Implement Participatory Interventions
Conditioned by a fast-food culture that sells as many identical hamburgers as possible, Christians tend to approach low-income communities in a “blueprint” fashion. We conceive of problems and solutions in boardrooms and missions committee meetings and then go out and impose those solutions on low-income communities in a cookie-cutter fashion on as large a scale as possible. By failing to take into account the particularities of each cultural setting, this approach has resulted in failed attempts at development all over the world during the post-WW II era. More importantly, this approach perpetuates a devastating message from the economically non-poor to the economically poor, “We have all the answers. We have all the know-how. We are here to save you!” Again, both parties become poorer in the process. In contrast, participatory approaches to development include the economically poor in the conceptualization, design, execution, and evaluation of any intervention. The inherent assumption is that the economically poor have knowledge, insights, and abilities to be stewards over their own communities, all of which need to be respected by the economically non-poor.
Successful poverty alleviation is about walking with people in such a way that both they and we experience Christ's reconciliation of our relationships with God, self, others, and creation. In this perspective, poverty alleviation becomes less about money and more about building relationships. It becomes less about products and more about the processes pursued. It becomes less about doing something to them and more about being with them. All of this takes more time than most of us are willing to spend and requires a far more nuanced use of money than is commonly understood by churches.
For more on a participatory approach, refer to the article “A Participatory Party in Mozambique” found in Issue #2 of the 2008 edition of Mandate.