Poverty Expert: Give the Poor a Hand Up, Not Hand Out

Instead of helping poor people with charity that will eventually run out, it is more effective to lift people out of poverty through microfinance, says a Christian poverty expert.

"If we give individuals food for today, what will happen tomorrow? They're going to be hungry. If we give individuals clothes for today, they're eventually going to wear out," said Peter Greer, co-author of the new book The Poor Will Be Glad, to The Christian Post Monday.

"So that is why we believe charity, there is a time for it and a place for it, but it always runs out. It's always going to be temporary."

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Greer, who is president of microfinance network HOPE International, and co-author Phil Smith in their book, released earlier this month, urge Christians who care about alleviating global poverty to consider making donations toward microfinance for poor people.

Citing the Bible, Greer offered a Christian interpretation of microfinance. In the beginning, even before the fall, Adam and Eve worked in the Garden of Eden by caring for it, he said. And in the Old Testament, the primary way of helping people was to provide an opportunity, such as in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth was able to take advantage of an Old Testament law where she was allowed to glean in the field as a widow and foreigner.

Greer, a pastor's kid, then cited Ephesians 4:28 which talks about working with one's hands and noted that Apostle Paul wrote that if a man does not work he shall not eat.

Lastly, he pointed to the Parable of the Talents from Luke 19 as a model of microfinance. The master in the story gave each of his servants a portion of his money to manage and later returned to receive the yield.

"The most compassionate way of helping someone isn't to give them a handout long-term," Greer contended. "The most compassionate thing you can do is to help them use their God-given abilities to work and to take care of their own needs.

"One (charities) keeps individuals in a position of dependency, the other (microfinance) lifts individuals up and gives them the healthy sense of dignity that they're supposed to have."

Currently, the vast majority of donations for poverty go towards disaster relief aid, but the deeper issue of ongoing poverty is often overlooked. Greer, a graduate of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, said Christian organizations worldwide are meeting only 0.2 percent of the global need for microfinance.

But he and co-author Smith hope their book can help get churches on board to use microfinance as a tool to fight long-term poverty.

"One of the things that we are hoping is that maybe one day this (microfinance) way of helping – a hand up instead of a hand out – might be as common as a child sponsorship model," Greer told The Christian Post.

"With microfinance, the money doesn't disappear," he said. "The loans are repaid so your money is still at work helping another family and another family and growing businesses."

HOPE International, which Greer heads, currently has about $22 million worth of mini-loans out, helping more than 200,000 poor entrepreneurs in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. There is a 99 percent repayment rate.

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