Three reasons why employment beats charity

In the seven years since Peter Greer and Phil Smith released The Poor Will Be Glad, HOPE has learned a lot about working with families in underserved communities to help them flourish. Peter and Phil have updated their book, retitled Created to Flourish, and we’d like to share these valuable learnings with you. To celebrate, here’s a preview from the new edition.


Do you remember how you felt when you received your first paycheck? In middle school, I mowed elderly Mrs. Johnson’s lawn. She would inspect my work and acknowledge that I had cut close enough to her barn and not missed any sections under her apple trees. Then she would invite me into her house, offer me a cold Tang mixed with her special spices, and pay me for my work. I enjoyed a strong sense of satisfaction as she thanked me for a job well done.

Relying on charity might provide enough for a bare existence, but it will never be enough to help someone off their knees.

Charity will never allow an individual to flourish in the way God created humankind to be—productive in caring for the earth and using the strength and skills He gave. And besides, charity isn’t what those living in poverty want.

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.” These well-worn words contain an important truth: Who would settle for an occasional fish dropped off on their doorstep if they had the opportunity to start their own fishing business?

Drawing on his personal experience with the Waodoni tribe, missionary Steve Saint writes:

We may be the wealthiest nation and the wealthiest Christians on earth, but that is not a good reason to give someone something.

Saint goes on to describe the following challenges that come from long-term handouts:

  • No value: It is much more difficult to appreciate the value of something that costs us nothing. Consequently, it does not last as long.
  • Personal devaluation: If people are always given things, they begin to expect them, thereby negating personal dreams or aspirations of climbing out of their current condition. Always being on the receiving end encourages people to see themselves as incompetent, unable to learn even if they did decide they wanted to learn.
  • Desire becomes necessity: Giving a gift to one person can result in everyone else wanting one as well. Similar but more critical is the possibility that if the first gift proves effective, there will suddenly be a legitimate need for many more. And if you cannot give the same tool to everyone, it is better not to give it to anyone. Help make it affordable, and then everyone can buy their own.

Created to Flourish
Download your free copy of Created to Flourish to read more about how employment-based solutions are helping fight poverty.

Peter Greer

Peter Greer

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Peter serves as president and CEO of HOPE International. A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School, Peter 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), and 40/40 Vision (2015). Peter lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Laurel, and their three children. Follow Peter on his blog at www.peterkgreer.com or on Twitter @peterkgreer.

One response to Three reasons why employment beats charity

  1. I have struggled with this on many occasions. I agree with you on this subject but sometimes it’s hard to decern if it’s my motives or Gods. My son is in Battambang and I had an opportunity to see how some people there just like here in the US use this as their. Business.

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