged with other Acton Institute content. Every time I do, I’m really glad to be part of Compassion.

Compassion has practiced effective local child development approaches for a long time. Recent academic research like the study by Dr. Bruce Wydick from the University of San Francisco proves the impact of Compassion’s holistic child development programs.

Compassion’s effectiveness is based on a highly relational development model that connects people, instead of governments. It is focused on releasing the potential of children so they can contribute to local solutions, economies, and families.

And Compassion doesn’t receive a single dollar of government aid.

Secondly, after watching Poverty Inc. I’m reminded that we still have a lot to learn. The documentary reveals a system of aid that often undermines the very people it’s intended to help. At Compassion, we want to continually learn how to better impact children in poverty in partnership with local churches.

As the film states so well, “Having a heart for the poor isn’t hard. Having a mind for the poor… that’s the challenge.”

Russ Debenport is the Director of Global Advocacy Strategy at Compassion International. This piece was originally written for the Compassion International Blog.