Poverty and Business
Definitions, Causes, Way Forward
Poverty is a complex association of severe deprivations.
Bryant Myers* summarizes these as:
Material Poverty – few assets, inadequate housing and sanitation, little or no wealth.
Physical Weakness – a lack of strength from poor health and inadequate nutrition.
Isolation – a lack of access to services, information, markets, capital and infrastructure.
Vulnerability – few buffers against emergencies or disasters; at risk of being further impoverished by local cultural demands such as wedding dowries and feast days.
Powerlessness – lacking the ability to influence life around them, and therefore their own circumstances.
Spiritual Poverty – broken and dysfunctional relationships with God, people, the community and creation; possible spiritual oppression. These elements of poverty are linked and each exacerbates the effects of the others, trapping the poor in a system of chronic disadvantage. Those caught in this web of poverty are typically malnourished, in ill-health, with low literacy rates, vulnerable to abuse, powerless to improve themselves, and with no understanding of God’s love for them. (*Bryant L. Myers 1999. Walking With The Poor. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books).
The greatest single cause of poverty is lack of sustainable income, without which many of the most basic human needs cannot be met, often giving rise to debilitating hopelessness. In many countries institutional and individual corruption have become endemic and there is a great need for new businesses, which can both create paid work and which develop a reputation for high integrity. It is evident that many of the world’s most serious problems are with, or arise from financial poverty and its associated deprivations.
“Of all the problems in the developing world, none is greater than the problem of unemployment........” (Tony Campolo (Hon Patron of Aid Trade. US Professor of Sociology)
SERVING THE POOR
Serving the poor is a Biblical obligation for Christians. ‘Business as Mission’ and ‘Tent making' are two increasingly familiar approaches to mission with concern to generate income or help business development. Aid for Trade supports both these approaches, but is broader in that it offers a comprehensive service to equip and assist workers to help themselves if necessary and more importantly to help others, to generate income or create new jobs – in situations where there may be little or no trading or small business expertise.
"The use of business in global outreach is a strategy of choice for the context of the 21st century mission" Ted Yamamori International Director of the Lausanne movement, (LCWE)
In ‘developed’ countries it is hard to even imagine living without regular income, without electricity or clean water, yet sadly it is largely the material greed and complacency of developed countries together with misdirected ‘top down’ development funding that keeps these billions in poverty, at the bottom of the ‘pyramid’. The global Millennium development goals, which include halving the numbers living in severe poverty by 2015 seem increasingly unlikely to be achieved.
"The poor themselves can create a poverty-free world, all we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them" Muhammad Yunus (Founder of The Grameen Bank and Nobel Prize winner)
Our own surveys of village communities in three countries, Romania, Albania and Moldova, found over 90% of residents saying their greatest concern is the lack of income or employment opportunities for which they asked for help.
The World’s economies depend on successful and very small businesses – over 90% of registered businesses in developing - and in most developed nations employ less than ten people.
The greatest challenge seems to be how best to reach and help many more people to enable them to access the information and assistance needed to encourage and help them generate their own income or start a small business with others.
There seem to be two key factors which point to one way forward:-
1. Access to the Internet is expanding globally at a phenomenal rate and with email is by far the greatest resource of information and rapid communication.
2. There are many thousands of Christian mission and charity workers already working in developing countries, most if not all of whom have regular Internet access.
If we could provide, through the Internet, a comprehensive development service to enable these workers to help individuals and communities to develop their trading and business potential, then many more of the poorest people could have the opportunity to generate their own income and create employment – lifting them out of severe poverty on a sustainable basis.
Provision of microcredit which was led by the Grameen Bank in India has played a significant part in making small sums available at commercially viable interest rates to the poor, to help them to meet some of their needs for income generation. However it is reported that much of this valued help is used to only bring short term benefit and access to loans is only a small part of what is needed to help an individual or group start a trading business with the potential to give them an average national income or more.
There is a high risk of failure of any new venture started from scratch. There is much less risk of failure if a startup business is based on a successful commercially viable model. The merit of ‘micro franchising’ is thoroughly investigated and endorsed in a major US published paper on the subject by Dr.K.Magelby (Microfranchise Paper).
Examples of successful micro franchises are Vision Spring and CFW Health Shops. Whilst the basic principles of trading and business are global it is obvious that vital local factors such as geography, raw materials, markets and access to electricity and water need to be considered by entrepreneurs when selecting any new enterprise. Viable micro businesses already exist for almost any enterprise concept – which means someone has already done the hardest work of starting from scratch.
If we can give open access to this information, the risk of failure for anyone doing the same, will be reduced and replication of a successful model will improve access to funding.
It is hoped Aid for Trade can find or start many viable models, the details of which can then be shared with others via the Internet.
An example of a successful microenterprise is a project in Northern Albania for the cultivation of wild sage – which has led to creation of over forty seasonal jobs, with potential for many more. Sage cuttings from mountain stock are cultivated in a polytunnel before being planted out for growth and harvesting.
Success encourages others to want to do the same and this was clearly evidenced in our earlier work in Romania in the development of plastic Polytunnel use for early and late crops, when after the success by one enthusiastic entrepreneur many others were helped to do the same with collective marketing support . A family polytunnel for early and late crops assisted by collected sales through market stall and direct sales.
Aid for Trade's aim is to research and accumulated onto one website, resources, the most helpful and appropriate information on micro business opportunities, training, models, advice, access to loan credit and market access guidance, to help the poor, and field workers who are wanting to help the poor.
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" Galatians 6:10 KJV
We support the principles of
- Equal opportunities
- Fair Trade
- Organic food production
- Environmentally friendly technology
- High integrity
- Health and safety at work
And we recommend a quadruple bottom line of:
- Community welfare
- Environmental protection
- Spiritual awareness.