I have had a lot of time on my hands recently to watch a bunch of Netflix documentaries. One of these documentaries I stumbled upon was Poverty Inc. I was absolutely fascinated by this movie.
Every summer since my freshman year in high school, I have taken part in some sort of volunteer work with a nonprofit organization. These mission trips would consist of doing urban cleanup, sharing of the Christian gospel, or handing out some item that was needed within the impoverished community. Every year was a repeat of this. We would hand out something and feel so good about ourselves as a mission team. Then, in 2011 I moved to Baltimore, Maryland and realized that the best way to do "mission" is to live mission.
I immersed myself into the neighborhood and became passionate about the people and the culture that surrounded me. This diverse awesomeness gave me a fresh inspiration on life. I became a board member with the community association and saw opportunity to bring in teams from outside the city and from outside different states. During one of these trips, I found out what it's like to be on the receiving end of missions. While working on a tree planting project in my neighborhood, some of the team members started aggressively shoving a religious message down the throats of my fellow friends and neighbors. By the time I stepped into the conversation, my neighbors were offended and I felt as though a bridge had been burned.
Reflecting back on this, I realized that there are many times we may go into a situation wanting to help people, but instead of helping end up doing harm.
How do we help in a way that lasts?
Poverty Inc. shines a light on the global problem of handing out fish instead of teaching how to fish.
A major example given in the movie is that of the giant social entrepreneurial company TOMS. As Americans, we love the idea of our money going towards giving little kids all over the world shoes. When this TOMS' model became popular, we turned a blind eye to how giving away free shoes affects the local economy of these foreign countries. An out-of-country surplus of goods or services creates an unbeatable competition to any local provider of that same good or service. All across the world as children and adults received free shoes, small cobbler businesses were dying overnight.
Our surplus in aid is killing the economies of foreign nations.
How can this be fixed?
Businesses in impoverished areas all over the world need to arise and they can't be controlled by foreigners. Empowering people doesn't look like handing them something for free; it looks like encouraging individual leaders around the world to follow their dreams. It looks like providing small business loans for companies who are just starting out, and offering tools and training to businesses that trying to get the the next level.
I'll leave you with a thought:
When traveling to Africa, would you be helping the local economy more by...
A.) coming as a missionary to hand out free eggs
B.) or going as a tourist and buying eggs from a local farmer.