(Note: Spoiler Alert. This post is writing commentary on the book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It). This book is being discussed on April 11 by the Avondale United Methodist Book Club. Those who want to read the book before forming opinions are advised to read this column after reading the book. For the rest of you, consider this a long-winded review and commentary on the book, and please comment your thoughts.)
“Top-down charity seldom works.”
Poverty infects every nation. People feel that big problems require big fixes. Governments want to be involved, big corporations get involved. But just as politics is local, all charity begins at home.
Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid chronicles the error of top-down charity — the $1 trillion in aid that that has flowed into Africa and killed her continent. She counters “across the globe, the recipients of aid are worse off; much worse off.”
But she doesn’t just decry the problem, she offers a solution. Moyo’s road:
- Get off aid.
- Promote entrepreneurship.
- Promote free trade.
- Invest in Infrastructure.
- Secure reasonable loans, not grants.
- Encourage stable home ownership.
Her notes to NGOs include:
- Don’t subsidize poverty.
- Reinforce productive work.
- Create producers, not beggars.
- Invest in self-sufficiency.
Chapter six is where my current town, Kansas City, shows up in the book. Lupton tells of talking with the pastor of a prominent Baptist Church with an idea to make Kansas City the first hunger-free zone. With the technology in place to identify church members and their locations, members would allow themselves to be located, and locate, other Christians in their neighborhoods to organize food drives, with the items taken to collection points for the needy. The momentum would create a wave of compassion across the city.
Lupton was impressed with the system for gathering, but asked how the food would get to the needy? How would unhealthy dependency be prevented?
The pastor didn’t have the distribution figured out, but assured Lupton it could be done on the way. But they had to start now, before another city in North Carolina became first to have a hunger-free zone. In other words, the dependency issue would probably not be addressed.
“A massive and sustained food drive says much about the compassion of a city, and I admire the Kansas City spirit” Lupton said. “The hard part, however, does not lie in the creation of new models – food-buying co-ops, food for community service, wholesale outlets. The hard part is rethinking the entrenched giveaway mentality and restructuring an established one-way charity system. A hunger-free zone may be possible, but developing the dependency-free zone is the real challenge.”